I texted that message to a couple of my hiking companions this afternoon, one of whom had just accompanied me on an eye-opening experience. For nearly two years now, I had been engaging in active aerobic activities primarily for the purpose of building cardiovascular fitness for hiking. I had burnt out early on a climb up Wright, and I had decided that I needed something a little more intense than walking to build up my fitness level.
I tried going to the gym and riding on an exercise bike. After all, it had helped me immensely when I was losing weight years ago, perhaps it could help me now. I found the experience unsatisfying, though. Feeling more like a hamster than a human, I started relying on thrash metal to power me through the workouts. Mustaine and his rotating group of musicians can only carry a person so far, though. A month later, I tried running on the streets around my neighborhood. It was all right, but my real breakthrough came when I went for a run at Camp Saratoga, in September of 2012. Between the softer surface and the sunrise I caught, I was instantly hooked.
I've been running on and off since then, pausing to let injuries heal, and my hiking performance has noticeably improved. In April of 2013, I ran a virtual 5k to benefit the Boston One Fund, but, aside from that, I didn't run any races in these two years. The virtual 5k, given my inexperience, was basically just a long run on that particular weekend. I was literally running just for fitness.
At the urging of my friend and hiking companion, Jason, we started discussing a race schedule for this year. I set two goals for myself: a road race and a trail race, preferably with elevation. We're still in the midst of deciding what races we're going to enter later on in the year, but Jason mentioned that he was thinking of doing a new race along the Zim Smith Trail, called the Spring Has Sprung 10 Mile Run. The race had caught my eye a few weeks earlier, because of where it was being held, but I thought the distance would be too much for me. When Jason suggested it, I thought, "why not?". We were discussing running a half marathon, and running 10+ mile trail races, so, why not? When I finally went to sign up, I found that the race had been moved from the Zim Smith Trail to Clifton Park, which actually made it easier to manage, since it was now starting and ending in the same place, as opposed to the point to point race it was scheduled to be originally.
I built up fairly quickly from my 6-7 mile a week base, peaking at 13 miles 3 weeks before the race. The week after that, I missed my long run due to a nasty intestinal bug, and the following week, I bonked hard after 4 miles due to what I think was the lingering effect of the intestinal bug, and a fueling issue. I was extremely nervous going in to this race; I didn't think I could do it. Several of the people I spoke to about it said I should be fine, and I calmed down a bit after a decent run on Tuesday. Taking my boss's advice, I decided not to go for a short run on Thursday, and to just lay low until the race. I also decided to just roll with the fueling plan I had used on my last successful long run; I knew it wasn't ideal, but it had gotten me through 9.5 miles. I would eat half a bag of fuel after 30 minutes, and continue eating half a bag every 15 minutes after that, more or less.
Jason and I rode down to Clifton Park together, where we met up with his father, Bela, who was also running. Several of Bela's colleagues and/or friends were running as well, and he introduced us to a few whom we met while getting ready. The Clifton Park YMCA was hosting the race, organized by Jennifer Casey and timed by ARE. We went in to the Y, got our bibs, chips, and swag, and then headed out to drop our extra layers and finish getting ready. The morning was cool and damp, and while we knew we would warm up quickly, it was tough for me to figure out what to bring. In the end, I decided to keep my soft shell on, knowing full well that it would spend the majority of the race around my waist.
We lined up, Jennifer Casey said a few words explaining the course, and we were off. It was fascinating watching the crowd move out. We flowed as one at first, quietly finding ourselves. After a short while the crowd started to thin out, and I started to slow my pace down a bit, searching for a level I could maintain. In training I had been running 11:00-12:00s on my long run, and my plan for this race was to start at a 12:00 pace and aim for negative splits. Instead, I ran the first mile at 9:30, and then started slowing down into the 10s and then 11s. During that first mile, I settled in next to a gentleman named Scott, and we talked and ran together until the first water stop. I hadn't gone on a run with anyone else prior to this race, and it was excellent to just run and talk. It made the first two miles go by very quickly. When we got to the first water stop, at mile 2, he said he was going to to walk it, and I said I'd see him soon. We ended up running in proximity of each other for the remainder of the race, passing each other a few times.
Just past the first water stop, the informal strung out clump of runners I was rolling with came to the T intersection on Moe Road, and we went west, a direction that I can't remember ever taking in my car. I cracked open the first round of fuel and walked a bit so that I could choke it down. Despite being sweet candy, it was remarkably hard to chew and swallow.
The route ran past a reservoir, and I was delighted to see a few ducks or geese out for a cruise (I honestly can't remember which; in my head at the time, I said "duck", but looking back in my mind's eye, they were clearly geese). What really caught my eye, though, was a Great Blue Heron, perched not far from the road, eyeing us with the suspicion only a prehistoric-looking bird like the heron can produce.
Just past the reservoir, the road angled up. I decided to walk it; I could have run it, but I didn't see the point. I would waste fuel trying to run up it, and I was still worried about a burn out. I started running as I crested the ridge, and the skies decided to open up briefly and heavily in response. I put my coat back on, and pushed on. In a short distance, the route came to the intersection with Grooms Road, and I was stunned to find myself there. I knew where I was and couldn't believe that I had just run down here from the Y.
Shortly after the intersection, I moved a foot to the left to enjoy a strip of soft dirt, and then the skies opened up once again. The rain was clearly punishing me for my insolence; it was pouring buckets, and I had to keep my hood up just so that I could see out of my glasses. The route turned back into a neighborhood, and then picked up a bike trail that I was completely unfamiliar with. Most of the bike trails in Clifton Park are set alongside the roads, but this was a meandering path that took us through woods, past tiny wetlands, and dropped us not far from the Clifton Commons. I expected us to cut through the Commons, but instead we stayed on Vischer's Ferry Road and then cut over to make our way through residential streets toward Shen.
I went for my third fuel pack, this one caffeinated, in hopes of keeping myself going long enough to roll across the finish line. The route went briefly along Route 146 (horrifying, even on the sidewalks), and then ducked in to Shen at the main entrance. We had been warned at the start that the route through the Shen campus would be on sidewalks, and indeed, it was. Cold, hard, sidewalks. We went past Gowana, then a brand new looking pool building, then Koda (now High School West), then around a much larger track than I remember, and finally past the High School. I stared at the High School, my high school, as I ran past, my mind full of nostalgia. I was approaching mile 9, though, so I snapped out of it, and texted my wife by voice to say I was getting close. (She had asked for advanced warning, in case the kids were acting up.) Then, I decided to see just how fast I could run the last mile.
I pushed hard, and managed to shave a minute off of my last mile. As I rounded the final stretch, I recognized the people in the distance, cheering me on. My family was there, and Jason and Bela had walked over, too. It was great to see them, and I picked up the pace even more on the last bit. My oldest had even made signs to cheer me on! My youngest daughter held out her arms as I ran past, and I realize now that I should have grabbed her and carried her across the line, but it didn't occur to me then; I was in "go mode", so I went. On the other side of the chute was a small group of people waiting to relieve us of our timing tags. I reunited with my family and fellow runners, and we exchanged congratulations and salutations.
We all hung around long enough to see the other runners I had been running with finish, including Scott, and then we headed over to the Y for some refreshment. The award ceremony started 15 or so minutes later. The fastest runner that day finished in under an hour, at 57:39, and he was nearly 7 minutes ahead of the next fastest runner. With a finishing time of 1:27:23, Bela won his age group, but he would have won it with any finishing time, as he was the only male in that group. Jason came in at 1:26:09.
All in all, it was a wonderful experience. I had no idea that I would get such a boost out of being around other runners, but it's something I intend to explore more as time goes on. My goal for this race was to run it in 2 hours, fully expecting to walk a lot during the final miles. It didn't happen like that, though. I walked very little; the longest I walked was up the hill after the reservoir. I ran the first mile in the 9's, the next two miles in the 10's the middle in the 11's, and the last in the 10's. My official time was 1:50:25, nearly 10 minute faster than my intended time. I'm elated, stunned, and can't wait for more.