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On Saturday, I returned to the scene of the crime.
“The crime,” of course, being East Hampton, NY, where I ran my first marathon one year ago. This time, I was heading back to race again, but for the Hamptons Half Marathon, not the full.
My expectations were equal parts low and high: I had no pace plan or time goal (that’s the low/no expectation part), but my hopes were hugely optimistic that merely being back in The Hamptons would mean instant magic and overwhelming happiness.
I truly do believe that magic happens in The Hamptons. I had an awesome time running the Hamptons Half. The day was everything I had hoped it would be.
If you’re here for the numbers, here you go:
But as I’ve said many times (OK, maybe two or three times, but with emphasis, so they count more), my last-minute decision to run this half marathon was never about a time goal. In fact, I told myself going into the race — and reminded myself at the start line — that no matter how great I felt in those first few miles, this wasn’t about gunning for a PR.
This past week of running was a cutback week for me, which I definitely needed. After an 18-miler, a week of traveling and hard running and a 20-miler, my legs were tired and my hips were feeling extra tight and achy. So scaling down the mileage and taking a complete, total, legitimate rest day Friday (that means sitting in my desk chair all day, not “running an easy 6 miles” or “doing a light spin class” or “lifting, easy yoga and a 90 minute swim”) felt good.
By Friday afternoon, I started to get a little nervous.
It was fun, though. I liked having a little pre-race anxiety, and it felt good to actually be signed up for a race that I was excited about but also cared about. For a long time I stopped caring about racing, and then I stopped doing races altogether. It’s nice to be easing back into it, and I’m working harder on my mental game this time around instead of stressing and obsessing over my physical capabilities. I need the mental work more.
I need the physical work, too. But I’ll do that eventually…
Brian and I rented a little 4-door vehicle and drove out east (that’s what the Long Islanders say when they’re leaving Manhattan: “going out east”) Friday night. We stopped for some carbohydrates on the way and were settled into the lovely Holiday Inn Express in Riverhead by 11:30 PM.
I went to sleep Friday night with happy butterflies smacking around in my stomach.
Oh, my stomach. Remember when it was so so so bad? Well on Saturday, it was so so so good. Hooray! Victory! Success! A Porta Potty-less race!
I was pretty psyched to wake up at 5 AM Saturday. I did the usual stuff you know about: shower, abs, granola bars, legwarmers, braid hair, figure out what to wear because I definitely didn’t pack enough options…
My stomach felt unsettled the whole time I was getting ready. I was never too worried because I assumed it was just race nerves. Brian and I drove (OK, he drove, I changed the radio station every two seconds and played a game I like to call “Ali’s Car Karaoke,” and now that I think about it I will rename it “Caraoke”) the hour to the race start, and as soon as we parked and I got to the bathroom and I pinned my bib on, my stomach pain went away.
I did a “warm-up jog” which consisted of running around a soccer field for 30 seconds before I got bored, and then snagged a kiss from Brian and scooted into my little corral.
Everything was just the way I remembered from last year, and the familiarity was comforting. Same bathrooms, same “corrals,” which were really just a few signs with mile times written on them, and the same National Anthem being played from a set of speakers.
In those final few minutes before the horn went off, I decided on my plan: I’d go out at an 8:30 pace and try to carry that throughout the race. If I felt good, I could speed up, but not until mile 8 or 9. I don’t consider myself in “race shape” right now, and I didn’t want to hit any walls or burn out. Thus, 8:30s and “then see what happens.”
As soon as the horn blew, I unexpectedly lost it. I’m sure I looked totally foolish. I put my headphones on and started my watch and started running, and I saw Brian waving and taking pictures on the sideline, and I just started ugly blubbering.
I’m a crier. We all know that. I cry at many things and I’m not usually embarrassed by that. My Sister’s Keeper? Stepmom? The mere mention of Denny Duquette? Forget it.
But I cried for a solid 30 seconds at the start of this race. I was so happy. Happy to be healthy, happy to be running, happy to be back in the place where so many good things have happened in my life.
Let me be cheesy, just today, OK?
So mile 1: The Crying Mile. Way to keep it together, Feller.
Amazingly, I didn’t go out too fast. Am I learning? Am I getting better at this running thing? Nah. It was probably just a fluke.
The first mile was just slightly faster than I had anticipated, so I scaled it back for the second mile. Well played, Young Ali. You are seeing your past mistakes and you are not re-living them!
From there, I just cruised. My shins were a little achy at first, but I didn’t dwell on the “sensations” and eventually I felt fine. My legs loosened up and my pace felt comfortable and sustainable. I was never breathing too heavily and I always felt like I could speed up if needed. But I didn’t. I was too scared to potentially leave my comfort zone, which is a topic for another day, and I was really afraid of burning out in the second half of the race.
And so I just kept doing what I planned to do: I happy ran! Don’t get me wrong, I felt like I was racing. But was I all-out, totally killing it from start to finish? Nah. It wasn’t the day for that, I’m in no shape for that, and running this way was more fun. I got to smile a lot, I got to feel like I was working at a comfortably challenging rate, and I got to literally take a trip down memory lane.
I was surprised at how much of the course I remembered from last year. The half and full stay together up until mile 5.7, when the full marathoners turn right and are all “we’re going to run so much more than you now.” But the full marathoners end up running the entire half course at some point. So when I signed up for the half marathon, thinking I’d miss “that awful climb from mile 17–20,” I was incorrect.
Because when we parted from the full marathoners, all of a sudden I was on a dirt road.
I remembered that dirt road.
That damn dirt road when I had to start walking during the marathon last year.
Apparently I didn’t read the course map very closely. Oops.
But it’s amazing what a little perspective can do: Last year the “big climb” came at mile 17, and I remember rounding a corner and seeing a mountain. It hurt so badly, and it was halfway up that hill where Coach Cane was waiting for me — camera and words of encouragement ready to go.
This time, the hill started around mile 5, and it wasn’t nearly the Everest I remembered.
It was long, yes, and it was a climb, no doubt about it. But it was significantly easier at mile 6 than I remember it being at mile 17.
And when I reached the top — and saw Brian, who rode around the course on his bike for optimal viewing — I still felt good and strong.
I knew the hilly parts were done, and I’d get a little downhill before a flat jaunt to the finish.
I remembered every little marker along the way. I remembered the spots where I saw my family last year, and I remembered the exact point on the hill where I saw Coach Cane. I remembered that seemingly endless stretch leading toward the finish where I rounded out mile 25, with Nicole “Mrs. Coach Cane,” at 7 months pregnant, running with me on one side and my dad on the other.
Most of all, I remembered that left turn when the finish line comes into view.
I didn’t get much of a sprint out in that last stretch. I looked all around, hoping to see Brian (which I did!) and, yeah this is cheesy again, I turned off my music and listened to all the fans screaming.
I may not have run 26.2 miles, and I didn’t have my crazy-huge cheering squad on call, but this still felt victorious.
For once, I ran a race just the way I planned and it paid off. I maintained a mostly steady pace, I didn’t obsess over a time goal and I had an awesome time. I forgot that racing can really be fun! You just have to do it right. And not set yourself up for failure. And not beat yourself up over every little detail. Right?
I was also excited to cross the finish line and see I had two more fans than expected: Brian’s mom and her boyfriend surprised me at the end!
Brian’s mom is the nicest person ever and she gave me many sweaty hugs, which was kind. She’s a teacher. I think teachers are wonderful people.
The takeaway from this race?
I’m not in the best shape of my life, but I’m certainly not in the worst. I’m very proud of my 1:47:41 finish time, especially considering my shoddy training all summer.
I’m really happy I was able to run this race because it meant a lot to me.
I loved being back out in The Hamptons and I’m glad I’m spending this pre-marathon time working hard on my mental efforts, because I’ve always been an over-thinker — and an awful-thinker — and I think altering my race day mentality starting now will pay off on November 4.
I spent the rest of the weekend attending a garlic festival, cruising around Central Park for proof that it is, in fact, fall…
I hardly recognize myself anymore.
But I do recognize a good time when I see one, and I had one heck of a good time this weekend. Thank you, Hamptons, for never letting me down.
WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD TIME? Did you race this weekend? Or run long? Or bake something delicious? Tell me about it! This is my favorite part. Do a little bragging, throw down your long run numbers, let it all out.
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