Tuesday, May 31, 2011


This Monday saw the highest temperatures and humidity the New York area has seen yet this season. I thought it would be a good idea to spend my mid-day running on a soaking wet trail course in Van Cortlandt Park with about 150 of my running chums. I was shooting for four laps on this challenging Holiday Marathon course, leading to my second full marathon since I started running seriously. Clearly, this was not the best of ideas.

There are countless posts on failure-leading-to-lesson-learned in the running blogging community. Running too fast, too hard, too soon in a race and learning the lesson of patience and race strategy and such. But this post is about failure and should have known better, no excuses and change.

Sunday I spent, for the most part, doing exactly what you should do before a huge race. I rested, I hydrated, I ate smart and I stretched out. I had veggies and brown rice for dinner and was in bed by 10pm. I slept alright, not the best sleep ever, but still nothing like the night before the NYC Marathon. I got up at 6:30 because my weekday alarm didn’t know it was Memorial Day, but I was able to go back to sleep and get going at the normal hour of 7:15 as I had planned.

I did my pre-race thing: Cliff Bars, water, newspaper, “other” and then got going. Walking to the bus I noticed it wasn’t anywhere close to the 90 degrees promised by the omniscient NY1 Weather Team. I caught the bus right away and only had to wait for a minute or two for the One Train. It was notably warmer during the transition from the bus to the train…but whatever. Things were still going to plan.

I am a sucker for ceremony. I love the National Anthem at baseball games, feel like I didn’t really watch the State of the Union unless I hear the Sergeant at Arms announce the President to the Speaker, and I like an Oneg Shabbat to have those little crispy chocolate sandwich cookies. (Ok the last one isn’t a ceremony but they are still really good.) It being Memorial Day, I thought I should take part in the moment of silence and listen to God Bless America with my fellow runners, so I started the race with most of the group, as opposed to starting earlier to beat the heat, at 10 am.

It was about 80 and muggy at that point. But I had my game plan.

I had frozen my Fuel Belt water bottles and had another .750 Lt. bottle to carry with me. I had my gels and a cooler with Gatorade for each lap. I also had extra water to refill each of my bottles on each lap. This game plan was set.

The first three miles of this course include two gnarly climbs and then some pretty flat terrain. One is up the “Holiday Hill” and is not run-able but is heart pumping all the same. The second is run-able and is just long enough to mess up your breathing. But still I was trucking along, heart rate a bit elevated (I know this because I could feel it in my head, not view it via a heart-rate monitor) at a pretty good pace (about 9:45 miles on average) and avoiding ankle deep mud puddles.

By this time I would assume it was about 90 degrees in the sun. Luckily a majority of this race in the shade, but that also means that a majority of this race is on the back side of the trail traversing some awful hills.

The second half of the Holiday Marathon course is host to a number of peaks and valleys. The hills are really hard and I walked up some of them leading to a very slow 12 minute mile on the back end. But I was feeling pretty good about myself until mile five. Then the humidity started to really take its toll. I resorted to pouring water on my head and down my back. This made little to no difference. I know I was hydrated, but I couldn’t cool down. This was only made worse by the half mile or so on the completely exposed track back to the Tortoise and Hare statue.

I got back to the start, refilled my bottles, took a swig of cold Gatorade and went out again for the second lap, fully aware that odds were that this was going to be a slow Half Marathon day. However, as I approached the Holiday Hill, I said to myself, “Self, you should stop. Your heart is pounding, you are overheating and you are close enough to walk back.” So I did.

Now, as I said at the beginning, I had a plan and I stuck to it.

I just didn’t have the juice on yesterday. I had trained with a number of long runs and had tapered. I had carbed up and hydrated appropriately. I just was toast. As soon as I turned back, I was pissed. As I walked down the deceptive grade to the starting area, my heart rate slowed and my body temp seemed to regulate a bit. So I thought I would try again, damn the time and just finish it…but I didn’t.

I came back to the start embarrassed and cursing. I meet up with the Daily Mile guys, then took a water bottle shower and felt my temperature drop with each eight ounces I poured over my head.

I said goodbye and walked to the train, calling my lovely wife and parents to let them know I was alive, as is tradition. I sulked the entire train and bus ride home. But as I crossed the Park to the Upper East Side, my sulking turned into a bit of pissy enlightenment: Stopping was the right choice.

It had nothing to do with learning from failure or needing a bad race to know that I love running (I have plenty of those) or anything like that. It was so I didn’t make a call to my lovely wife and parents telling them I was hurt or worse having someone else tell them I was hospitalized for stupidity. I felt like crap and did for the rest of the day.

So we all have limits, blah, blah, blah. I will not be attempting any more of the Summer or early Fall Holiday Marathons (I will be out of town for most of them, but still). I will be back after I tackle the Philly Marathon this November, but I now know my heat limit and I will change my outlook a bit -- I got to respect the distance and my ability. I should have known better and I make no excuses for my naiveté. I am still figuring this all out and sometimes I forget that I started on this path towards being a “runner” less than a year ago.

Even though I said this wasn’t about lessons, my lesson was learned. Whatever, it is my blog and I will deviate from my stated thesis if I want to.

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