On Saturday, September 28th, I ran my 15th Marathon at the Hamptons Marathon in East Hampton, New York. It was not my best day, but I will try not to let that color my race report, since it’s really not the race’s fault. But if you want to read a unadulterated positive report, head on over the Ali on the Run, who ran it in 2011 and agreed (per her recap) that is was tough but sure seems pretty happy in her race photos. Me?
Decidedly less so…
(If that picture didn't make you LOL, something is wrong with you. I can't stop laughing. MY FACE! MY T-REX ARMS! MY POSTURE! I'm hunched over to about 5'6" here. That's 5 inches of hunch!)
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The Hamptons Marathon naturally gets a lot of NYC-based runners, so packet pick up was held at Jack Rabbit on the Upper West Side for two days during race week, which was a nice touch and left me with one less thing to do once I got out East. While it’s less than 2 hours from Manhattan (when there’s no traffic, which is never) and a race morning drive to the start would be feasible, I elected to take Friday off and drive out in the afternoon to give myself as stress-free a weekend as possible. This was, after all, my A race for the season. Neat…
I stayed at The Atlantic in Southampton, which isn’t too far down Montauk Highway from that seafood joint that’s on the left side of the road right as you’re first entering the Hamptons. You know that one, right? Has anyone ever been there? Anyway, being right on Montauk Highway was convenient in the sense that I couldn’t possibly get lost, but as you know if you’ve ever been out there, you could probably wait to make a left turn off Montauk Highway for longer than it takes to run a marathon.
Also, Southampton is not at all close to East Hampton, and further still from the race day shuttle in Amagansett. This worked fine for me because I had a rental car, but don’t stay in Southampton if you’re planning to take the Jitney. Do make “it’s Jitney, bitch” jokes regardless of what mode of transportation you use.
Okay, so Friday, check in, drive down the road to get a slice of ‘za, swing by 7-11 for some bread, peanut butter, and a six pack, go back to my hotel, lay out my bib person, have some pre-race deep thoughts, and generally feel pretty freaking good about the race. My training was not perfect, but it was pretty stinking good – more 20+ milers than usual, nailed my GMP runs up to 10 miles like it ain’t no thang, killed it at the track, etc. Basically I’m planning my post-race victory party as I’m chowing down on the pasta I brought from my apartment. I have two beers and call it a night, ready to murder number 15.
I wake up at Zero Dark Thirty and see that the hotel lobby hasn’t yet prepared coffee, which is forgivable since bars are only just at closing time at this point. So I dash across Montauk Highway to the gas station across the street, where a very silent shopkeeper seems somewhat concerned that cheery girl in a sweatsuit has come looking for coffee at 4:30am. He definitely thought I was on drugs. I return to my room, suit up, spread some pb on some bread, and hop in the car.
Here is a fun fact: Montauk Highway has traffic even at 5:30am. Not heavy, mid-summer Saturday-levels of traffic, but traffic nonetheless. The drive to Amagansett is a straight shot down the highway, so I jammed out and ate my toast for 40 minutes and then parked in the designated beach parking lots and boarded a bus to the start. A+ logistics, folks.
The race starts at the Spring School in East Hampton, and the gym at the school was open for runners (and race day bib pick up), so I took my coffee and sat on the floor in there for awhile listening to tunes and getting myself in the zone. I was even able to replenish my coffee, gratis, at the start, which is a much appreciated perk. Porta potties were plentiful, and I was the very first person to use mine! Sorry, second person…
Kick off was at 8am, so I checked my gear around 7:45 and headed towards to start to do some striders, mostly just to stay warm. I situated myself around the 7:30/mile sign within the corrals, where I started chatting with a local runner. I think his named was Joe, or possibly Tom, and I’m sorry I can’t remember, because he was totally a nice dude. We swapped race stories in the corral, he briefed me on the course (which he described as being “worse than Boston,” which I probably should have taken into consideration, but what can you do?), and when the gun went off, we found ourselves step-by-step.
JoeTom had noted that I was wearing a 3:20 pace bracelet, and explained that he ran a 3:20:00 as his PR in Boston. I mentioned I hadn't yet run a 3:20:anything, but was hoping today was the day (spoiler alert: not the day). He didn't plan to run that fast in the Hamptons, but was happy to run with me for as long as he could. He went so far as to say he'd be dying by the half if he kept up. (Spoiler alert: that was me who was dying).
We ran a quick first mile (7:19), but that's pretty customary for me, and by mile two, we settled into a spot on 7:37. I was feeling good, the conversation was making the miles tick by, and when I saw a 7:41 mile 5, I decided to pull away from JoeTom in an effort to stay on pace. While I don't think this was a critical error, since it's not like I started sprinting away, I never again felt comfortable for the rest of the day.
Mile 1: 7:19
Mile 2: 7:37
Mile 3: 7:27
Mile 4: 7:35
Mile 5: 7:41
The weather was warmer than I would have liked, but only by about 5 or 10 degrees, and the beginning of the course is mostly shaded. I was hydrated, had eaten breakfast, and had pasta, pizza, and beer the night before, but somewhere around mile 6 or 7, the check engine light went on, the air was let out of the tires, the tank went empty, the engine sputtered, and every other car metaphor for "holy shit, I can't go on" set in. For the first mile, I figured it was just nerves or something. I had done GMP runs longer than 7 miles, so there was no way I had over exerted myself. I tried to shake it off and get myself together. I fought for another few miles, during which 7:40s felt like 5:40s, and talked myself off a ledge. "You have some time in the bank, you're fine." But I knew I was not fine. And also, I was terrified. I had been tired in a race before (it's a marathon, after all), but never this soon, and even in the final miles of my PR, it didn't feel anything like this.
Mile 6: 7:38
Mile 7: 7:31
Mile 8: 7:40
Mile 9: 7:35
Mile 10: 7:47
At this point, I was still on pace, but was coming to terms with the fact that it wouldn't be possible to stay that way. I pledged to ease up until the half split and reassess. Unfortunately, miles 9.5 to at least 15 were in direct sun, and while it wasn't all that warm out, the sun beating down on me certainly didn't help me feel any better.
There's a 180 degree turn at the 10 mile mark, and on my way out, I passed JoeTom headed towards 10. He gave me a wave. I gave him an "I'm fucking dying."
Shortly thereafter, I started thinking about dropping out. I knew I had another marathon the following weekend, and there wasn't really a sense in wasting myself for a mediocre finish and risk jeopardizing that race. Oddly enough, I felt preemptive guilt and embarrassment having spent much of my time in the start reading tweets from 78,453 members of the New York Runner Army who were eagerly anticipating my race results. In actuality it was more like 5, and they were heart warming tidings of good luck and not "don't blow it, chump" sentiments, but nonetheless, I knew I'd eventually have to admit defeat to them. This was a totally dumb way to feel, but we're in the tree of trust here, right?
Despite the preemptive embarrassment, by 11.5 I committed to dropping at the half. 13.1 miles would be a nice long run ahead of the following weekend's marathon, and for arbitrary reasons, at least getting half way there seemed like something.
I spent the next mile and a half thinking "holy shit, I can't believe I'm really going to DNF. But especially, I can't believe I'm okay with DNFing." Each split now began with an 8, and still felt like agony.
I crossed the 13.1 timing mat, incidentally exactly on pace for a 3:20, and saw nary a race official in sight. So I continued on, assuming eventually I'd find someone who could direct me to a med tent or saggin' wagon. As I pressed on, the runner next to me struck up a conversation. "How's it going?" "Not my best day," I told him. Understatement of the year. And this was a year I ran 39.3 miles on a broken foot...
Finally, at 14.5 we came upon an aid station with porta potties and a cop. Having already thrown in the towel and just looking for a way to do so officially, I decided I might as well stop to pee. The porta potty was occupied, but I didn't mind waiting. I was DNFing; what difference did it make?
After a pee, I moseyed on over to the cop, to have that fateful conversation:
Me: Hi. I'd like to drop out.
Me: So do you know how I can get to the finish?
Me: Is there a way I can get a ride? Like, will you be going there eventually?
Him: Oh I'll be here awhile.
Me: Okay, so do you know where the next med tent is?
Me: Should I just keep going until I get to one?
Him: Yeah. Yeah just keep going and you'll get to one.
In all, I do think this race is well organized and volunteers were totally on top of their game. But there was a pretty crucial communication break down somewhere if a uniformed cop on the course couldn't give me any information on medical aid.
Without much other choice, I pressed on, having spent about 10 minutes between miles 14 and 15.
Mile 11: 8:05
Mile 12: 8:01
Mile 13: 8:19
Mile 14: 8:24
Mile 15: 9:18, and I'm pretty sure I actually stopped my watch once I decided I was bailing and stopped to pee.
I don't have a whole lot to say about the rest of this race, since I ran it begrudgingly. It's mostly rolling hills, though since I was feeling terrible, it seemed way more uphill than not. At mile 18 my Garmin reset itself, so I have no data beyond that point, which is probably for the best. I figured if I made it to mile 20, I might as well just finish the damn thing. Around mile 20, we hit a dirt path, which was a nice change, and JoeTom had told me in the corrals not to hold back from that point on, since the course was essentially downhill from there. While I tried to heed his advice and pick it up for the last 6 miles, any effort to do so was futile - my legs had been stone for close to 13 miles by that point.
Mile 16: 8:51
Mile 17: 8:50
Mile 18: 9:07
Eventually, I crossed the finish line in 3:42:09, a perfectly fine time had I not been racing for a 3:20. In fact, it was my 5th fastest marathon. But fifth fastest is a long way from first fastest, especially when you've put in the work.
As I stumbled through the shoot and towards my gear, a man stopped to offer me a bottle of water. I hesitated to take it when I realized, by the medal around his neck, he was also a finisher, and was offering me his own water. "Nothing is given, everything is earned," he told me. He also maybe looked kind of like Jesus, but I was really tired and in a fragile emotional state where I was looking for meaning in things, so that part could be wrong. But he really did say that.
As I've already mentioned, I was surprised I wasn't more upset about how the day played out, but from training to fueling and hydration to execution of race strategy, I really can't identify anything I would have done differently. I will tell you, in the spirit of over-sharing on the internet, that I peed blood for a bit afterwards, which isn't awesome, and my post-race muscle fatigue was definitely higher than normal - potentially scary signs of something more than run-of-the-mill marathon wear-and-tear. I took super good care of myself in the week that followed, and knew I'd be taking it easy at Wineglass, but I was really conscientious about hydrating and eating properly (and taking it easy on the beers) while I recovered, just to be sure.
As it were, I happened to have a physical recently, post race, which turned up an electrolyte imbalance in the form of high potassium. It's only moderately elevated, and my kidney function is fine, but I definitely took a beating in the Hamptons that I did not anticipate. Concerned phone call from my mother in 3, 2, 1...
I probably won't return to this race because I'm the kind of person who holds a grudge, but if you're in New York, it's really easy to get to, a scenic if not "fast" course, and held at a time of year when weather should be favorable. It's also not a very competitive field - the winner in my AG (25-29) ran a 3:30, so if that appeals to you, go for it.
As for me, my disappointing finish obviously didn't deter me from future marathons, since I've since run another. And my failed pursuit of 3:20 has only made me more determined to get it in the Spring. So here's to a solid spring season, and to the next great adventure! But first, we rest.