by Colleen McGarry
Sunday September 18th, 2022
I was hitting all the marks on my training plan when two weeks out from the race my back and hip started to act up from all those morning interval sessions. I took two days off to rest, set out my race uniform, set my alarm, and set my intentions. “This is my A race,” I thought, “but it will be okay if it doesn’t go as planned.”
My favorite race distance is the half marathon. It’s my Goldilocks distance, long enough to settle in and short enough to put in solid consistent training while balancing other interests and responsibilities. My go to fall half marathon has typically been Mohawk Hudson. I love knowing every turn of that race, but the ADK Distance Festival Half Marathon was a part of the USATF Adirondack Grand Prix series this season; I’ve never raced at Schroon Lake before, so I figured this was the year to do it. The 90 minute ride to the race start was early but uneventful. We arrived at the event early for packet pick up. The weather looked humid with a chance of rain, maybe even thunderstorms. A storm cloud loomed over the lake; thunder and lightning would cancel the event. This was a glitch in my plan that I hadn’t even considered. I put that out of my mind as it was something I just could not control. We got our gear bags and headed to the buses for our ride to the start.
After almost getting on the wrong bus and enduring a seemingly endless ride on a school bus on the winding back roads of the ADK, we arrived at the start. What a strikingly beautiful run it would be through the rolling hills and early fall colors of the Adirondacks, the lake by our side to start. My crew assembled for a quick one mile warm-up before our last sips of water. I decided against carrying water or nutrition since there would be a water/aid station at least every two miles. We tossed our gear bags in the race support truck and headed to the start. While waiting for the 13.1 to start, racers got to cheer on early marathoners which created an element of excitement right before our own race start. My teammates and I took places near the front of the group. This position always makes me nervous, but it’s the right place to be. Countdown from ten and my race brain gets to work. We were off!
One of my race rules is to always run behind my teammate Beth. She is a superstar masters athlete that knows how to pace and is super quick. She’s one of the top female master athletes in the region, so I know if I’m ahead of her I’ve gone out wayyyyy too fast! Mile one clicked off at 7:29 pace. Perfect. I wanted to settle into this pace and no matter how fast Beth went out, I reminded myself I was not chasing her, I was running my own race. The next few miles ticked off at a pretty even clip, a 7:35 up a little hill and then a 7:25 down, and although my calves were a little tight, I felt focused. As we rounded mile 4, runners entered Word of Life campus with young spectators lining the entire route to mile 5 with cheers, cowbells, and music. It was as exhilarating as running through the screaming tunnel at the Boston Marathon. I couldn’t help but smile and feel their energy as I slapped each outreached hand. It provided a boost as I headed to the almost half way mark.
My mile splits were staying consistent and pretty even from there. As I thought about all the miles of training I’d covered this summer, I imagined myself running the hills near 5 Rivers and tempo intervals on the Albany County Rail Trail. Long Sunday runs are my favorite, so I channeled all those Sunday miles as I pushed into the back half of the course.
I started counting each step and each breath as I had a plan to try to push the last few miles with the hope that I just might be able to negative split my final miles. I reached mile 10 and as I crested the hill, I started to think, “Am I catching Beth?!” It was here that I decided to break my Beth rule. I passed her and just hoped I could hold on. Beth yelled that she thought I was in 5th place overall. I was excited, but I couldn’t focus on that. As I passed Beth, a woman who had picked me off earlier on the course pulled off the course moving me up one position. I hadn’t considered my race position at all up to this point and I had no idea how many athletes were out in front of me. It was downhill for a bit and I clicked off a 7:15 mile and thought, “Okay, hold on for just two more miles!” The last two miles into town were grueling. I wanted to hang on to the 7:15 pace, but just couldn’t and settled back into a 7:30 grind to the finish line, all the while I could hear Beth chanting and yelling her enthusiastic support to other racers. I came into town and thought, “Beth is coming for me,” but I heard the announcer say my name and then hers right behind me as I hit the finish line mat. 1:38:39 on a new course and in a new age group.
Although I was unable to negative split the end of my race as I had hoped, I was thrilled to get my post race treats and head to the results tent with my team. I scanned down to see I had won my age group and accomplished my goal of setting a pace and running a consistent race. It was a fellow athlete who realized that I had missed something on the results. He said something like,”Wait, did you count the Fs for female finishers? It looks like you’re third overall winner!”
The prize at this race for overall winners is a coveted handmade wooden Adirondack bear. My Willow teammates and I waited for the awards ceremony as the rain finally arrived. They were sure I was getting that bear. It wasn’t until they called my name to the podium and handed me the little 3rd place guy that I believed it was true.
Admittedly, the field was in my favor. Many of my teammates and other competitive female runners are wrapping up training for major marathons or just weren’t at the race on Sunday. After years of racing, I know it’s true that oftentimes your standing at the end of a race depends on who showed up that day. For this race, it was me who showed up and I will proudly display the cutest race award I have ever received.