If you live on the East coast, you recall this past Saturday’s weather. If you do not, chances are you heard about it. When a day stands out weather-wise in the midst of a summer long heat wave it has to be pretty hot. Saturday was also the day of the Queens half marathon. Last week, I started to hear rumblings of a super hot day on Saturday but didn’t think much about it. I had signed up for the ½, it was on my rigid running schedule, I was excited about it and wasn’t about to cancel because it was going to be hot. A couple of my running friends dropped out but I wasn’t budging. My running coach, who to give you an indication of his mental stability was in Napa doing a ½ ironman in similar weather the week prior, said I should give it a try. He told me if the Kenyans cancelled their runs due to especially hot weather they would never run. As a New Yorker and not a Kenyan, I wasn’t entirely buying this logic but was set to run.
I made a playlist, packed my Honey Stinger drops, money and a Metro card and left the house a little before 6am Saturday morning. I tried to ignore that it was already steamy. Before you start to think I’m this tough and determined person please note I took a car service from Manhattan to Queens. Throughout the ride the radio repeatedly mentioned the weather, warning signs of heat stroke and many other things that helped calm me down (not!). In about 25 minutes we were in Flushing Meadows right near Citi Field and the site of the US Open. I paid the driver and followed a pack of runners toward the starting area. I then did what all runners do before a race and located the porto potties. I smiled to myself as looming over the line-up of green porto pots was the top of the exquisite Unisphere (pictured above). Little did I know that the scenery, though not the course, was mostly downhill from there.
I checked my small bag and headed to the corral, the lovely equine term used for the starting area. I stretched and set my watch (Garmin forerunner 405 with GPS in case you’re curious). As runners lined up it seemed like business as usual. There was no talk of the temperatures and at least a few thousand people. I was convinced all the “you’re crazy to run” talk was hogwash. And then Mary Wittenberg president of NYRRC said a few words into the microphone. I listened carefully for encouragement and heard “BE CAREFUL, IT’S DANGEROUS OUT THERE, THIS IS NOT THE DAY FOR PRS (PERSONAL RECORDS), THIS IS A DAY TO TAKE IT EASY.” So much for a pep talk. Minutes later the horn sounded and we were off.
After about 30 seconds I realized I was already sweating but then, as is the case with races, I settled into a groove and just ran. We exited the park and ran for a few miles down a Queens Avenue that couldn’t be less scenic. We passed bodegas and bagel shops and breathed a sigh of relief with each mile marker. I was feeling absolutely fine, used my GPS watch to make sure I didn’t go out to fast, and stuck to my race plan. I decided I would use my iPod at the 6 mile mark so for the first half of the race I was just looking around. There were heavy people and tiny people, couples running together and a girl whose shorts were definitely going to fall down at some point in the 13.1 miles. There was also a noticeable quiet. I didn’t hear the usual chatting that can sometimes be a nice distraction for a few miles. I am not one to chat but love to eavesdrop.
At about 5 miles there was a turn around and we literally retraced our steps down the same urban avenue. I said to myself that I was going to keep to pace I was at and at 10 miles, if I felt good, I’d pick up it up. I dutifully stopped at all fuel stations for water or Gatorade or simply to get hosed down. At 6 miles I received my musical reward. I enjoyed my motley mix ranging from Paul Simon to Rihanna, Michael Franti and Madonna. At the 8 mile mark I noticed I had been running alongside a fellow from the Van Cortland track club for some time. I hadn’t looked at him but knew we had been running similarly. When I caught a glimpse of his face I realize he was well over 70! By the 9 mile mark it seemed they were placing the water stations further apart. Of course they weren’t but I was starting to feel off. At 10 miles I had transitioned into the put one foot in front of another strategy. Runners around me were having a hard time, many walked, and a good number got sick on the sidelines. I had never witnessed anything like this.
At the final water stop I stood under the hose for a good 2 minutes, my time goal wasn’t going to happen; I just wanted to finish. I did finish, though it was without the usual final burst of energy I tend to have upon spotting the finish line. I walked to the subway still out of breath a good 10 minutes later but I was already happy with my decision. It was hard and I was exhausted but also proud of myself. I am not one to climb mountains or bungee jump and though active stick to my comfortable cocoon running and yoga. It’s not often that I really push it but I did in Queens and I would do it all over again.
When was the last time you pushed yourself physically? Have you contemplated signing up for any sort of a race? If you haven’t what holds you back? Why do you think some people like a physical challenge and others do not?