by Tom Gabriel
I must have checked the weather once every two hours in the days leading up to the Helderberg to Hudson half marathon (H2H). After word came out that the rail trail had been restored (great work by Albany County!) the only question was whether it would rain. Every time I checked the percent chance of rain went up and the time it would start moved earlier. The last time I checked before bed, it was all but a sure thing, so I packed a raincoat for the race and a poncho to hang out in after.
Well, I never had to take those items out of my bag. The fear of rain loomed but it never came. Upon arriving at the start, I was chilly when not moving but didn’t need gloves. When warming up and getting to the line, it was cool but not windy. There was no sun, and the sky was just a boring gray everywhere. It was not a day for beautiful pictures but it was a day set up for PRs.
What a fun way to start a race. Down a massive hill that forces you to exceed whatever pace plan you had set. I had a hard time holding back but I was well trained and prepared. I watched as a tidal wave of runners flew past me and carried that momentum through the streets. Around mile 3 is where we turned on to the rail trail, and I knew that’s where the real race began.
As I expected, people couldn’t hold the pace the hill tricked them into. I started passing others until I settled in with a group that was spread thin. I could see two of my teammates from Nark Running. Christine was a few seconds ahead of me and Matt was 10-15 seconds ahead. I stuck with my planned pace and kept them in sight the entire length of the trail.
Various distractions kept my mind off the strain of running a 13.1. For some time, I would be running in what felt like a beautiful escape with waterfalls, old bridges, natural features, small critters and more. This was then broken up by moments of clear areas with large crowds holding signs and cheering on the runners. There was yelling, clapping and even a band rocking in a backyard right on the trail. Ziggy Stardust by David Bowie was just starting as I ran by. The guitar riff was distorted and loud. I got so pumped I checked my watch to see I was going too fast and had to slow up. It was a great mix of serenity and crowd motivation. It all takes place on a flat or downhill course that seems to just move your legs right along. This is the long haul. The rail trail is what you think of most when talking about the H2H Half.
Then with one turn to my left somewhere between miles 10 and 11, I was out. Back onto the streets and now in downtown Albany. I knew there wasn’t much left and I did a quick body check. Legs felt great, breathing was in line and my energy was high. I knew then it was time to move.
With new motivation and the finish near, I dialed it up. A lesson that Coach Mat Nark had been exhorting over and over was to finish fast. Since I had conserved some energy during the main portion of the race, I was ready. I took the pace up 10 or more seconds, didn’t even look at my watch and just pushed. I kept moving up and now my legs were starting to feel it. It was then that I saw Mat Nark and he said “Keep it going and you have a shot at 1:19.”
My goal was 1:22-23. As I came around the bend to the finish line I could see the clock had not clicked over to 1:20. I kicked, gave what energy I had left and made it in at 1:19:49, a 12 minute 15 second PR.
Without the coaching of Nark Running, I would have never knocked that much off my time. ARE did an amazing job setting up a course that provides every runner the opportunity to hit their goal. I was reminded that day hard work does pay off. Aside from injury, training provides an exact correlation of input to output. No one can take it from me or affect my training. Knowing this I can’t help but look forward to the next race and new benchmarks to hit.
Click here for EXTENSIVE pictures from race
Tom Gabriel is the Director of Business Development at BBL Hospitality/Recovery Sports Grill and a proud member of the Nark Racing Team. You will be hearing more from him in upcoming issues.