Depending on where you live, Winter is a blessing or hell as a runner. In New York, the state, not the city, Winter is cold, snowy, and lasts for months. I don't care how diehard you are, a runner becomes impacted by all the elements that accompany this time of year. One way we try to overcome the season, is to setup some races, smartly spaced to keep us engaged. For me, this is year 3 (or is it 4?) of being a part of the Winter Series.
For those who don't know, the series is run both on the U Albany campus and the Harriman State campus, on some of the hardest roads known to man. Seriously, the asphalt they used must be space shuttle runway grade, judging by how my knees and foot bottoms cry after a race. Generally, they have 3 different distances and I have always gone for the longest distance -- you probably already knew that. The course is really just one big oval that you might run around several times, depending on which race you're running.
The course, while compact and efficient logistically, can have some very distinct climate changes during a race. There are parts that are gusty and freezing, while there are other parts with no wind and you work up enough sweat that you want to strip a layer. That is often a bad idea, because the wind will come back and you don't need me to tell you what sweat exposed to frigid, gusty wind will do. Generally I find it a good idea to have layers that I can adjust as necessary, like full zips or arm sleeves. The weather changes so quickly at times, that it pays to be prepared. Unless you're one of the crazies who shows up in shorts and singlet.
The first race this season was in mid December. I volunteered for and about a foot of snow fell overnight before the race. The road in front of my house wasn't plowed and I didn't know if I should dare to make the journey. I remember thinking at the time, that I if were running, I would stay home. However, since I was volunteering, there is a certain responsibility I had to up hold. Instead of the easy spot that I had last year, I got the unenviable task of steering runners from the circle into SUNY. Why was it so bad? Because runners weren't staying to the side they were supposed to, which had more snow. Instead, many were opting for the better traction of the other two lanes. Which probably wasn't the smartest thing to do, you know with cars going 50 mph in slick conditions.
In fact, a state trooper showed up and started giving some volunteers crap, myself included, about what the hell we thought we were doing. He demanded papers and told us we had no right to stop traffic. Obviously the race director had permits, but why would anyone else? Anyway, I froze my ass off that day. More people showed up than I thought would, and the winner of the 15k seemed literally a mile ahead of next guy. Talia ran too, and she was waiting for me after it was over. I was glad when it was done because in many ways it was harder than racing, like I said, I froze out there.
The "Hangover Half", as it's called, took place at noon on New Year's day. This time I was running and I felt pretty good at the start. There are a couple things that always amaze me about this one: The clothes and the competition. Just about everyone there is showing off their holiday haul of gear. There are some people who are wearing $500 worth of fancy new threads (I'm not one of them). I'm sure some of those gadgets are new too, but those are harder to identify. The other thing that I notice is how many serious runners show up.
Any other Winter Series race, running a sub 8 minute pace is enough to have a good finish. For the half, it's a different story. I came in 60 something despite having a solid day in the elements and with extra layers. Not that the weather was bad, it was actually nice enough --everything's relative-- that a couple light shirts sufficed. The home stretch was a little rough though, I poured everything I had into it and made it to the finish a little light headed.
25k's of excitement. No, not really. I ran this one again, except I was still recovering from a nasty cold. To be honest, I wasn't looking forward to this one, but I felt like I should at least try. There's a certain expectation people have of me, and I have to admit it sometimes affects my judgment. This time my friend from work, Scott, was running and that was a little invigorating. That probably gave me a boost. I ran with him for the first 3 quarters of a mile and then took off. I must have been really feeling good because I ran a 6:13 mile... sick! Having not run in a week or more probably had something to do with it, I imagine. Although, it doesn't take a fortune teller to foretell what happened about 5 miles later. My body gave in.
It's not that I collapsed in the road or had to walk, but there was just nothing there to speak of. No energy of any kind and my ribs felt horribly constricted. There was one small miracle that helped me out a lot, and that was the final loop was half the distance of the others. When the volunteer told me to go straight where we normally turned, instantly my mood turned positive and that was when I kicked it up a gear. With that, the last couple miles I attempted a comeback, but it wasn't enough, as I only passed one other runner, a girl I had been running behind virtually the entire race. I finished, took my numbered card, and slowly walked back inside. No jumping up the steps for me that day.
Sometimes you're happy just to survive.
The Winter would be a much darker time for me, if these races didn't exist. They give me a reason to brave the arctic environment and really provide a great, low pressure, race. Being an HMRRC member, means they are free for me, so that doesn't hurt either. There are still two more races in the series, as well as the full marathon. I'm anticipating volunteering for the next two races to meet my "volunteering" requirements for the Vermont 100 later this year. Running, volunteering, it doesn't matter, I'm just happy to be out there and a part of it.
I'll post some results and maps a bit later...