It’s Tuesday night and I am headed to a bar in EV. It’s not typical that I would be headed to a bar on a week night. I’m headed there to meet up with a bunch of trail and ultra runners from my new running group, Trail WhippAss. After 2 ciders and a little conversation about race schedules, I have committed myself to my longest race to date–the GLIRC (Greater Long Island Running Club) Greenbelt 25K.
Mike (Stinkfoot & Chafe) picked me up around 7:15 am. It was a cool and grey morning, but the forecast was for sunny skies and a high of 77. It only took about 30 minutes to get out to the start in Plainview, NY on Long Island. Nestled in a small industrial area, the GLIRC headquarters provided a humble start to the race. We grabbed our bibs, got geared up, and headed to the start where everyone was very friendly and chatting about the course. The 50Kers had headed out an hour earlier so it was just 25Kers hanging out and waiting for the start. Pre-race announcements were made and me, Mike, and two of my friends, Natalie and Ash, lined up at the back of the very small pack of runners. The plan was to take it easy and treat it as a training run not a race. Most of us will be racing the Brooklyn Half Marathon just a week after this race.
The beginning of the race leads out of the parking lot and onto a few roads before you hit trail. We were pretty much back of the pack with just a few people behind us. Natalie set a good conservative pace and I was feeling good. We hit the first aid at 2.16 miles right after our first road crossing. I wanted to stay on top of nutrition and hydration so I paused at the station to take some pocketfuel, drink some water, and refill my water bottles. The rest of the group headed off without me and I told them I would catch up. Back on the trail it took a little longer to catch up to the group than I had planned since I was taking it so easy. We stuck together at the next aid at 3.46 and headed up to the meadow at 3.76. In the meadow we ended up breaking up into two groups with me and Mike taking the lead. Mike and I stayed together for a short while. I’m not quite sure where we got separated, but he wasn’t very far behind me.
When I got to the Route 108 crossing (5.66 mi) there was a runner that was injured and I asked if he needed help. He asked if I could call headquarters to have someone pick him up. I had left my phone in the car, but Mike was headed towards us at that point so I asked if he could call. No reception. So we told the runner we would let them know at the next aid station and headed back out on the trail.
I knew that going into miles 6, 8, and 10 there were substantial climbs. What I didn’t realize was just how substantial. The substantial climbs meant there were some significant descents as well. At some points there were steps built which were a foot or two difference between steps. Following my typical trail race protocol, I power hiked the ascents and charged the descents–well, the ones that I could anyway. By the time I got to the halfway point at 7.86 miles, I was feeling good, but really over the hills. I was in great spirits and had been saying “good morning” to all of the hikers that I passed and cheering the runners that had passed me on their way back to the finish. I paused for a bit and ate and drank and chatted with the volunteers. After a minute or two, Mike appeared and made his way down to the aid station, too. I took my time eating and refilling my bottles and chatting. I had found out that the only restroom on the course was just a little walk next door to the library so I decided I should go. (It ended up being a quarter mile round trip.) By the time I got back, Mike was gone, but Natalie and Ash were there. They were also in good spirits, but also over the hills. The three of us took off together hoping to stick together for the mean hills. At the first good descent I charged down and before I knew it they were no longer behind me. At some point soon after I noticed that my knees were bothering me a bit, but I didn’t think much of it and kept pace. I was hoping to catch up to Mike.
Just before mile 9, I caught a glimpse of Mike ahead of me on the trail. I gave a loud “YIP YIP” and he hollered back. I figured it would just be a few minutes before I caught up. But it wasn’t another minute or so before my knees really started to act up. It was the outside of both and it was a sharp pain so I knew it was my IT bands. My hips were pretty tight before the start and I had thought maybe they would loosen up once I warmed up. I stopped for a minute after the next road crossing just after the 10 mile mark to stretch my IT bands. There was an unmanned aid just a few hundred feet from there so I headed over to fill my bottles and take a salt pill. That’s when I saw Natalie and Ash. I gave them my other two salt pills and we took off for mile 10 together.
Natalie set the pace and I tried to hang on. I was able to keep up with her for most of it, but my knees were really hurting. The downhills were especially excruciating and I could no longer run them. I just needed to get to the meadow at mile 11.66. The meadow is flat and from there it is less than 4 miles to the finish. “Where is the meadow?!” I kept asking with each turn even though the distance on my watch told me we still had a little while to go. Finally, FINALLY we reached the meadow. Natalie and I paused for a celebratory photo and to make sure Ash was still behind us. Ash and I took a couple more photos as Natalie ran ahead. With the end so close, she was ready to go.
The next 2 or so miles to the last aid station were difficult. I was able to keep up with Natalie, but just barely. She got a little ahead of me, but I caught up at the aid station. I had to pee at this point so no bottle refill needed as I hadn’t been drinking much over the last mile or so. I did indulge in a few candies which were the sweetest tasting little slices of heaven. Since it was nearly 12:30 there was much more traffic on the turnpike that we had to cross. We waited several minutes to cross, but at this point we were getting near 4 hours on the course so I couldn’t have cared less. We finally crossed. Just 2 miles to go.
The last two miles were hell. No really. Every step I took while running hurt and I could barely walk down hills. As I hobbled down hills, Natalie pressed on. I could still see her, but there was no way I was catching her. I decided I would just walk until I got out of the woods or at least until I came across the next course marshals which happened around mile 15. I put on a smile and did a slow trot passed them, thanking them for coming out and volunteering. When I turned out onto the streets for the final half a mile I could see Natalie ahead of me. And then she was gone. The last half of a mile was downhill, then uphill, then downhill before entering the parking lot to finish. At this point all I could do was walk. As I headed back to the parking lot for the finish, a runner who was leaving rolled down their window and offered encouragement. And as I got within earshot of the course marshal directing us into the finish in the parking lot, he encouraged me to finish strong. He said, “if you start running now, no one will know you were walking!” I told him there was no way that was happening. I didn’t think my legs could even run at that point.
As I turned into the parking lot, the first thing I saw was my friends, Chris and Erik. They had surprised me and showed up at the finish. There was no way I could walk it in. I started to shuffle my feet. That’s when I started to hear everyone at the finish line cheering for me and saw that Mike, Natalie, and another trail buddy were there hollering with cameras at the ready. I felt a little silly that I couldn’t actually really run and made jokes as I hobbled in. I tried to push myself into a run, but my legs just wouldn’t do it. (And I felt a bit like I would fall over if I tried.) A man at the finish held up my medal and I felt my face light up. I shuffled directly to it with both hands reaching for it. Mike got a photo and I don’t think I have ever seen that level of joy on my face in a photo. It was pure bliss. It took me 4 hours, 15 minutes, and some change, but I got it done. Longest race ever (15.78 miles total) and most elevation change ever (2231 gain, 2267 loss).
The next few minutes are pretty blurry. I know I hugged a lot of people and there were photos taken. I also heard there was beer and rushed off to grab one. It was a Yuengling, but it might as well have been the best craft beer that I have ever had. It tasted magical. By this time it had started to lightly drizzle. I stood in the rain and drank my beer with my friends. I didn’t want to keep my non-runner friends waiting in the rain so I headed out with them while Mike hung back to cheer in our friend that had run the 50K. I proudly wore my race medal to lunch where I enjoyed soooo much barbecue and a couple of beers.
After I got home, I started tending to my “wounds.” I iced and elevated my legs. I did some gentle yoga focusing on IT band stretches. Later that night, I laid on my back with legs up against the wall and massaged my IT band from hip to knee. I went to bed hoping for the best. I was a bit surprised when my I woke up after just 7.5 hours of sleep. Surely my body needed more? I gently rolled out of bed, sure that my legs were going to be stiff and painful. To my surprise, my knees felt pretty good and my only significant soreness was in my hips and glutes. Heading downstairs for brunch was slow going, but not necessarily painful. The human body is truly amazing.
This is the second race in row that my body has “betrayed” me. Last week at Bear, I suffered from abdomen cramps and this time it was my IT bands. I now truly believe that “bad” races are the most rewarding experiences. I’ve learned so much about myself through the past two experiences and I wouldn’t take them back for the world. At the end of the day, it’s the heart not the clock that counts. I can try to convince myself that my finishing time is an indication of performance improvement, but it really just serves the ego. I think it is totally natural to want to be better than you were before. Or even to be as “good” as your peers. But I want to hold on to the fact that I am not doing these races for performance. I am doing them for the experience. For fun. To spend a day out on the trails doing awesome things with awesome people. There is no way to quantify an awesome experience.
Race fuel & hydration notes
Nathan double 9oz bottle belt
Pre-race dinner & breakfast
Mashed potatoes & chili (for both meals!)