The last day of 2021. A remarkable year. So much promise. So much tumult. Change. Evolution. Love and loss. A year of so many highs and lows in my life like really none other I can remember.
I woke up this New Years’ Eve morning after a night of terrible, restless, barely continuous and certainly unrefreshing sleep to a gray and dreary New England December morning. The house is quiet and cold and in wild disarray befitting my current state of focus. The people I love most in this world are scattered about in the world. I’m alone.
I brewed myself a cup of coffee, looked out the kitchen window and preceded to listen to no fewer than five different versions of “The Sound of Silence.” It’s really only that first lyric that sticks though. I thought I was going to write a retrospective of the year – what made it tumultuous in my own life as a microcosm of the journey we all took this year. It turns out that what I really want to write is something a little different.
I don’t know if this was the former “Shore Park 5k” or just the same setup/course, time of year, or what, but in re-reading that write up there are more than a few parallels – starting with the late registration.
I was trying to decide what to do for a run today, and the RD gave a presentation with a bib giveaway at Sneakerama Thursday evening so I decided to go down and run this. The time of day worked out well so it fit in with my busy lifestyle. <<eye roll emoji here>> The day started off with a slice of cold pizza, a sausage & French toast breakfast sandwich and a large coffee, so why not race a 5k?
This was my fifth marathon. A distance is swore I would never – NEVER – do. Where the Half Marathon is a challenging distance, but still doable, the full marathon is straight pain cave nonsense. The elite runners – the folks who have sponsorships to do this stuff – do this seemingly at will. Sure, they’re training, but it’s also their job. For Joe Average, this stuff is hard work.
The saga of the endless pandemic effects continues. The Black Cat is typically run in March as a training race for the Boston Marathon – with the 20-mile distance being a healthy part of a solid training plan. Well, as we’re aware the 2020 races just didn’t happen, so this got deferred to 2021. Which too didn’t happen on schedule.
Now the company that runs the Black Cat, also runs a half marathon called the “Wicked Half,” a race I ran in 2019…you know, in the “beforetimes.” So, incorporating the majority of both courses and combining the races made sense for 2021 and here we are.
There’s no easy way to say this. It was abominable. The Laborious Labor Day 10-miler is the Labor Day version of the same race a local club – the Highland City Striders – runs near Thanksgiving, the Tough Turkey Trot. It’s basically 8-miles of downhill, until it’s not for the last 2.
On this day, I ran the first 5-miles pretty well. Until I didn’t.
This is one of the situations where I feel like I could have, should have done better. It was a nice day, a familiar – albeit challenging – course. It was a bit of a wake up call for me. “You ran a marathon last weekend!” I heard that a few times, and I’m sure that was part of it, but honestly I know I hadn’t hydrated well. It was a train wreck that never should have happened.
Back in 2019 or so, when I was fresh off my Baystate Marathon personal best, my friend Eric suggested that I should run this marathon. Mostly downhill, beautiful scenery, relatively inexpensive and small. There was a lot to like about this. “Sure. Why not?” and so I pried open my wallet and registered.
The Woodland Trail Series is billed as 3 5-mile races. The August race historically starts 30-minutes early to accommodate the series awards ceremony and the potentially waning daylight, etc. This year, the third race was also 2-miles shorter. Not sure why, but for a race that costs $6 and which this year donated roughly $500 to the local food bank I won’t complain. Besides, it was 91-degrees at the start time (6PM) and according to Strava, it felt like 103, so it’s entirely likely 5-miles may have in fact killed me.
It’s the end of July and this is recap number 6 for the year. Significantly below that which I have come to expect, and yet this race eclipses my total for 2020’s race (and everything else) COVID-shortened activity year. That said in the 5 races I did last year, the distance covered was 66.7 miles. If we include the unofficial “Bill’s Fat Ass Challenge” at the end of the year as race 6, we’d be talking about 98.7 miles.
This was the result that wasn’t supposed to happen. The Sunday before this race, I’d punctured my foot and couldn’t run for a few days. In fact, the day after the race – a full 8 days after the injury – I’m still really sore. I didn’t sleep well for a few days before the race. My eating has been not good. The night before, I’d had the opportunity to join some lifelong friends after a long, cold pandemic to watch a classic of our generation outside on a projection screen. This was wonderful, but not necessarily the battery recharging one would normally recommend. End result? Two half marathons this year, both in my Top 3 at the time. I’ve run this race 3 times, the last two are in my current Top 3.
Of course I don’t know what happened to my bib – these were mailed out several weeks beforehand, and in the chaos of what has become my day to day, it likely got thrown away in my most recent Purge. Because of this, I needed to get to the race that much earlier to square away that issue. And of course, Westport MA is about 90-minutes away and requires leaving the state, crossing Rhode Island and re-entering Massachusetts. That 8 AM start quickly gets pushed back by commuting time and administrivia when you have to change your bib-number (Orignally 67, New 933).
I’m only about a month behind with this recap, so I’m likely leaving a bunch of details out. It turns out that it’s a little hard to keep all the balls in the air when there are a hundred balls in the air, and they’re made of lead, and the clown in the corner of the room is throwing water balloons at you.
BUT a race is a race. This was the second of two that are on my calendar that wasn’t deferred from last year.
Unlike a lot of trail races, this one was really well marked – there was never a question as to where a runner needed to go. There were appropriate aid-stations every 4 miles or so.
About 5k into the race, there’s a really technical “killer hill” that accounts for most of the elevation gain of the event. Basically straight up, over boulders and the like. Otherwise, the trail itself – although there is a healthy sample of single track trail – isn’t terribly technical. I made the strategic error of wearing my Salomon Speedcross shoes thinking it would be a lot more technical, which compromised some of the cushioning and comfort another choice would have provided. It’s not child’s play – rocks and roots and all kinds of potential ankle twisters are afoot – but it wasn’t highly technical. It was warm and that too slowed things down.
I had made a plan for 3 hours for completion. It took me 3.5 and I really thought I had blown it because I only saw a smattering of other runners near me since that killer hill and the ones I did were basically running away from me, but as it turned out I finished 57 of 133. Nothing to write home about, but nothing to be ashamed of either. My ultrasignup ranking essentially stayed the same and I finished right about where their projections would have put me.