As most of you know, I’ve been training for the Boston Marathon coming up on April 16. It’s the first time I’ve taken my marathon training seriously in a long time, and it’s been quite a haul. Luckily, I have been working with a great coach, Christopher Baker. Even though I’m a run coach and hold many others accountable, I find it really hard to hold myself accountable when I’m planning for so many other people, so it’s helpful to have someone taking the guesswork out of my training. While the workouts have been quite grueling — and balancing them with everything else I have going on in life (work, school, coaching, attempting to have a social life) has been even more demanding — I’m happy to have a schedule and some kind of consistency in my life.
As a tune up, I ran the Sleepy Hollow Half Marathon on Saturday. It was a wonderful opportunity to see some real-time results of this training plan in action. A friend had suggested the race after the drawing results for the New York City Half came out, and while I didn’t have any desire to run another NYRR race, I liked the idea of a small town race in a new and different place. While the hills of the course were intimidating, I liked that there was no pressure to PR, and the idea of getting a race in before the marathon.
A few friends from The Most Informal Running Club, Ever (NYC), and I headed up to Sleepy Hollow via the MetroNorth train, and were able to walk to the race start from the train. The weather was chilly, but sunny, so it was nice to not freeze our butts off before the race like the runners in the NYC Half had done the weekend before. We even had time for our tradition of taking a photo in the Port-A-Potty (don’t ask why).
Before starting the race, I decided my goal was to stay mentally positive and “in” the race, and not to go to the dark place. I didn’t want to psych myself out before the marathon, so decided to stay away from a time-based goal and just run strong. Baker echoed my sentiments, telling me to treat this race as a long, paced run (but also telling me to hit a solid 7-minute pace and speed up at the end if I could). During the first three miles of the race, this was actually really hard. The race immediately started on a hill, and it didn’t seem to get any easier. I dropped a 7:20 within the first 5k, and immediately felt defeated. I opted to run without music, so could hear myself breathing heavy and was concerned: If I was heaving this early in the race, would I last for 13.1 miles?
Luckily, once my body got used the rapidly occurring climbs and descents, my breathing got more regular, and I kept the “paced run” mentality in the back of my mind. During the uphills I tried to climb, and during the downhills I just tried to let gravity do its work. On the straightaways, I pushed myself like it was a paced run: relentless, forward motion, one step at a time.
When I wasn’t focusing on putting one foot in front of the other or focusing on catching my breath during a steep climb, I was able to enjoy the scenery of Sleepy Hollow, the Hudson River, and its surrounding areas. Originally, the race was supposed to be half on the trails of the Rockefeller State Preserve, and half on the roads, but due to snow earlier in the week, the race organizers rerouted the course to be fully on the roads. While I had been looking forward to a change of terrain, I’m glad I didn’t have to run through mud or wet, slippery trails. Since the course looped around in certain places, it was also fun to see some of my friends along the way. I was even able to engage in some small talk with other runners running a similar pace throughout the race. (One guy complimented one of my burps, and told me there was beer at the finish line. He was basically my hero!).
The race began and ended on a hill, and provided plenty of climbs in between. It definitely tested me in more ways than one, but I felt like I finished strong and ended up placing first in my age group, coming in sixth for women overall! I was also happy with how my new shoes, the Brooks Launch 5, performed. They felt light enough to for a fresh bounce in my step, while still providing the support I feel comfortable with.
My official time was a 1:31:24, which is a PR for me, but the best thing about this race is that it helped me realize my training efforts have been paying off, and it also helped me test my mental fortitude. In the past, I’ve let my brain get the best of me or talked myself down from giving the best effort I could give — not this time, though. Instead of feeling intimidating when the race felt tough, I just focused on the mile I was in.
My parents were waiting at the finish line with my friend Chris who had already finished, and once everyone in our group finished, we enjoyed the free beer (perhaps a little too much) while waiting for the awards ceremony (Chris placed in his age group, too!) and grabbed lunch in Sleepy Hollow before heading back home on the train.
All in all, this local race is one I would recommend to others, and run again myself. It was well organized, small enough to not feel overwhelming, had an adequate amount of water stations (every couple of miles), was accessible from NYC by train, and had FREE BEER at the finish line.
Just don’t say I didn’t warn you about the hills!
Photo credit: Huy Duong