I’ve not raced much recently. Part of it is in my body. Part of it is in my head. A few months back, while doing a great run that included the Nature Study Trail, I decided I’d do Paine to Pain.
P2P is the creation of my friend and former clubmate Eric Turkwitz. He engineered the conceptual and to some extent physical binding of three discrete trails with the relevant municipalities and Westchester County into what is known as the Colonial Greenway. It happens to be a 13-or-so mile loop, one mile of which is on roads. I’ve been running on some of these trails since high school, over 40 years ago and have done certain stretches hundreds of times. To celebrate the creation of the system, Eric came up with the idea of having a race, and it has grown until it sells out. Today’s was the 6th edition.
The course itself is interesting because it consists of different trails. After a half-mile uphill and a quick down, one enters Leatherstocking Trail in New Rochelle. (Named for the series by James Fenimore Cooper, who lived nearby.) This trail exists because someone wanted to build a bridge across Long Island Sound and wanted an entry road. The bridge was not built so the road was not needed, and New Rochelle and the Town of Mamaroneck converted it into a trail. For the swampier parts, Mamaroneck built boardwalks. This trail grew up as a path through the woods and that’s what it is. So it’s narrow, it goes up and down short hills, it requires traversing rocks and trees. It is, in short, “technical”. It takes you to about mile 3.5. When I’ve run it as a work-out, I’ve always found it brutal. One can’t relax on a trail like this. This would be my downfall. I’ll get to that. Then onto Saxon Woods, a County Park. It begins with similarly technical stretches, but not as dramatic as Leatherstocking. Then it eases up and the final trail stretch, which takes one down the Hutch, to the west of Twin Lakes, and through Nature Study, is relatively placid, with one big uphill.
So much for my course description.
So those months ago I was getting longer and longer runs in. Some were struggles, but more and more were crossing that chasm into smooth-relaxed-fast. This is when I decided to do P2P. Then injuries — I’ve been struggling as to my shoes and have now gone back to Brooks Pure Flows — but P2P was out there. I entered about a month ago. I then found myself in a stretch where I was having difficultly soloing past 30 minutes. This is the brain part. No matter how fast, or slow, I went, I struggled. So I headed down on Saturdays to run with the Van Cortlandt Track Club, and that helped enormously. I’m not an official member yet, but will join shortly. I lost some training while on vacation in the Bershires but last Saturday ran 8 miles, mostly with VCTC’s Kevin Shelton-Smith, on flat trails at Van Cortlandt and felt very strong followed on Sunday with 7.3 at the Rockies with Charles Scott (who I met via some interesting but irrelevant internet stuff). I gave blood on Sunday and missed running because of my schedule until Friday.
I was, naturally, more than a little nervous as raceday approached. I had a plan. I’d take it real easy through mile 5. Then I’d have only an 8-miler about which to be serious. Piece of cake. Go through 5 at 40 and then 1:40 would be a snap.
This was the plan. It did not work. I had not run on anything like Leatherstocking in a very long time. Up/down, right/left. Avoid this root and that rock. As I said, you can’t take this trail “easy”. By mile 2 I knew I was in deep trouble. On the longest mid-race paved stretch I stopped for the first of many times. There are those who say it’s mental. It wasn’t. My legs were screaming. It was humid, and my shirt and shorts were already soaked.
I went into survival mode, determined to finish. Wearing my Garmin, I’d commit to running a certain distance before stopping. I started feeling a bit better on a flat, smooth stretch of Saxon Woods, but it was a cruel illusion. As soon as we hit a bit of hilliness, I collapsed anew. I kept passing people who’d pass me when I stopped only to be passed again, etc., etc., etc. I felt bad and something of a jerk about it. I was trying to find the least-uncomfortable pace. So it continued down to about a half to go. I had not blown up, but I was getting close. Far worse than the marathon or a later leg of RtB. Far worse.
Somehow I made it out of Nature Study Trail and onto the road to New Rochelle HS. The race ends on its (350-meter) track. I finished. I saw Eric afterward. The race, I said, was a ring of hell. Not the innermost, perhaps, but not very far out.
A while back during a run Bobby Papazian and I spoke about how some people seem hard-wired to be unable to take it easy in races. Have fun/smell the roses. I’m one of those people. I know I can do this thing a lot faster. I must adjust to the reality of Leatherstocking — a few runs there would not be amiss — but I think that if I’m in shape for it, I can do it pretty well. Not the 1:52/14th AG of this morning. As I also told Eric, “I’m pissed”. Not about today; I don’t think I could have done it much faster. But about the fact, and it is a fact, that this beautiful course got the better of me. In my defense, though, it wasn’t a fair fight. I hope next year that it will be.
I also saw how hard everyone in these races works. Everyone near me was busting their butts, focusing on the business at hand — and that they were was reason I felt bad about my frequent passing. It was an object-lesson for arrogance I may sometimes display.
A final thought. I know the folks who put this on — in addition to Eric and Greg Stern and other former SSRMC-mates Steve Lastoe’s NYCRuns did the scoring — but I think objectively they did a fantastic job. Eric was livid [edited to add: Eric dropped me a note to say he was more “perplexed” than anything, including livid, since he too took notice of the course markings] afterward when he learned the the 2 lead runners missed a turn late in the race (and the guy who had been third stopped right before the finish line to let them get ahead of him). He and his team, including guys who ran the course beforehand to ensure that it was properly marked, did a fine job of marking the turns and there were tons of marshals and volunteers — thanks Iona College — on the course, plus cheerleaders on the opening and closing stretch. I think though that in the later stages one’s faculties can be less than ideal. I knew where I was going, but still confirmed that the small yellow flags were properly set-up and they were. Racers, though, can miss things like that and I’m sure Eric will make sure it doesn’t happen again.
I was put into the fourth (of four) wave (presumably because I had no recent marathon or HM time to put in). I emailed Eric last night, and within an hour he and members of his and Steve’s teams assured me that I’d be put into wave 1. A few years back, I ran part of the course the day before and saw a fallen log across it. I emailed Eric. Within two hours he emailed me back, “What tree?” with a photo of his son holding a saw and pointing to a gap in that fallen log through which the course ran.
One reason I bitch about NYRR is that it doesn’t seem to care about things in its races. Not so with this race director. Who could, were he not a lawyer, make a pretty good living as a stand-up comic (“The New Rochelle Army” indeed).