This past weekend, I completed my 5th half marathon. It’s strange to say that, since after 5 of these I do not consider a half marathon to be a desirable distance and yet, at the same time, it’s clearly a favorite challenge of mine. I heard about the Paine to Pain Half Marathon earlier in the year, even though 2015 is its 8th year. The starting point is a mere 5 minute drive from my childhood home in New Rochelle, NY, a stone’s throw from Thomas Paine’s farm, and the finish line is on the track of my high school. The race is almost completely run on the linked trail system in Westchester County, and the proceeds go back into funding the upkeep of these trails. SO MUCH TO LOVE about all this, right? And to boot, the logo is the best race logo I’ve ever seen. Did I mention there’s a musket shot to signal the start of each wave of runners?
Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck about this race. I’ve run on trails before, but the longest distance I’ve done is 5-6 miles max. The idea of 13.1 miles on trails was both terrifying and exhilarating. The days preceding the race were fraught with buckets of rain in Philadelphia and New Jersey, as the threat of a hurricane landfall was real. I tracked the weather religiously all week, and the forecast was looking pretty good for the Sunday. Not too hot. No rain. Partly cloudy. The only issue would be if the rain in New York impacted the trails heavily and/or if it was still raining on the morning of. Sunday rolled around and there were barely any muddy spots on the trails – a race day miracle. That just left me with the only real challenge to face – the course was tough.
The musket fired for wave 6, and my stomach was consumed with intense anxiety. I’ve actually never had that much anxiety at a race, so this was a bit scary. As a self-proclaimed nervous and anxious person, I was actually a bit worried that I was going to have an anxiety attack, which I haven’t had in so many years. My heart was pounding, my stomach in epic knots, my face flush, and I was about ready to throw the towel in on the low grade hill up to the trails, not even .25 mi into the race. The first trail section of the course is the Leatherstocking Trail, which I’ve run parts of before. This starts 1 mi down the road from my childhood home, so I would take to the trail a few times over the summer when visiting my parents. I love this trail, but have never taken it all the way to the end – this is where the difficulty lay. My anxiety subsided by the time I got to the trail-head, as my legs warmed up and I remembered that I’ve done this distance before. The course is beautiful and everyone running was so lovely and supportive. I paced behind a woman and her daughter for the first 6 miles or so, and they set a really nice pace. I had started way too fast, so pacing behind these two ladies was great for me to reign it back in a little. Of course, the damage had already been done by the time I hit the technical section of the trails and the hills. I passed the two women and continued on, and blew all my energy reserves before I even hit mile 7.
At this point, water stop 2 of 3, I was emotionally in a very low place. I had to switch to a lot of walking and had a hard time catching my breath. I had consumed some fuel and was saving one Gu for the last third of the course. My legs were tired and there was a bit of left side lower back pain flaring up by this point. I couldn’t get out of my head either, and the spiral of how terrible I felt was going out of control. I wanted to quit, as I waited in the short line at the mile 7 port-o-potty, but knew that I would never forgive myself, so those thoughts quickly turned to 3 miles of “there is no way I can do the full marathon in November. I am the worst at this. I’m never running again.” Low. Really low, guys. I have never felt this low on a run, let alone a race, so I just kept trying to find a new pace buddy ahead of me to keep up with. Around mile 8, the 3 hour sweepers passed me and my heart sank. My big goal of this race was to not be swept, and yet here it was happening at the halfway point. As they passed, and were running right in front of me, I asked them if they were the sweepers. When they confirmed, all I could muster was “well, that’s depressing…” Luckily, something was triggered and I was able to pass them and not see them again for the rest of the race.
Water stop 3, at mile 10.5ish, was a beacon of hope in all this low morning. My mood was able to turn around, I refilled my handheld bottle, and was able to push through and finish strong. My entire family (except my younger brother and sister-in-law) were at the finish line with signs and cheers and hugs and tears. It was heartwarming and wonderful to get that support at the end of the hardest race, to date, and I am so fortunate that they support me and my crazy ideas.
After walking a bit on the track, and grabbing a bagel and drinking 2 bottles of water, I was able to be a bit more cheery about the race. Was it incredibly hard? Yes. Was it an exercise in being way too in my head? Yes. Was it beautiful and fun? Yes. Will I do it again next year? Absolutely.
I learned a lot about my legs and my brain and my running self in this, and have chatted with my running coach about it in the days that followed. All that being said, the rule of thumb is to add 1 minute per mile to your half marathon time for a trail half marathon. My fastest half marathon time is 2:42, from June 2015 at the ODDyssey Half. My time for the Paine to Pain was 2:46 (though, my splits are all screwy on Strava due to fuddy GPS. I’m working on having Strava fix it to be accurate in mileage). So…maybe the reason why it hurt so much is that I’ve gotten so much faster over the summer and hadn’t really put that speed to the test on 13 miles of hills or on trails, and that even though I’m faster I’m still not so great at starting slow and pacing myself smartly. I’m curious to see what my new road half marathon time will be, on the hilly course of the Runner’s World Half Marathon next Sunday. I think it’s safe to say, half marathons are kind of my favorite thing. God knows why.
(Still dreading the full marathon though…)
Race shout-outs – if you are nearby New Rochelle, NY, I totally suggest this race. It’s small and wonderfully organized! All the volunteers were happy and helpful. There were no questions on what the course was, what the waves were, what anything was. It really is a wonderfully handled race. Everyone involved seems to truly love the Paine to Pain Half. Even though I had a rough race, none of that was because of the course or the race organization but rests entirely on the fact that it just wasn’t my day. I’ll be doing this race again in 2016, for sure. You should too. It’s beautiful!
*Thanks to my Mom, my sister, and my Dad for all the photos