Race Report – Paine to Pain Trail Half Marathon

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

133888-111-005h(1)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

the tipping point

Prior to today, I’ve completed 4 half marathons. The longest distance in one go that I’ve ever run is 13.1 miles.

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Today I completed 14.5 miles. I’ve officially crossed the threshold that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Once I cross the 13.1 distance, the full marathon is more real. It’s sort of like the moment I crossed the 50% completed mark, in grad school. At that moment, I knew that I couldn’t drop my program. How can you drop when you’ve gotten than far?

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This morning, I woke to 66F with light breezes. I leisurely enjoyed my morning coffee before heading out the door. There was no need to race against the rising sun today – real early fall weather had arrived. The first 9 miles of this run were joyous and dance-like. I didn’t follow my exact path in West Fairmount Park, instead opting to noodle around a bit before taking the road down to West River Drive. Once I hit the Schuylkill River Trail, my pacing fell apart. I’m not sure if it was the distance at that point or the utter boring familiarity of the East Falls Bridge to the Art Museum. I’ve ridden my bike down that section more times than I can count, in my decade in this City. I’ve run that section so many times. This is the second half section of the Philly Marathon and I am not excited for it. Some people like running the same routes and find the familiarity a comfort. I am not those people – I prefer a bit of the unknown thrown in, otherwise it ends up acting like watching the timer on a treadmill (also a boring way to run, in my opinion). I managed to pull it together and run through to the end of the long run, and for that I am thankful and can honestly see major growth in my running life. I started running again 4 years ago in order to push through those mental barriers and emotional walls, and it used to feel harder than it does today. Today, on good days in beautiful weather, even 14.5 miles feels easy.

That’s kind of awesome.

10 weeks to go…

fa·tigue / fəˈtēɡ / noun

15 weeks away from 26.2 miles. I’m burnt. I’m burnt on summer. I’m burnt on heat. I’m burnt on having to eat constantly. I’m burnt on having to run so much. I’m burnt on wanting to sleep all the time. I’m burnt on thinking about it.

fa·tigue
fəˈtēɡ/
noun
  1.  
    extreme tiredness, typically resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.
  2.  
    a group of soldiers ordered to perform menial, nonmilitary tasks, sometimes as a punishment.

When I say I have training fatigue, most assume I mean the first. I should probably mean the first, but in my heart I really mean the second. 15 weeks out, I’m wondering what the hell possessed me to decide to do this and why the hell I’m basically already mentally committed to doing this again next year on my birthday, in Anchorage. Ok well really, that one is more about going to Anchorage, but you get my point. I feel fortunate that so many of my friends and loved ones fall into 2 camps – runners who are all “hell yes” about me training for and completing a marathon and non-runners who are all “hell yes” about me training for and completing a marathon. It makes it easy to have such a supportive social network, when usually my excuses for things are “I’m too tired” or “Sorry, I have a long run tomorrow…” or I’m talking about how much I hate running in the heat or how hungry I am all-the-freakin-time. I sound like a broken record that is slowing getting deeper in this hole of mental fatigue. I need to figure out how to change my mindset, but really this is where we are right now. From internet-ing, this is all normal. For me, this is not normal and is indeed a big ole downer on my usual happy life. My weekly runs vacillate between the awesome and the sucky, and therefore my moods are also up and down in direct correlation.

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I wonder what life post-marathon will be like. Will my days feel full of empty hours to gloriously do non-running things? Or will I merely find myself hitting the streets for 5+ mile runs for, horror of horrors, the fun of it? Will running have officially replaced some of my more time consuming hobbies? Will I start printing again? Will I actually finish knitting some socks and sweaters that are on my needles? Will I cook elaborate meals that have nothing to do with “fueling” again? Since I’m pretty self aware, I have a feeling I’ll be embarking on a whole new playing field of winter running this year, so in all honesty I should probably start up’ing my winter running gear wardrobe from the 2 items I currently have to maybe 3 or 4 items. I would say that I look forward to running without a mileage goal or a pace goal or a specifically orchestrated calendar balancing running and cross training, but then again I actually like competing against myself with every step of the run. Not sure I can give that up so easily.

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All that being said, quiet hours spent watching the sunrise or sunset while having little else to focus on and having to be entirely in the moment, is a pretty great way to pass the time. So I guess there’s that…