Just one week after a tough (almost PR) Chicago marathon, I chose to..well, race again! My good running friend, Gary Berard, told me about a popular trail race a stones throw north of NYC which intrigued me. The race: Paine to Pain Trail Half Marathon. Runner’s World Magazine describes it as “…a giant single loop that winds its way through the woods and trails of several lower Westchester communities“.
I, of course had no need to race so soon post-Chicago. My next ‘race’, the JFK 50 was seven weeks away in mid-November and my training plan for that consisted of little more than easy miles. But the idea of a trail run only 30 minutes by car from home, made it so easy! I signed up with good intentions of treating it like a 13.1 easy run, just with a race bib on and 1,000 friends. The day before, my type A personality was fully restored and I declared to Gary I was going to race it. Team Type 1’s Matt Patrick also sewed a seed in my head texting me in the week that I could win it! (This is his home turf so he knows the course better than most).
On October 14th, we were picked up by Gary’s friend, Geoff Badner who was also using the race as a training run for the Brooklyn Marathon (the same weekend as JFK). Gary unfortunately went from runner to spectator with a bad back mid-week. I tried to convince him, it was because he was now married and just getting old but he didn’t buy it. He even went to the chiropractor to confirm he should not run. Tough luck for him, but hats off for still making the road trip and cheering on Geoff and myself, early on a Sunday.
We picked up our race numbers by the start in New Rochelle and checked out the competition. Anyone in skimpy shorts or lightweight shoes or a combination of both meant competition! I was feeling mentally strong and had decided the goal was to try to make top 10, anything better, a bonus. My blood glucose read 190mg/dL just prior to the start. Absolutely perfect, I could not be happier with that.I toed the line and a rifle was fired. We all charged up a gradual hill for over 3/4 mile and I quickly found myself in 3rd place. My first mile split was 6:13! Slightly keen maybe?!
Asphalt road soon got replaced for the good stuff: single track trail with rocks, roots and a few small bridges mixed in too. I sat behind the lead two feeling pretty good. I lost ground on them going uphill but gained when going down. Then, I got impatient on a downhill and decided I wanted the lead, so I took it.
Here I was, in th lead of a half-marathon with 11 miles to go, just a week after a marathon! What was I thinking? Well, I was hoping everyone else’s heart rate were as high as mine to start with! As quickly as the idea of a nice W got in my head, it quickly got booted out again as the front two passed me. More followed. I got put in my place (10th to be exact) and had to readjust my winning goal back to my original. It was fun for a few hundred yards at least. I knew I had to back off. My heart rate was probably 175. I wish I had worn my monitor to see how high it really did get. I needed to bring this down or I would be toast well before this was over.
We continued on single track for a few miles occasionally crossing a quiet road and then entering more magical forest to explore. I was about 13th or 14th at 6 miles as the hardest part of the course was now behind us. The rocks and tree roots with up and down climbing was now replaced with flatter and wider runnable trail. Each mile for me however was getting slower and slower. Sub-7 miles were now 7:20….7:30 and then I hit my lowest and slowest moment at mile 7: 8:07. I took a Honey Stinger gel thinking maybe their was more to it than just fatigue, maybe my blood glucose was dropping towards a hypoglycemia level? Whatever it was or wasn’t, I was now heavily regretting my heroic performance at the start!
Then I heard more footsteps gradually closing in on me I didn’t turn around, i knew I would see whoever it was in a matter of seconds anyway. It was the first female. She passed and said “Hey” in a surprised tone. I responded the same adding even more emphasis on the surprise in my voice. It was my friend Deanna Culbreath, a fellow Brooks ID runner!
We both really had no idea either of us were running this. She said for us to run together (which would have been awesome) but my legs were toast and I had to go my own pace in this low moment. She ran ahead and took down the next guy soon after. She was getting cheered on by volunteers and spectators who acknowledged that she was the clear leader of the women’s race. It was awesome to witness.
Every turn I expected to lose sight of her but I didn’t and the guy in front had managed to stay with her. Maybe seeing a familiar face lit a fire inside of me or maybe it was the guy ahead who did decide to stick with her that made me feel like I had more energy deep down somewhere. I remembered the famous words of Scott Jurek “Dig Deep” and did just that. It’s hard to say how or why I got out of that mess in the middle miles. All I know is, I was grateful Deanna was out there kicking my butt because I gave me a second wind. I managed to get my pace back to 7-min miles as we continued to circled around the big loop back towards New Rochelle.
At mile 10, I had regained two or three places, one of which was the guy who had tried to hang with Deanna, but I was clueless if I was 9th or 15th or somewhere in the middle. Keila ran this race in 2011 and had told me about the age group prizes. This was not just any prize, this was an engraved beer tankard! The tangible award made some more pain go away and this became my new race goal. Yes, a glass beer tankard made me run competitive! (although who was to say how many 30-39 year olds were ahead of me).
At mile 11, I had clawed my way back to rock star ultra athlete Deanna. We had actually been pushing each other for the last mile or so. Without ever really talking about it then or since, I think we both really enjoyed competing against each other out there on the trail. I felt good and decided to press on, convinced she would follow suit.
I really had got the wind back in my sails now and was clocking low 6’s for those last 3 miles. I saw Gary standing in the middle of the woods after a turn and he did what any good running coach does; give a runner information they can use to their advantage. “Good job” or “almost there” wasn’t going to help me. His words? “1 mile to go, 10th place, next ahead is 40 seconds, 1/2 mile to the road and you finish on the athletic track”. 5 key pieces of information were passed onto me in 5 seconds. Super helpful and the best part was, we didn’t even discuss that before the race. I cannot wait to train with him for Boston 2013.
With this on board, I gunned it towards a road I couldn’t yet see. It felt longer than the half mile quoted but I’ll blame my dead legs, not Gary on that one. The road took me quickly into full view of the athletic track and I got a glance at the finish line. This got me pumped up. Not because it was almost over, because it is just like the finish of the famous Western States 100 in California!! (minus 86.9 miles..who’s counting right?).
I turned a sharp right down onto the track to do the final 300 meters. The surface felt great after 12 or so miles of rocks and uneven trail terrain. I sprinted the last straight thinking of my family, who have had a rough year, to say the least with health news, and clocked in at 1:30. I was ecstatic to come in the top 10. I had hit my race goal.
Within a minute, a got to watch some Paine to Pain history as Deanna came roaring home to win the women’s field and smash the course record by over six minutes! A great achievement and a great outing for Brooks Running all round! Geoff followed shortly after in 1:34 which surprised me as I thought he was going to take it easy and use it as a ‘training run’. Look who’s talking I guess and watch out Brooklyn Marathoner’s!
We all hung around for the awards making new friends while watching others finish. Some of my best times are post-runs, talking to people. Oh and yes, I managed to sneak into 3rd place age group for 30-39 and get my now beloved glass tankard. All that Paine to Pain was worth it! All in all, a great trail half-marathon put on a few miles north of the NYC. For any New York runner looking outside of the NYRR bubble or just wanting to dabble into some trail running, may I strongly suggest Paine to Pain 2013?