So, remember about a month ago when I said that the Runner’s World Hat Trick was the hardest race I had ever run?
I’m taking that back. Because yesterday, I ran what was — by far — my most harrowing race to date.
Our story begins on a FRIGID Sunday morning in Brooklyn. As many Northerners know, yesterday’s temperatures were absolutely ridiculous. We had signed up for NYCRUNS‘ Chanukkah Chalf several weeks ago, and little did I know that the morning’s temperature’s would be in the TWENTIES. The Chanukkah Chalf was part of the Running Festival of Lights, which included the Chanukkah Gelt 5K and the Oy Vey 10K earlier that morning.
But it wasn’t the 28 degree temperatures that concerned me most. The day’s forecast also called for almost 30 MPH winds.
And guess where this particular race was being held? ON THE WATER. Yes, that’s right. The course was essentially an out-and-back that you’d run twice, right along the water in Shore Road Park near the Verrazano Bridge.
Oh, and there were no clocks or mile markers along the course. Why? Apparently, they blew away. The port-a-potties were also blowing away. And there was no finish line banner. I’m sure you can guess why.
Was it a picturesque location for a race? Sure. But it was the last place I wanted to be on this particular morning.
Okay, so now that I’ve painted that little picture for you, here goes nothing.
We started our drive around 8:30 on Sunday morning for the 10:30 race start time, and found street parking. On the walk to the park alone, I knew this race was going to be special. And not in a good way. IT. WAS. FREEZING.
Meanwhile, this genius decided that I didn’t need gloves — I do have a pair of running gloves, but tend to rip them off after the first mile because I HATE the feeling of hot, swollen hands, so I typically go without them. That was my first mistake. I could physically feel myself being pushed by the wind just on the walk, so I could only imagine what the race had in store for us.
We grabbed our long-sleeved shirts and bibs, and I helped myself to some hot chocolate before the race (I know this is a silly thing to complain about but, no offense, it was by far the worst-tasting hot chocolate I’ve ever had). They did have the post-race goodies out before we started, which was nice — your typical bagels and Gatorade, but also gelt, since this was a Hanukkah-themed event. This amused me much more than it did Todd, since I’m not Jewish and never actually had gelt, haha.
You will notice the lack of pre-race photos, which I know is so not like me. The reason? I couldn’t manage to use my fingers, which were already swollen and frozen stiff.
As we were jumping up and down with about 250 other runners before the race to stay warm — according to NYCRUNS’ Facebook page there was about a 20 percent no-show rate of (intelligent) people who decided to eat the $35 registration fee – we saw some 10K runners coming in and being sprayed by water that was being blown over the railing and onto the race course. Ah, the sight of things to come.
I’ve never been so anxious to start running in my entire life. The only thing I could think about was experiencing that delightful feeling of warmth once we got started.
I should probably mention a quick side note here. Not to share TMI, but I was hit with some kind of nasty 24-hour bug (or food poisoning or who knows what) on Thursday and spent the entire day with my head in the toilet. I felt okay the next day, but played it safe by sticking to soups, crackers, and ginger ale. I still felt fine, physically, on Saturday, but didn’t have much of an appetite. I tried to force myself to eat, knowing that I’d need my energy for Sunday morning’s race.
Needless to say, I had arrived at the starting line without a full tank of gas, and I had no idea just how badly I was going to need it.
Once we got started — with the wind BEHIND us, might I add — I knew by the third mile that I just wasn’t feeling like myself. I was lethargic and didn’t experience that usual burst of energy I have in the early miles of a half marathon. I honestly felt as though I didn’t have any energy whatsoever.
I gave Todd full permission to leave me at any time, knowing that there was no way I’d be able to pull out any impressive performances in this race. Knowing that it was a super-flat course and the temperatures would be cool (HA!), I think we both had high hopes to PR and finish our 2013 half marathon season on a high note.
But then we completed the first turnaround, and with the 30 MPH winds now forcing their way against us, every step became a struggle. Honestly, I write for a living, and yet I am having a hard time finding the words to describe what we experienced yesterday. The frigid winds were now whipping against my face, and I could literally feel it pushing me backwards. My hands? Frozen? My face? Frozen. My toes? Frozen.
By mile 4 or 5, we both decided that we had a brand new goal in this race: to finish it. Todd knew I was struggling and told me more than once that if I wanted to throw in the towel, he’d be right there with me.
But I can’t quit. It’s just not who I am. Truth be told, there were several points in the race where I really, really wanted to get in the car and drive back to New Jersey and climb under the covers and never talk about this race ever again. But I couldn’t. I knew I had to finish, no matter how brutal the conditions or how poorly I felt.
I kept thinking that people who sign up for the Dopey Challenge don’t quit halfway through a half marathon. You just don’t. So I kept plugging away.
After we turned around to run 4 miles back towards the bridge again, we experienced a little bit of relief because the wind was behind us. But that didn’t stop us from being pelted with the icy, frozen chunks of water that were being blown over the railing. We also stopped for water a few times — the poor volunteers had to pour one cup of icy water at a time, because the paper cups were flying everywhere.
One complaint I did have about this race is that there really were no spectators or course support — completely understandable, given the weather conditions — but I do have to give a shout out to the volunteers who braved the weather without the benefit of running to keep themselves warm. I don’t think I ever appreciated the role of the race volunteer more than I did yesterday.
Still, it felt more like any normal training run than an actual race. Without mile markers or clocks or spectators, it was a run in the park. And one that wasn’t particularly enjoyable. Truth be told, I found the course pretty boring (then again, I loathe loop and out-and-back courses in general), even though it did offer nice views.
We did end up stopping for some photos along the way; it was the first time in a non-Disney race that I saw people stopping to pose for pictures, and I’m thinking it had something to do with a lot of us in the back giving up hope of achieving any impressive race-day goals.
On our final turnaround, with 4 miles left to the finish, I can’t tell you how many times we stopped to walk — which is SO not like either of us in a race. I felt like I was in a cartoon, where you run and dust flies up behind you but you don’t actually go anywhere. But then walking would lower my heart rate, and I could feel an icy chill spreading all over my body in my sweaty, wet clothes, so then we’d “run” — it felt more like a shuffle — a little longer and stop again.
There were parts of this race where I was laughing at how ridiculous the conditions were. There were parts of this race where I wanted to cry and curl up in a ball and ask one of the nice volunteers to please call an ambulance just so I knew I’d have a guaranteed (heated) ride back to the car. There were parts of this race where Todd and I walked and talked like we were taking a stroll in the park.
But then, more importantly, there were parts of this race where I kept thinking that it was all just another opportunity for me to prove to myself that I’m capable of more than I ever thought possible. I kept seeing a runner wearing last year’s Walt Disney World Marathon shirt run by, and granted, it was obviously just his particular wardrobe choice for the day, but I took it as a sign — corny as it sounds.
The path to the Dopey Challenge and my first marathon hasn’t been an easy one, but at the end of the day, I AM doing it. It is something that continues to challenge me, mentally and physically, but I can’t quit now. And as hard as it was, I was going to take that same stubbornness and somehow find the strength to finish this race.
Those last two miles were absolutely brutal. But step by step, we kept moving forward and braving the winds and the bitter cold and being splattered with icy water.
And finally — FINALLY — we made it to the finish line! In 2:30. My very worst half marathon time of all, not including my first at the Princess Half.
But I didn’t even remotely care about my finish time.
As competitive as he is, I don’t think Todd did either.
We were immediately wrapped in heat blankets (which didn’t do a whole heck of a lot, unfortunately), and handed our medals. I scarfed down a bagel like I’ve never eaten before in my life — my appetite had returned in full force — and we attempted to take a few pictures. I was pretty miserable at this point. I was ecstatic and proud to have finished the race, but I literally couldn’t feel my fingers. Hence this beautiful photo attempt.
We were both crabby and tired and cold, so we headed back to the car. It took at least 30 minutes for me to completely thaw out once we made it back. As proud as I was of both of us for conquering this particular race experience, neither of us were happy campers.
I did notice that a few minutes after we finished the race, the volunteers started packing up to leave. They took everything with them, including the bags of dozens of leftover bagels and all of the remaining coffee and hot chocolate. I felt really badly because we were definitely not the last people on that race course, and there were some runners who technically didn’t meet the three-hour course limit — so they didn’t have anything waiting for them at the finish line. I know the volunteers were probably frozen solid and definitely deserved to go home; I just think some extra leeway could have been granted in this particular case for those of us who didn’t perform quite as well as we had hoped given the conditions.
Am I glad I did this race? In a way, I really am. Even though it wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had on a race course — if Todd wasn’t with me, I’m really not sure if I would have made it — I still appreciate a challenge. Anything that makes me feel as though Dopey is within my reach is worth doing right now, and I figure if I can survive yesterday’s half marathon, then maybe I am just a little bit stronger than I give myself credit for sometimes.
Because anyone who showed up to that race and crossed the finish line is truly a badass. Or just downright crazy. Whichever way you want to look at it.
Have you ever run a race in wintry conditions?