It’s been a while since I wrote a recap of a race. But this one was just too good not to. When I signed up for this race I wasn’t sure if I’d have it in me. It was late February in Chicago – running outside was not happening due to it being insanely cold and sloppy, I had the flu and could barely get off the couch, and I knew getting some hill workouts in was likely not going to happen. Despite the forces telling me I was crazy, I fondly recalled childhood memories of camping and vacations in the Adirondacks and made the decision to commit to the full marathon. I even talked my friend into joining me.
And today, I couldn’t be happier with my decision.
From the cute relaxing condo we rented just a couple blocks off Main St, to the serene, calm and crystal clear air of the mountains, this was truly a weekend to remember. We arrived Friday night after about 5 hours on the road. My superfan (mom), friend and I were tired and ready for dinner (carbs for my friend and I, scallops for my mom). It was an early night followed by another restful and relaxing day filled with more carbs, a short 2-mi shakeout run with–by Lake Placid standards–a “small” hill thrown in for fun, and packet pickup. After packet pickup we visited the Olympic museum at the 1932 ice rink which was inspiring in its own way. The day was capped with another carb-heavy meal and an early bed time – if we could sleep at all.
Sunday’s forecast was for low 80s with very little cloud cover. Not ideal, but I didn’t let this scare me too much – I knew it was going to be tough and there wasn’t much I could do about the weather. I just had to slightly adjust my expectations for the day and hydrate a little differently (more Gatorade than I normally would). It was in the upper 50s at the start and very few clouds in the sky. The energy of the crowd was buzzing. We were ready to own the town.
The start included a sweet and slightly awkward wedding proposal that brought a tear to more than one eye. They played what they called the ‘National Anthem’ which was really America the Beautiful – but no one seemed to mind. With a verbal countdown we were off for the most populated first 3 miles around Mirror Lake. I saw my superfan at the top of the first hill in front of the Olympic ice rink. Smiling, waving and taking pics – she truly is a superfan (more on that later).
After a relatively easy 3 flat, slightly downhill miles around the lake, the true race started – out and back twice down what you might consider country roads. The marathon also includes a ½ marathon and for the first 12 ½ miles, we ran with ½ marathoners. They also don’t fully close the roads so you are occasionally fighting some oncoming traffic. Either way, this had to be one of the most serene or picturesque marathons I’ve ever run. From the open fields surrounded by mountains to the view of the Olympic ski jump, to the fly fisherman, I really enjoyed and tried to take in everything around me (also because it took my mind off of anything negative).
At about 7 miles in we turned around and headed back to the start – this was great because you could see who was ahead of you and behind you and also meant I would get to see my friend–who’s sight motivated me further and brought a smile to my face in the midst of the grueling terrain and heat. It was also at about this point when runners started to let me know I was second place female for the marathon. SECOND PLACE?!? Seriously – this was never something I could fathom. Second in my age group maybe – but second place! When I saw the first place woman she and I made eye contact and both encouraged each other. If you’ve ever run a race before – this is not all that common. The leaders hardly even look at you let alone encourage you. This proceeded to happen with not only her but the male leader as well (who, by the way, won with a 6 min margin and ran in flip flops). At the ½ marathon point she probably had about a 2 minute lead on me. At this point my game plan changed. I felt good – the hills were tough but manageable and I wasn’t overheated. I saw my superfan (mom) and got another surge of motivation. I could do this if I could just keep a good lead on the third place woman – who might have been about 30 seconds – 1 minute behind me. It would be tough but I told myself – you’ve done the training, you ate right, you can do this. For those that know me – and/or run with me – you may also know I’m not the best about positive thinking. I tend to beat myself down during runs – something I’ve been working on especially this year to stop doing. I tried to focus on the words of wisdom I’ve gotten over the past year from some of my training buddies and stayed positive.
The second half was much more of a battle with myself than anyone else – primarily because we lost about 1500 runners to the half. For most of the rest of the race you were alone. At one point I could not see anyone in front of or behind me and it was a moment I’ll never forget (along with many from this race). At around mile 18 I was running pretty close to a guy who I could tell was struggling a bit. We were just about to the last turn around point and about to head in to the finish. I had 2 gels left that I was timing to take at 18 and then again for a last surge of energy at 24. I grabbed them and somehow they slipped through my fingers. Instead of stopping (stupid, I know), I just resolved to take more Gatorade and decided maybe I don’t need them. I heard someone coming up behind me and it was the guy I had just passed who had been struggling. He knew I was in second and with a French accent handed me my gels and said “you got this – go get your win.” This small act of kindness powered me through some of the toughest miles of my life as a runner.
When they warned us there’d be hills we shook it off (for those interested, I compared the course profile of Lake Placid to Chicago and Boston – see below). When they said the finish was tough, we figured it can’t be that bad. No – it’s worse. For those that have run the Chicago marathon, you know about the cruel hill they include at the finish. Take that hill and multiply it by 10 – that was the finish of this marathon. For those that have run Boston, you’ve heard about heartbreak hill – take that and make it significantly steeper and put it at mile 25 ½. Not only were there multiple hills throughout that makes a Midwestern runner like myself cringe, this last hill seemed to go on forever. It was also during these last 3-4 miles that fans started to let me know that the leader was walking – and just in front of me. If I could just keep up the pace up the hill I might catch her. While I closed that gap to only about 30 seconds, catching her on that hill was next to impossible. I could see her and I could tell she was walking but so was I. Well – what I would call a walk/trot. That hill was a very mean thing to do to someone after running 25 miles. I did my best and was beyond ecstatic to round the last corner onto the flat speed skating oval to run the ½ lap to the finish. I heard them announce her name and knew that I would clinch the second place win with a gallant effort to overtake her. It was also at this point I knew I would PR (personal record) – on a considerably more difficult course than Chicago where my previous PR had been made < 1 year ago. I was emotional, happy, sweaty, sore and sun burned but still felt surprisingly strong.
And there – standing at the finish was my superfan. Here’s why she gets that title: she drove my friend and I over 4 hours into the Adirondacks, accompanied us to meals where we stuffed our faces with carbs galore, gave up a weekend of her life to devote to ours, got eaten alive by black flies and other assorted bugs while trying to get pics of us at the ½ way point and finish, dealt with our numerous complaints pre- and post-race and just was an all-around super fan for both of us. Thank you mom for being you. I cannot tell you how happy I was to see you at the finish and for your added support along the way. Whenever I wanted to quit or thought I couldn’t do it, I thought of you and your smiling face at the finish and it made all the pain worth it.
Following the race, I was lucky enough to be interviewed by the local paper – which was fun because I had marathon brain, and wasn’t all that clear in my responses but I think the reporter captured what I was trying to get across (check it out here: http://bit.ly/1lkxd4B). We waited for the awards ceremony then shuffled our way back to our condo. After a shower, we hit up the Lake Placid Brewery for a couple post-race celebratory beverages. My friend and I had thought we might be ready to ride the bobsleds at the Olympic Training Center but quickly decided we were in no shape for that and to add it to our bucket list for next time. Instead, we went for a scenic drive, visiting ADK loj – a place I camped numerous times with my family growing up.
The weekend was capped with a 14 oz NY Strip steak, a couple more celebratory beverages and an early bedtime. In all, this truly was one of the best weekends of my life. Special thanks to Chicago Endurance Sports and the Fleet Feet Racing team for helping me get to where I am today and to Josh and my Mom for putting up with me and for sharing in one of the most unforgettable moments of my life!