Bear Mountain Half Marathon Recap: The Camera Loves Me!

Politely jockeying for position at the start of the race.

Have you ever been in one of those races where everything just goes right? The conditions are perfect. You’re solidly trained. The weather couldn’t be better. The course is a dream. Well, The North Face Endurance Challenge Half Marathon in Bear Mountain, NY wasn’t one of those races. But the photos of me participating in it would certainly lead one to believe otherwise. (What can I say? The camera loves me!) Still, I have to admit those smiles were 100% genuine. I loved this event!

The morning started out in a bit of a panic. Our GPS device sent us to the wrong address and we ended up on the wrong side of Bear Mountain. (All together now: “The bear went over the mountain, to see what he could see!”) Luckily, we planned to be at the start 45 minutes early, so we had time to correct the mistake. It took 22 minutes to drive west, find the right exit, and get to the parking lot—and I was an anxious mess.

The laid-back start line was nerve-soothing. Unlike road races where directors line you up in corrals based on your pace, this was a free for all. Runners casually milled about in a grassy area in front of an inflatable archway that demarcated the start/finish. Instead of feeling like we were about to embark on the toughest trail half marathon in the region, the atmosphere was as calm as a backyard barbecue. Thank goodness—after the hectic drive, I couldn’t have handled a stressful line up.

Early miles were no indication of the intensity to come. I got into a decent mid-pack position within the first two miles, knowing that the trail would turn to single track soon and I wouldn’t be able to easily make passes after that. From there, the course wound around through the woods, progressively getting steeper, the ground changing from dry to muddy, and the terrain becoming increasingly treacherous. I was prepared for roots, rocks, and the occasional branch across the trail, but there were sections of this course that we were simply unable to “run.”

Lively conversation made the death-march climbs bearable. There’s an unwritten code among trail runners that if you can’t see the top of a hill, you stop running and walk up it instead. My signature is all over that imaginary document! Hiking up the inclines that make the Bear Mountain course a five-out-of-five for overall difficulty and a five-out-of-five for technical terrain, would have been daunting had I been alone. But chatting with the girls just behind me made the climbs fly by. (Have you ever seen people hiking with a pair of caged pet birds? One of these girls had! Hilarious!)

Minutes after taking a tumble—you can just make out the bruise beginning to form on my lower left quad.

Wiping out hurt, but I kept going. With a little less than three miles to the finish, the trail opened up and I found some speed. It felt good to pump my legs harder. But at that point I was mentally fatigued, and I wasn’t concentrating enough on where I was planting my feet.  I hit a rock in the center of the path and went flying, crashing hard onto my left side. Momentum and a slight decline caused me to roll forward, so I ultimately finished the fall on my back with my head pointing down the trail. I got back onto my feet a little dazed, and started moving forward immediately. A man in front slowed to make sure I was okay—I was, mostly. A guy behind clapped and shouted, “You’re doing great! Your pace has been even this entire time and you’re almost to the finish.” I shouted my thanks to both of them and went back to a slow jog.

Working the camera and crossing the finish line mats—all in a day’s work.

My heart soared when I heard the cheers at the finish line. “Finish strong with a smile,” is a mantra that I use during the last mile of every race. And it was especially helpful for this one. Half a mile from the finish my body was starting to realize that it was in pain—from the fall and from the intense workout that I’d just put it through. I came out of the woods onto a parking lot that stretched towards the grassy field where the journey began, and I started to sprint. I was done, and I was happy.

And I can’t wait to do it all again next year!

Have you ever fallen during a run? What helped you get back up?

 

Out With The Old, And (Still) In With The Pneumonia

Yesterday, the final day of 2011, I had a bad run. It was the first time I’ve been to Central Park for a workout since my Himalayan Adventure, and I had high hopes that I would enjoy a relaxed 6-mile loop. Sadly, my hopes were dashed.

I’m still battling the remnants of the pneumonia that I picked up in Nepal. And I shouldn’t have set the bar so high for myself yesterday, but that’s what I do. I met up with a couple of friends, and we started out at an easy pace. We caught up on life and chatted about our New Year’s Eve plans. Then I stopped talking, the effort was becoming too much. We tucked into Harlem hill, and my chest tightened up. I couldn’t breathe. I slowed to a walk, and I wanted to cry. This hill that I used to hate, but over the years had come to love, was suddenly back on my bad list.

At the crest I began to jog again, but the damage had already been done. I was mentally shot. I took another walk break on the next incline, and then cut off onto a dirt path to head back across the park where I started. In total, I completed about 3.5 miles. I should have been congratulating myself for getting that far, but instead I was frustrated. Mad at my lungs for being weak, angry that I’m still not better after three weeks of rest, annoyed that I got sick in the first place.

This morning as I welcomed in 2012, I realized I’m being way too hard on myself—I’m expecting too much, too soon. I’d like to say that I’ve resolved to lower the bar, to be more compassionate with myself (mentally and physically), and to stop feeling frustrated when things don’t go the way I imagine. But I haven’t. Instead, I’m looking into new training plans, new shoes, and destination races, and coming up with goals that are above and beyond the ones I set for myself last year.

I’m clearly not paying attention to the lesson I should have picked up from yesterday’s disappointment. Instead, what I have learned is that I’d rather shoot for the stars than aim too low. If I don’t even reach the moon, yeah, I’ll be bummed. But the kernel of positivity in my heart reminds me that the day I get it will be incredible.

Happy New Year!!! Have you made any resolutions yet?

Are You Ready For National Running Day?

Tomorrow, June 1, is National Running Day. And since I like to think of myself as an ambassador of running (casual, non-pro level, conversational pace, out here for the smiles and the miles), I would like to officially welcome you to participate.

All you have to do is run. Seriously, it’s that easy.

Sure you could sign up for a fancy event (get $26 off a Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon; $13 off a Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon; $10 off a Rock ‘n’ Roll 10k; $5 off a Rock ‘n’ Roll 5k; $20 off a Muddy Buddy; and $20 off a TriRock event if you register for one on June 1, 2011), but if that seems too complicated to you, just run down your driveway, to the next mailbox, or to the end of the block.

I’ll be driving from NYC to VA for my baby sister’s wedding, so I won’t be anywhere near my favorite place to run—Central Park. Still, I’m planning to stop in every rest area and jog a lap around the parking lot. Yes, it’s going to make my travel time a heck of a lot longer, but I’ll do anything to be able to take part in this glorious holiday!

Tell me, how will you be celebrating National Running Day?

Originally posted in Running With It on Shape.com.