Every year in the middle of the summer the town of New London, CT puts on the 11.6 mile Ocean Beach John and Jesse Kelly run. Runners sign up race morning: no entry fee and free family admission to the beach. How do they do it?
I have not run a road race since I last ran Ocean Beach four years ago. Back then I was nursing 6-month-old Baby Ben and battling a particularly nasty case of postpartum depression. By the time I finished the race that year I was a leaky mess of milk, tears and weak-Kegel pee.
My, how the time does pass.
I had forgotten how it goes at road races. By the time we turned up at the beach in our minivan, 15 minutes before start time, the enormous parking lot was almost full and people were trotting, high stepping, and even sprinting around the perimeter. Ah, yes! Warming up. People actually warm up for these races. How bizarre!
I got my number and hung out for a few minutes with my family and our old friends Karen and John and their kids. This year the men would play with the kids at the beach while the women ran. Last year the opposite was true.
The start was crowded. I'm no longer used to piling into a scrum at the start line, so I stayed toward the back. Our local paper, The New London Day, had run an article the day before about Susan and me finishing the VT 100. Once it was determined that I was THAT PERSON, my presence caused a little buzz amidst the back-of-the-packers. What fun!
I started the race slowly, having absolutely no idea how my legs were going to feel. I ran the first two miles at a 9.5 pace, chatted with my son Simon's preschool teacher, Amy, and with Karen, whom I have not seen in way too long.
By the end of Mile 2, I was feeling like I could pick up the pace. I didn't want to go nuts, because who knew how long this energy surge would last, but I was curious how fast I could run. And since there was a person calling out splits every mile (another thing I had forgotten about road races), this was easy to do.
So I started banging out 8-minute miles. I did not know this was possible for me. I haven't run an 8-minute mile in years. The pace felt great. Zippy, but not unbearably fast. Sustainable. I was passing people left and right. I decided I'd just keep going for as long as I could, knowing that sooner or later I was going to fade.
I must have passed a hundred runners. It was amazing. I could not believe how well my legs were holding up. It was weird.
As soon as I hit the downhill at mile 6, my lower shin and ankle started hurting. This was the old injury from VT acting up again. Damn! I wondered if I should stop or keep going. I didn't want to stop because I was feeling so great, but I didn't want to kill my leg either. Especially in this race that meant relatively little to me.
I probably should have stopped, but I ran on. By the time I got to mile 10, my leg was really achy, but with only 1.6 miles to go, I figured, why not? Bring her in and deal with the repercussions later.
By this time I had eased off the 8-minute pace and was holding 8:30's. I was definitely fading. I felt old and tired and slow. The finish line could not come fast enough.
All through the race, people had been saying things like, "This is just a short race for you!" and "This must be just a little walk in the park!" But it wasn't true. A race of this distance (or any distance) is still hard. Racing means moving as quickly as you can given the parameters of the particular course. Running fast for 11.6 miles can be just as challenging, in its own way, as running slow for 50 miles. Or 100 miles. (Well,maybe not 100). The hardest race is always the one you are currently running.
No one from my family was at the finish line. They were not expecting me for another 10 minutes! No little cheers, no smiling faces. I guess I should have run slower.
I finished in 1:37. An 8:25 pace. And I'm calling my doctor about my ankle today.