Shortly after Bear Mountain, I saw a post on Facebook from NJ Trail Series (they put on the Febapple race in February that I won) that there were plenty of entries left into their Watchung Spring race series and especially the marathon distance and that there would be prize money to the top-3 male and female winners. Since they hadn't finalized the date of the race until Spring, I didn't realize this race was open and figured I could use my free entry prize for winning the Febapple 50K and parlay that into a top-3 finish and prize money at this race. Obviously, I knew placing top-3 was all about who shows up to the race. If fast people show up, my chances are very low. I can only run as fast as my fastest while those much faster than me can only do something stupid and drop out for me to beat them. But I was hopeful that not that many fast people would show up and worst case, I get in a good training run at race effort.
My running following Bear Mountain was inconsistent since I wanted to make certain I wouldn't re-injure that meniscus. I only ran once the week after Bear Mountain for 6 miles. The week after that I ran 20 miles in 3 days as I was travelling to Poland for a short trip. Then I picked up my mileage to 50 miles the next week and I ran around 32 miles in the 6 days leading up to the race. Looking at the weather forecast, the temperatures were expected to be somewhat cooler than earlier in the week and rain was expected about 2 hours into the race. I ate a PB and Jelly sandwich about 90 minutes before the race. It felt a little humid that morning though and not as cool as the original forecast had said.
About 5 minutes before the race began it started to rain a little bit but then stopped. The course would be a 0.6 mile loop followed by 4x 10K (6.2 mile) loops and then one last 0.6 mile loop. At the start, four people ran ahead of me and I let that lead pack go. I ran comfortably hard on this roughly 1.2ish mile section of road before we went to the trail. My first mile was just below 7 minute miles. I knew this was not going to be possible to hold for the rest of the race and was ok slowing down once we hit the trails. Mile 2 was 8 minute miles and I hoped to hold that pace the rest of the race and finish around 3:30. However, about 3 miles into the race, I felt my right hip tightening up. It wasn't hurting but I was nervous it may start hurting and become a problem. I wasn't sure what I could do about it at this moment so I just went with it but wasn't pushing my pace. I had about half of my water by the time we hit mile 5 and the aid station and went right by it since the Start/Finish aid station was in another two miles. It was in this two mile section that I started to feel just a little overheated. I completed that first 10K loop and the mini loop in about 57 minutes.
Loop two saw me taking some walk breaks up some small hills and my pace slowed down. In fact, half-way through this loop the wheels started to fall off. Yes, I had slowed down a little earlier but at mile 10 and 11 (which included filling up my water bottle and taking electrolyte pills) my pace was about a 10 minute mile. I finished up the loop with an 8:40 mile and from there I was finished. The humidity had worn me down tremendously. My heart rate was staying high and I couldn't cool myself down unless I walked. When I tried to run I would feel sick.
I had debated those last two miles if I should drop down to the half-marathon distance since I knew some pain (not physical injury type pain) was forthcoming. However, I didn't want to have a DNF or drop down to mentally impact me during my Grand Slam races because I wanted some tough-it-out moments to help me in those situations if need be and if I could pull myself together, it would be a reminder to not give up unless it is a life-threatening or major injury type situation that would occur from continuing. Also, it would only be another 13 miles. I could find the will to suffer through that. The suffering began quite quickly. I basically walked a lot after the aid station at the Start/Finish. My pace slowed to a 12-minute mile and then a 13 minute mile and after a 10-minute mile downhill section, it went back up to average 16:30 for the next two miles. I nearly threw up upon getting to that middle aid station. I filled up my water bottle and drank a lot of it and poured the rest on my head, neck, legs, and wrists. Then I took a seat on the grass in the shade that the aid station provided. I stayed there a few minutes trying to cool down and regroup. A woman who I was playing leap frog with only because she was waiting on a runner behind her said, "only 2 more miles to go" to which I replied, "I have one more loop after this one". So I got up and struggled my way forward and again, debating dropping out.
To put in perspective the downfall, my first 10K loop was 52:35, the 2nd was 59:18, the 3rd was 90:16. What would the 4th be?! Well maybe it was a combination of slowing town tremendously and pouring water on myself and trying to stay cooler and maybe just knowing that this was the last loop, I picked up my pace as best I could and walked the uphills. I walked some flat sections too if I felt like I was overheating. I imagined getting some ice cream or iced coffee or tea after the race and how a cold shower would be phenomenal. Eventually, I caught up and passed some fellow marathoners that ran by me during my death loop. Looks like they were suffering now like I was then. I took my last electrolytes before the aid station and when I got there, I filled up my water bottle and cooled myself down and then refilled the bottle. At the aid station I chatted with another runner who I had just passed coming into the area. This was her first marathon and first trail race. She was suffering but still in good spirits because she knew she would finish. We ran out together but after maybe 0.2 miles, she couldn't keep up so I took off faster and told her I'll see her at the finish. I felt surprisingly good now. Not fresh but a lot better than earlier. My last two mile which included a long hill was abbot a 9:30 pace. I finished the race in 4:50 and was so glad to be done and get that bad race behind me. I may have had a shot at 3rd place had I had a good race, but given the humidity, it was highly unlikely. First place finished in 3:01, which was never a time I would be able to do. I guess the fast people showed up for this race.
After the race, I ate a lot of blueberries and strawberries from the aid station and chatted with the Race Director. Then I sat in the shade under a tree and waited for Juerg to finish the race. I then chatted with him a while, mostly about how terrible this race went for both of us and plans for the next couple of months and Leadville. Then it was tiem to go home. It finally rained at about 5PM and by the time I exited the subway it was a torrential downpour and I enjoyed every second of that.
So my thoughts on this race aren't so bad. We all have bad races now and then and this day was my turn. I feel you learn more from the really bad races than the great ones. The reason is you have to adjust so many things and work so hard physically and mentally to continue and not quit. It's not that you don't work hard and use mental strength as well for great races, but the positive feedback loop from a great race is easier to and more fun to handle. In the bad races, you just want them to end but the end is farther away than it would be if it were a good day. Also, you can use these terrible races as motivation during other races. If a down moment may be appearing, remind yourself of how you suffered and still survived and finished on a bad day when things may have been much worse. Finally, this was still a training race and I still am focused on completing the Grand Slam. So one bad day doesn't matter.
Later that week, I had the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge in Central Park (3.2 mile race) and ended running my fastest 5K (and 3.2 mile) race. I clocked in at 19:25 which is a 6:05 minute/mile pace. So things improved rather quickly following that terrible marathon. Now it's just a bunch of 100-mile Mountain races to take care of. . . .