finally, the end!
saturday's unisphere 50 miler in forest meadows park, queens, was one of the toughest races i've finished in a long time. the course itself was a straightforward, basically flat, 2.39 mile loop of the park. what made it tough, however, was the high heat, humidity, and lack of any meaningful shade on the course.
originally, this event was to be a 100k race (exactly 26 loops). there was also a separate 50k race (13 loops) that began an hour after the 100k went off. but, by noon, faced with increasing heat and runners dropping from the race, richie (the race director) cancelled the 100k distance and replaced it with a 50 miler. when richie made that announcement, emmy and i had just finished our 15th loop of the park. but i've gotten ahead of myself.
emmy and rob arrived at my house just before 6 am for the drive into queens. by the time the race began at 7 am, it was humid, the sun was out and the temperature was already in the mid-70's. not an auspicious way to kick off what could be 10-12 hours of running. actually, i had a pretty ambitious goal in mind. i wanted to finish the 100k in 10 hours or, in a worst case, 12 hours. i planned to run 25 minutes a loop, and at some point, drop down to 30 minutes a loop when i couldn't maintain that pace any longer.
the first 9 loops went smoothly. in fact, the first 6 were each 21 minutes or better. at the start of the 7th loop i stopped to change out of my drenched singlet. but by loop nine i could feel the heat taking its toll. despite drinking at each aid station (rotating between water and coke) and eating gum drops, pb & j squares, and chips - i could feel the effects of dehydration slowly creeping up on me.
i slowed considerably during the 10th and 11th loops, and reached the marathon split in 4:15. midway during the 12th loop emmy caught up with me and we ran together for the next few laps. she mentioned that richie was considering cancelling the 100k because of the heat. but when we arrived at the start/finish, completing the 12th loop, richie was out on the course checking on the conditions.
a few words about the course. the two major attractions - aside from families enjoying the park - were the boy scouts assembled for some big event and the cricket players who repeatedly blocked the approach to the start/finish area. despite the obvious stream of runners, they insisted on taking batting practice directly on the park road we ran on! a more inconsiderate bunch of people i've never seen. then there was the very territorial red-winged black bird at the turnaround - but more on it later.
when we finished the 13th loop richie was there and officially announced the cancellation of the 100k event. i was truly relieved to learn we wouldn't need to complete 26 loops. at that point i was, physically,"toast." but with only 7 more laps to finish 50 miles, i was determined to gut it out. we started off on loop 14th and were eventually joined by phil for a portion of it. mid-way thru the 15th loop, well past the 6 hour mark, i made my first bathroom pit stop of the day! despite all the fluids i had taken in, i was still on the verge of dehydration.
the last loop emmy and i ran together was 16 - and at a relatively fast, 31:47. but our paths diverged there. emmy got a second wind and continued on. i hit the proverbial wall and had a miserable next two laps, 38:54 and 48:10, respectively. it was so hot and sticky i had taken off my singlet, and struggled through those two loops without a top. not only had i hit rock bottom, but the red-winged blackbird who had buzzed me as i passed earlier, got bolder as i slowed down - coming increasingly closer to my head!
what a lucky bird he was. after the race rob told me the bird had actually clawed his head! and the were plenty of runners who reported the same stories of being buzzed by it as we passed his nest. but i the foul mood i was in (excuse the pun), had i grabbed him, i would have devoured him in quick two bites! lucky for me, the sound of distant thunder snapped me out of my coma-like state!
i managed to rally back and knock off the last 3 loops in progressively faster splits: 32:51, 26:11, and 21:29! it had little to do with finish time and all to do with the darkening skies and thunder. while i longed for the cooling effect of rain, i just couldn't face the prospect of running loops in the middle of a thunderstorm. emmy, who had finished the 50 miles in 9:10, was all set to run the last loop with me. but i declined since i was so worked up to get it finished, i practically sprinted the last loop!
i'm glad there was something left in the tank because as soon as i was done, it started to rain! to be on the safe side, rob had taken our stuff back to the car to avoid it getting wet. we socialized with richie, barbara, nick and grant for a little while, then got on the road. within minutes of leaving the park and getting onto the van wyck express, the heavens opened up and the rain came down in bucket!
while i was so happy to be driving home, i couldn't help but be bummed some of our friends (sal, ruth, al, and lydia) were still out there on the course with a few more loops to finish. what a tough day it was!
here are the splits (2.39 mile loop):
28:30 4:15:05 - marathon split
34:11 5:20:18 - 50k split
check out emmy's race report!