Every great adventure starts as an idea. This was no different. Last fall, I had received an invitation to this race (that is, an advertisement), and was intrigued by the beauty of the course. Schoorl is a seaside community in northern Holland. The course runs through the town and out into the dunes and woods near the North Sea. They offer various distances: 10 km, half marathon, and 30 km. And the race has the reputation of being “spicy.”
Fresh with the enthusiasm that follows your first race, my friend Christel suggested we register for the half marathon distance. As I have been teaching Christel how to run, I set up a training plan for us, with our runs on Sundays runs getting longer and longer.
A February race is tough. A February half marathon is even tougher. The weather in January was cold and wet and unattractive. After a 10K race in Zandvoort in early January, we missed a couple of our first planned longer distance runs. Christel decided not to run the half marathon and switched her registration to the 10K. This was going to be my fifth half marathon and I wobbled whether to do the distance even though I hadn’t run long in training. I really don't like not starting once I've registered. But on Sunday mornings, I had been content to run the distances within Christel’s capacity rather than the traditional long runs that form part of training for a Half.
By the time my bib arrived in the mail, it was too late to change to the shorter race. Just as well. I did fine. I can't decide if the pain that I'm in right now for not having trained sufficiently outweighs the benefits of skipping all those long runs leading up to the start. As it turned out, Christel decided to go skating with her family instead of race. I enjoyed spending the day alone with my thoughts and the run.
What I could've done differently: drink more water the day before. Just like I was complacent about training, I didn’t get too worked up the day before and drink water like a fiend. As a result I felt a little dehydrated on the course.
Running in cold weather is difficult because, although my body is sweating, I generally don't feel like drinking cold water when it’s cold. I also think I relaxed a little too much on my food choices to increase my calorie and carbohydrate intake leading up to the race. Next time, I'll stay on the straight and narrow. Or not.
What worked really well: the night before the race, I gathered everything I wanted to wear and put it in a bag. Wool ski socks, my racing flats, my thermal running tights, compression underwear, compression undershirt, thermal shirt, long-sleeved running shirt, running shell, running gloves, wool neck gator, running hat, lanolin-based skin cream to protect against cold weather, lip balm, heart rate monitor strap, fully charged GPS watch with race plan installed and double-checked, identification, ATM card, train pass, cash, race bib, race strap, Gu Gel, iPod, charged and loaded with a great play list, interval timer, disposable plastic bag cut like a warm-up coat, and pink anti-cancer ribbon.
I made the pink anti-cancer ribbon to remember Lynn, a woman I “met” through an internet fitness forum, She died last week of lung cancer at the age of 44. She enjoyed running until sidelined by plantar fasciitis that never seemed to heal. That probably signaled the beginning of the end. News of her death got me thinking about her attention to her health and fitness, and her effort to maintain a healthy body weight. She was a fitness instructor who enjoyed teaching. She was also a wife and mother.
To be stalked by lung cancer is a tragedy that reinforces my desire to enjoy every day. Although I cannot live on the edge, acting as if today is the last day, I certainly can enjoy every run in the pleasure that I can run.
That sentiment helped me through the difficult part of the race. In the last six weeks, my longest run was about six weeks ago and only 14 km. I also sat out the last 10 days fighting a virus that put me on the couch. I approached to the race as a beautiful Sunday morning run in the snow.
This year I have selected races that I have never done before, rather than simply repeating my race calendar from the year before. It has been really enjoyable to explore new places in the Netherlands. Schoorl is about two hours north of where I live, by train. I planned my trip so that I would arrive just in time for the start. I decided not to check a bag or bring extra clothes. This way I could avoid the 20 minute walk each way, to and from the sports hall. The bus from the train station would drop me 500 m from the start. And I did not want to spend any more time than necessary outside getting cold while waiting for the start.
I enjoyed the train ride even though it was snowing heavily. The usually green fields were blanketed in white. I saw a lone wild rabbit looking over frozen ice field. I saw scores of people ice skating in the canals. And lots of silent windmills.
The town was filled with runners excited to be warming up before the race. There was a lone Porta potty at the train station where the buses were waiting to take runners to the start. No one had used that one. That's the one I chose. I was lucky. There were lots of lines at the Porta potty’s closer to the start line.
I arrived to the starting line just right - 20 minutes early - and walked and jogged before going into the starting zone. I was wearing warm-up pants that I decided to remove just before the start. Although I was tempted to throw them away, they were too expensive. So I wrapped them around my middle and tucked them into my waistband of my racing types. So what if I looked like the Michelin man.
I had also decided at the last minute not to bring my water bottles and racing belt. My favorite belt has water bottles that leak slightly. That's not a problem in the summer, but I didn't want to carry a dripping water bottle in the snow.
Unlike several previous races, this time I ran with my iPod and play list of running music that I enjoy. I queued up my favorite inspirational pieces and off we went. For quite a bit of the train ride up, I kept thinking that I should quit and go home. That I hadn't trained well enough. Every time that negative thought came up, I told myself I have really good base training and it would be fine. The negative thought persisted for the first 3 km or so as the course wound around the town before heading out into the dunes.
A cloud had settled over the town and we were running through a frozen mist. I found my pace and matched up with some other runners who seemed to be running at my pace as well. Initially I had planned a run-walk-run strategy, but when I matched up well with this other couple, I decided just to keep running with them.
I don't know if skipping the walk breaks made it harder or easier. I always have a lot of head noise about taking a walk break when everybody else is running. Jeff Galloway says that everybody walks in a race at some point, but his runners walk in the beginning. I don’t know if skipping the early walk breaks made much difference, considering my level of training. In retrospect, maybe my initial pace was a little bit too fast for me since I really had to dig deep for the last 5 km. On the other hand the first 17 kilometers flew by quite easily, and I felt terrific. The pace music from Audiofuel was fantastic. And my “designated pacer” set an incredibly even pace that was well within my ability. It was much easier mentally just to follow the person in front of me. So that's what I did: chased the hare. The kilometers ticked by.
I had also decided to go with the water and nutrition on the course. I don't worry anymore that there won't be any for me - I'm not last anymore. It was nice to enjoy hot sweetened black tea. I made sure I drank a glass of water at each aid station. I also sucked on some orange slices. I didn't eat them because I didn't want the fiber.
Then we got to the first hill. It was a long gentle incline. I told the fellow pacing me (in Dutch) that I thought hills were only in the mind. He agreed. I kept going. His partner slowed down quite a bit. I took some walk breaks at this point, and they caught up.
The middle of the race was ecstatic for me. There's a point after about 90 minutes where I get a runner's high. I love it. Colours intensify. Everything seems better, more real. And it is. The music I was listening to intensified the experience.
And then I got to I would guess about 17 km and knew that my legs were now running on empty. That's when I connected it with Lynn and her death. I could feel my hip flexors begin to complain. I connected with the blister forming on the ball of my right foot. I felt my quadriceps. I embraced all the sensations and imagined running for Lynn. What little I know of her convinces me that she would've run joyously in the cold snow, slipping on the ice, feeling her muscles complain, without voicing a single discomfort. One more day on earth. One more run. What would I give if I knew this was my last day, my last run? I told my busy little brain to embrace the pain. I remembered Macca's advice that you can have a terrible day and still have a great race. I remember the “angel” on the Rotterdam marathon course who told me at the end of 41 km to go for broke, that I could put it back together afterwards.
I kept pushing. And I kept running. I started passing people. One at a one. Then the next. Then the next. And I counted down the remaining distance at each sign posting how far we'd gone. I started to choke up with happiness when I realized there was only 2 km left. That made it hard to breathe.
I don't remember when, but at some point I left behind the couple I had been running with as her pace faded. I thought to look for them at the finish, but I couldn't find them. Another woman I had been running with at the very end congratulated me for finishing - we ran together at the end with me encouraging her to keep going. Like me, she wants to finish at 10 K. in under an hour. It was nice to have her company while we ground out the last bit.
Coming up next I have a 10 k race every month for the next three months. And some great long bike rides. I got a deep tissue massage on my legs today. Hopefully, tomorrow, I won't be leaning on the handrails while going up and down stairs quite as much. And maybe I won't be walking like an old lady. But at least I'm walking.