Thursday, November 20, 2008
Race Report: Knickerbocker 60K
Oh yes, I ran this last Saturday. It went well under the circumstances, generic as that sounds.
If you really want to know how it went, just imagine running 37.2 miles, semi-continuously, on the same asphalt loop, nine times. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it? I know five runners (pictured above) who must've thought so.
This was my fourth year in a row running this race. After running the NYC Marathon no less, which always turns into something of a training run for this. So I knew what I was in for. Plus, I knew of several friends who had expressed interest in running this particular race. Especially after the old ‘come on out and join me’-isms I threw out over the last year. Which completely explains how I got the nickname Satan.
So the weather forecast leading up to Saturday had been ‘warm with showers’, and I’d decided that if buckets were going to come down all day I wasn’t going to stay out there and run for hour after hour. I’ve never DNF’d, but there’s no honor in slogging through ponds for anything longer than a half marathon in Central Park. I can be tough, but I’d rather not be stupid.
Saturday morning arrived, with no rain, so it was going to happen. I picked up my number and t-shirt and headed back home to drop stuff off (I live two blocks from the NYRR, and the start of the race, which makes it too easy to do this crap). I returned fifteen minutes ahead of the start and immediately found running friends from the NY Front Runners and Asphalt Green. Before we knew it, we were off and running. That’s how a race should start, fast and quick with no time for second thoughts, kind of like a prostate exam. Sorry ladies, I’m sure you have a more interesting metaphor of your own, so just talk amongst yourselves.
I ran two of the first 4-mile loops with fellow runner I.J., who can normally kick my ass in just about any distance. One of those 3-hour marathon types, he held back a bit and ran a strong pace as I yakked the miles away. After that second loop, another runner friend, Carmine, showed up to run another loop and continue the welcome companionship. Like everybody else I knew out there, he’d run the NYC Marathon two weeks before. Once again, I yakked and got through the loop quickly, and then Carmine was gone because real life called and his running was done for the day. Good call, Carmine.
After that point, I was pretty much alone, i.J. had long ago gone ahead of me. At the end of every 4-mile loop was the aid-station/start/finish line, and I began to take 30 seconds each time I went by to drink something and take an electrolyte tablet the size of a bowling ball. So off I went on Lap #4. And as I took off, the rain started. And then the drops got bigger. And then the hills of asphalt have little rivers of black rainwater heading toward me. And then buckets of water coming down. You know how it is, first you kind of avoid it, then you realize there’s not much you can do, then you just say ‘screw it’ and start diving into puddles and lakes of water. By the time I got to the west side of the park my shoes were touching down in lakes, filled with water and 5 pounds heavier. At least it was 60 degrees out there, one degree for every damned kilometer.
And every time I headed back up the west side there was the one water station that made the difference. Every year it’s been manned by two older guys who would come out with their two folding card tables and cups of water, but this year there were at least two dozen overly-cheerful volunteers clapping and cheering us on. Because this year the NYRR has made volunteering at a race one of the requirements for automatic entry in the next NYC Marathon in ’09. And the upshot of this is that this race, which usually only gets a handful of volunteers, got tons of volunteers this year. So I was rather happy to see more folks out there, it gets kind of lonely if you want to know the truth.
Mercifully the rain stopped and I began to get slightly, well, less wet. After the end of that loop, I stopped at my bag and changed into a dry shirt. Smart, if I do say so myself. I went on my getting-less-merry-by-the-minute way, and started my 5th loop. I’ll be halfway done soon, I said to myself. A couple of minutes later I found myself running toward some guy looking past me as he approached, it was everybody’s favorite Disgraced John of the Year Elliot Spitzer. I started thinking about if he’d only gone on a 5K run instead of a $5K booty call earlier this year he might still have a political career. That thought ended though, I soon started the ‘this hurts’ part of our program.
‘This Hurts’ is an old show. You can see the reruns any time you’ve been watching the pavement underneath you go by for longer than an hour or two. I keep hoping it ends better or until I change the channel. But neither seems to happen. So this time I really sucked it up. I mean really, really sucked it up. And pain starting at mile 15 of a 37.2-mile ‘race’ is not a good sign. I knew that, but what are you going to do? Did the torrential rain stop me? No. Did I stop during the last three years I ran this race? No. So suck it up. Because This Hurts.
And so I proceeded to suck it up. And the walking stops got more frequent, 20 seconds every couple of miles. And at the end of every loop was another walk/stop that felt like a real vacation relative to the preceding loop. Still no sign of any of my teammates or friends, are they behind me or in front? Well, they can’t be in front, I didn’t see them pass me. Then again, I’d been obsessing about Elliot Spitzer’s goofball running form. Hey, I know, let’s change into another crisp, dry singlet! Because This Hurts.
So I finished yet another eternal loop, #7. My glutes and quads are getting rock-like. I’m getting less ‘funny’ talking to folks at the water stations. Only two more to go, I’d been out there about four and a half hours. The winner of the race arrives and finishes just as I’m throwing down Gatorade at Loop 7’s finish. Asshole.
One of my comrades, Eric, arrived about that time and we commiserated about the hell our legs were going through. Thank you, Eric. I needed independent confirmation how much this sucks. And It Hurts. And none of that is sarcasm. Something about seeing someone I know always makes me feel a little better, so I took off. Oh, not the ‘took off’ you might be thinking. It was some form of forward motion, I’m not sure yet if I’d call it running.
And I got rid of $%&*@ Lap 8. One more to go, and I let everyone know it. I got lots of positive ‘you-can-do-it’ feedback. It all seemed so obvious in the first third, annoying in the second, and now that I was finally going to run this course one last fucking time it was rather appropriate. I finished the 8th lap at clock time 5:15 and right then (and perhaps a bit before) I knew I wasn’t beating my 5:35 time from last year. I felt bad and just wanted to finish, and my legs were starting to go into that pre-charley horse feeling. You know, lock and load, and not the NRA type.
Yes, I had slowed down, what a surprise. I must’ve dropped from 8-minute miles to 8:30s to 9’s in the last bit. And then 9:30’s because my legs were starting to go on strike. Add the 30-45 second stops at every water station, and I was starting to think I couldn’t finish in under six hours. I thought to myself: that would really suck if I was going to finish slower than ever in this race. So I started clock-watching, and then… I gunned it. Well, not like in a 5K race, but about as close as you can get to gunning it in an ultramarathon. I headed into the last mile with ten minutes left to finish under six hours, and I was determined to meet my (admittedly spur-of-the-moment) goal. I was all alone, and so damned glad to be finishing I couldn’t stand myself. The last 400 meters was a straightaway, and the finish line was about three minutes away and I really poured it on. ‘This Hurts’ came back for one final encore.
And then I finished, with much-appreciated applause from the crowd. I didn’t know it, but about 20 to 25 people had finished the 60K already, including I.J. in his ultra debut. Soon after, other friends, Zander, Richard, Eric, and Barbara, not to mention Tim G., who offered up his own 21 miles of coaching-on-the-run. I.J. had been had crossed the finish about a half hour before I showed up, but most of us finished within 15 minutes of each other. ALL of us had run the NYC Marathon two weeks before. I was probably the loopiest of them all, but everybody seemed relatively fine. By then the sun had come out, appropriately enough.
So this year I didn’t finish as soon as I’d liked, but I did have lots of friends out there, at least in spirit, out on the course. Last year, running pal Tim, (aka ‘The German’) got me through all of it, that was a big plus. And I’d done a longer-than-usual run the Saturday before, a 21-miler. Obviously, I need some sort of 12-step program for runners. So next year: get Tim out there again, and run less the week before.
LATER I checked the results, and I’d come in 16th among the men, and first in my age group. That age group being the ‘Too Old to Pretend to Know This Won’t Hurt’ age group. It helps your statistics when there are only 78 people finishing in your race, but I’m still happy that I stuck it out through the rain and the mind-numbing laps like I do every year. And it was pretty terrific to see so many friends not only survive a 60K, but thrive during the experience.
So that’s it for my annual 3-marathons-in-the-fall trifecta, I survived them again. And did pretty well under the circumstances. Now that two of them were Boston qualifiers, the pressure is (sort of) on to show up for that fresh hell. But first I have to kick me 26.2 bitches through Cinderella’s Castle. Damn!