I distinctly remember stopping at Tim Horton’s on the way home and eating a giant bucket of donut holes as I blazed through upstate New York in the afternoon heat. Today, I might stop at a brewery or two along the way, but back then such amenities were not as ubiquitous as they now are.
The next day, I went for a very short run just to stretch my now-weary legs. On Monday, I probably did the same, even as stiffness set in.
The race had been spectacular, more than I really hoped beforehand.
But I started that week with a major problem: I had trained through the summer for a specific event, and now that event was in the past. Which left me with two options: (1) Stop or slow down, which probably would have been good for my body but driven me nuts; or (2) keep going.
Obviously, I kept going. You know, after taking a very short break to let my body recover a bit.
For one, there were all those Tuesday races to attend. I’d taken Tuesdays off for so long, I wanted to see what this race day was all about. And then there were weekly running group runs that I had ignored because they never fit into my schedule. So much to do, so little time!
The fabled Pink Slipper race -- the ultimate or possibly penultimate Tuesday race of the season, owing to the declining daylight of September -- happened a week later. For the first (and last) time in 2002, I rode in a Tuesday race. And I acquitted myself pretty well, finishing in a decent position near the front of the group.
I had crossed an important threshold, moving into the new and amazing world of competitive cycling. And it would come back to haunt me.
A week after that, I rode in the Apple Fest Race almost 2 hours away. This was the race that I would eventually tell a friend had “only three real hills”, because that’s all I remembered from this first foray; turns out it’s a pretty rolling course, and I had become so immune to hills that anything short of a 300-foot climb just didn’t seem like a “hill”. I finished that race somewhere around 5th.
There were no more bike races that year -- maybe a time trial or two before the evening light turned into evening darkness and the pavement turned to reflecting the blood orange colors of changing leaves. But there was one more competitive run to polish off, and it was a big one, one I didn’t expect when I started the summer venture -- or even shortly after it: the Wineglass Marathon in Corning.
The opportunity came about abruptly about two weeks after my triathlon. I went to the Ithaca 5 & 10 to do the 10-mile (road) race, my first at that distance that was really official. Everybody insisted I should push for 60 minutes, so I asked around at the race start to find the right pacer. One of the runners was the coach at a nearby high school, and he had set himself at 6:02 miles to start, also with hopes of breaking the hour mark. When he took a dive a mile into the run, I helped him up, and we stayed together through Mile 9, when he looked a little gassed and we were not likely to make the magic time.
“You go ahead,” he told me. “I think you can catch that guy up there.”
That guy turned out to be Boris, who strode away like I was standing still even when I upped my pace. He caught the 3rd-place runner, and I fell in about 10 seconds behind him in 5th place at 1:00:52.
After the race, I got into a discussion with Rebecca, one of the regulars, who noted she was doing Wineglass on October 6, just a few weeks off. I hadn’t heard of this relatively local marathon and had never considered doing one -- it’s not a secret that 26.2 miles is a lot of distance to put on the legs at once -- but it sounded interesting.
A few day later, an email from Rebecca showed up on the listserv. Her fellow traveller in the Wineglass event was unable to attend, and she was looking for a replacement.
I thought about it for about 3 seconds. Back in Minnesota, when I’d gone on that long run with a friend at his house -- a run that felt like hell after 10 miles -- he had been training for a marathon. That was a marathon he eventually ran. I was almost as good as him in that run, without specifically training for it, and I was in such good shape now that I could rip off 25 km runs pretty much effortlessly. It should be easy to take on the full distance, even if it meant being a little destructive to the old legs.
I quickly responded, and a plan was hatched: I would pay half the entry fee plus gas, she would drive, and we’d go down there together.
Just to step back here, I will note that for most people, running a marathon is not something done casually. Sure, there are those who can stumble 20 miles out their door every morning and serially run marathons, but for most runners, the first marathon is supposed to be an achievement. It’s the culmination of a lot of hard work and specific training and target times and so on and so forth. It evokes images of daily workouts, sweeping changes in lifestyle, overcoming hardships, battling the twin demons of physical and mental fatigue, nervous moments before the big race, dedicated attention to the details of nipple balm and clothing choice and mile times for negative splits, and radiant pride on receiving the finisher’s medal.
For me, signing up to run that first marathon was a split-second decision made no more than 3 weeks before the event. It was the culmination of a two-sentence email. I had been changing my lifestyle for 8 years at this point. I had battled the twin demons and soundly defeated them. And when I showed up on race day, I was probably the only person there who didn’t know it was a Boston Qualifying event, nor did I know what that meant. (Being a West Coaster who didn’t grow up with a running background, I didn’t consider that the Boston Marathon was some sort of special event that needed to be qualified for.) I didn’t know what pace I would set, and just as importantly, I didn’t care -- this was just like any other race, where I would go out at my pace and do my thing and finish.