Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Old Forge Half Marathon: Old Asses Half-Assing Old Forge

"Well this is either a great idea or a terrible idea!" I said as Prem and I were running from the rental house to the start of the Old Forge Marathon and Half Marathon. It was Prem's idea to run the two miles as a warm-up. Because running 26.2 miles wasn't enough for him. I only had to run half that distance so I figured a couple more miles couldn't hurt. Or they could hurt but then it would be a funny story afterwards. It was a cool, crisp 50 degrees, ideal running weather. We ran past two ice cream places and the race start/finish area had a giant stuffed moose and bear, so it was already shaping up to be a perfect day.

Thanks to Coach Prem for the warm-up and photo

Jenn, Prem and I had driven to Old Forge in Jenn's Car 'o Fun the night before and met up with Alison, Bob, Todd, Brooke, Mark and Amy at this amazing rental house with 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and countless moose and bear knickknacks. Whoever decorated this house had a serious commitment to the outdoorsy motif. There was virtually no surface untouched by wood or woodland creatures. We were all up early on Saturday morning. Sleep had been in short supply, due to pre-race anxiety or sleeping in an unfamiliar place with odd noises and hundreds of tchotchke eyes. But coffee, bagels and laughter were plentiful. Prem and I set off on foot and the others followed later by car, bringing our bags with them. I learned two important things: 1) I am too old to sleep in the top bunk of a bunk-bed (though I didn't fall while trying to go down the unstable ladder in the dark so that was a major win) and 2) easy warm-up miles can be very enjoyable and probably even a good idea (though I'm no Prem - for a marathon or ultra, I'm perfectly content to use the first miles of the race itself as a warm-up).

Pre-race, pre-Mark getting dressed for the race.
Photo thanks to Sherpa extraordinaire, Amy!

Waiting around for the start, we were all dancing and goofing around as usual. Prem insisted he was "not racing" (then went on to come in 4th overall!!) Everyone else was sandbagging too, claiming they were unprepared and going to be slow (all lies, everyone was super fast). We called ourselves Old Asses Half-Assing Old Forge. I wasn't thinking of this as a race, just a mini-vacation with tramily in a new-to-me destination. I was happy and relaxed at the start line, having no expectations or goals for the race. Except to make it back alive to my box of Neopolitan JoJos. The course was non-technical and flat, mostly rocky dirt roads with some small rolling hills. I wanted to focus on my form and have a smooth, relaxed stride. Lately I've been working on improving my biomechanics, which are admittedly quite terrible. I have flat feet and my posture is atrocious, from decades of hunching my shoulders inward and attempting to be as invisible as possible. It has taken many years to undo that mindset from the inside out and fixing my posture has been the latest piece of the build-a-better-robot puzzle. I still have a ways to go but maybe one day I'll actually achieve my full height (before I'm old enough to start shrinking).

I started off following Todd and just getting into an easy rhythm with my breathing and steps. Somehow I ended up ahead of him and I worried maybe I was going out too fast, but my legs felt good so I just let them do their thing. I had no idea what pace I was going and it didn't really matter. I wanted to run by effort and feel and didn't care about pace. For a few miles, I ran with a marathoner named Rob and we chatted about our favorite NY state races and our goals (or non-goals) for the day, you know, the typical conversations you have with strangers in the woods. At one point he said it was a flat course and the perfect running weather and encouraged me to just go for it if I felt good. I didn't think anything of it at the time, but apparently my legs decided that was exactly what we were going to do. There was an out and back section where I got to see everyone, then a turnaround at a cone with a giant stuffed bear on it (the bear/moose theme is totally overdone in Old Forge, but I love it), then we were already halfway done and I still felt fresh. While I could definitely feel the effort and some minor aches, my stride felt looser and more effortless than it has in a while and I just kept thinking "Thank you, body for enabling me to do what I love." Bob caught up to me and I got to run with him for a bit. We ran along a cinder-track-like path, and I saw two dogs up ahead who looked familiar. As we got closer I realized it was Beth out running and spectating with Indy and Metta. It was a most awesome surprise!

Photo thanks to Beth! Bob is so fast he's just a blur!

The second half of the course passed as smoothly as the first half had, though now I was in the zone and keeping mostly to myself, just happily ticking off miles. I ran steadily up all the hills and let go on the downhills, not trying to control anything, just allowing my legs to find their own way. At one point I somehow managed to kick a rock into the back of my own right Achilles, which stung for a few steps but I couldn't help but laugh at my stone hacky-sack fail. Since I'd worn my hydration pack and had my own gels, I hadn't needed to stop at any of the aid stations so it had been a continuous and surprisingly fluid grind since the start. Somehow I had just gotten into a groove and stayed there for the full 13 miles. There was one last hill up a paved road, which I crested seamlessly, then sprinted downhill to the finish. I'm sure it didn't look fluid or fast from the outside (I probably looked more like a lumbering elephant), but it sure felt fantastic. I haven't run that far that fast and felt that good in a long time. But that's running - some runs are a pile of crap, some runs are a piece of cake. I like to think the effortless feeling days are the reward for persevering through the sufferfest days. Every day I get to run is a good day, but I am especially grateful for those perfect, relaxed days. It's such a wonderful feeling to glide through the wilds of life, surrounded by your favorite old asses.

Bob, Todd, Jenn and Mark crushed the half and Prem, Alison and Brooke all had super strong marathon finishes. We hung out at the finish area, eating, cheering and dancing until Brooke came in. I think we even made it into the official race video with our dance moves to Salt-N-Pepa's "Shoop." After the race there was a lot of eating, euchre playing, exploring Old Forge/Webb, laughing, hilarious picture taking and more eating. Warm-up miles and cool-down dancing may become my new race routine because it really helped limit the typical post-race soreness.

We did it!


Sunday morning, Jenn, Alison, Prem, Todd, Brooke, Boden and I did the 2ish mile hike up and down Bald Mountain, which had beautiful views and a cool fire tower to climb at the top. Then it was time to clean up and head home, with full, happy hearts and stomachs.

Bald Mountain

Of course we have to climb it

All the thanks to the RDs, volunteers and runners who make events like this possible. And infinity of thanks and love to my tramily for filling my life with so many adventures and so much awesomeness. I know one day my running escapades will end, but until then I'm going to savor every wild, weird, wonderful moment of the terrible, awful, beautiful, amazing torture paradise that is distance running.

Lyric of the moment: "I don't recall a single care. Just greenery and humid air. Then Labor Day came and went. And we shed what was left of our summer skin..." ~Death Cab For Cutie "Summer Skin"

No comments:

Post a Comment