I started off the 2016 year thinking I would only run a few events. As the year has progressed I have found myself running more events than I thought I would. Sometimes things just fall into your lap and you can’t pass it up.
I knew going into the year I would run Glassfest 8K and the Wineglass Half Marathon and maybe two other events. One of which would likely be a longer race like a half marathon. On Friday 9/16/16 A friend and fellow runner put out the word that he needed a new partner for the Binghamton Marathon Relay. I figured surely another of my running friends or a runner that I didn’t know would jump in and take the spot. As I saw the responses coming in from other runners saying that they were busy and couldn’t do it I began to think, well maybe I could do it. The only problem was I had a prior engagement I would need to be back home for by noon.
I began thinking about what the race entailed and the distances of the legs we would have to run. I had been training for the Wineglass Half Marathon already. If I ran the first two legs of the Binghamton Marathon Relay and ran it in around the times I expected from my training I determined that I could run the first two legs of the relay and then head back home. I was planning to run a long training run on Sunday anyway, right. What’s the difference? So, I talked to my potential teammate and we decided that this would work and he would either find another runner to run one of the other legs or he would run both of those. We were able to find another running friend to run the final leg of the relay.
The Binghamton Marathon Relay was on 9/18/16. Just two days away. Did I really just sign up for a race on basically 1 days’ notice? I’ve never decided to run a race on such short notice. I was excited to be doing something I have never done before in the Marathon Relay but very nervous about being prepared for it considering that I had not planned to do this at all. It doesn’t help that I am the kind of person who is always nervous and anxious no matter how prepared I am for something. I have also never run a race that I had to drive an hour to before and that made me nervous.
On Race day I was actually prepped, dressed, and ready to go on time. On the drive out to the race venue my hip was feeling like it was tightening up every minute I was in the car. Trying to stretch a hip while seated and driving a car is let’s just say interesting and mostly unsuccessful. I arrived at the race right about the time I was planning to and was ready to run and at the start/finish line in plenty of time. I was ready perhaps a bit too early. As they were calling racers to the starting line I was one of only a few that were ready so when I went to the starting line there was nobody else there and I ended up being at the very front of the field. At the front of the field in any race is not a place I should be nor is it a place I want to be. At the start of the race I was off with the other racers. I wasn’t intending to run fast but it’s hard not to get swept up in the enthusiasm of the runners at the front. For the first couple of miles I knew I was running a faster pace than I wanted to or had trained for. I also did not want to spend the race looking at my watch to check my pace. I just wanted to enjoy the run. I spent the opening miles of the race just trying to slow down and let the other runners pass by, which really isn’t a great feeling even if you are not racing hard.
During the race I noticed bikers working for the event riding out ahead of runners and back towards the runners. I was not sure what they were doing. I just assumed they were making sure everyone was safe and people were staying on course. They may very well have been doing that too, but what I learned around mile 4 or 5 is that they were also handing out GU pouches to anyone who wanted one. One of the riders cruised up alongside me and coasted and asked if I wanted a GU and made a very easy transaction of passing me a GU while I was running and he was biking. This was totally cool and totally new to me. Now I didn’t have to get into my own pouch to get a gel. Thank you bike GU deliver guy.
One thing that is very strange is when you are running a relay and you come to an exchange point and you see all the other runners who are either waiting to exchange runners or have already exchanged runners for the relay and you know that you are not changing runners. It is especially tough mentally when you feel like you are not having a good race. Which is exactly how I was feeling. I was feeling tired both physically and mentally.
So, by mile 7 I was already feeling less than at my best. I was trying to keep my mentality positive. Telling myself over and over that this was just a practice run in preparation for Wineglass. Treat this just like a training run. I just wanted to log the miles. I’ll be honest it really wasn’t working. The race conditions were really not in my favor. It was warm and humid. I had spent the entire summer trying to avoid running in this type of weather.
By mile 10 I was feeling completely gassed. I was really starting to slow down. I was really starting to get a little down. This was not the performance I had hoped for after all my training that I felt like had gone so well. At some point I shifted into survival mode. I had to change my mentality. It wasn’t about this race anymore. My goal race was the Wineglass Half Marathon in 2 weeks. I needed to make sure I didn’t do any harm to myself that I couldn’t recover sufficiently from in time to run my best at Wineglass. I slowed down my pace, weather because of my mentality or simply because I couldn’t sustain it any longer or some combination of the two I don’t know. I knew this was not the race that was most important to me. This was just a trial on the way to my ultimate test for this year. I just needed to make it through. By the time I reached the exchange point at the half marathon distance and saw my teammate I literally could barely keep going. I had never felt so worn out after a race.
The best things about the race had nothing to do with me. During one of the toughest parts of the race for me mentally one of my friends in the field caught up to me and recognized me. She asked if I wanted to talk while we ran. I said talking would be nice but I am literally too tired and fatigued mentally to carry the conversation so she’d have to do the heavy lifting so to speak in the conversation department. During our time talking I learned that we had a mutual friend. Our conversation gave me some reasons to smile and to laugh on what was otherwise a tough day for me mentally. Finally at one point I told my friend that she could go ahead and run on at her pace, because I was just too tired to talk anymore. A little later a running friend not running this event drove past and cheered me on. And as I neared my exchange point with my teammates awaiting yet another running friend, who I didn’t know was running this event, was leaving the check point and passing me on the other side of the street gave me a shout out and words of encouragement.
Along the course there were volunteers manning water stations providing runners with hydration and speaking words of encouragement. Scattered all along there course there were various people and groups of fans for lack of a better word cheering us on. There were even a few people who were stopped in traffic waiting for runner to cross intersections who rolled down their windows and cheered us on. Every time I crossed paths with someone who had positive words and cheers to share it gave me a reason to put a smile back on my face and lifted me up a little on what was a tough day for me.
I hesitated to call the people watching the race fans but I think the might just be the perfect word. The people watching the race and cheering on runners were obviously not my fans, nor were they likely anyone’s fan except maybe one person they knew who was running the race. But these spectators cheered for every runner that passed them by. They yelled out, spoke words of encouragement, and rang cow bells. Why would they do this? Because they are fans. Not fans of just individuals. They are fans of runners. Fans of people who push themselves. Fans of people who challenge themselves physically and mentally. Fans of the community putting on the event. Fans of people supporting people and people supporting local organizations. It is about people showing support for other people and supporting communities, the local community and the community of runners that have gathered there.
I will remember this day as a tough run for me, but above everything else I will remember it as a day that people came together to cheer on others they may not even know as well as those that they did. It was a day of support and encouragement. A day of pushing ones limits fueled by the encouragement of others.