Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends! I hope you all had a fabulous day yesterday, filled with plenty of turkey and mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce (the Thanksgiving Trifecta, as I like to call it). I did, and I’ll fill you in all about the whole weekend on Monday, but today I want to share how I started Thanksgiving Day: with 12,000 of my closest friends, running down Delaware Avenue in Buffalo.
This was my third Turkey Trot, and it’s such a fun way to kick off the holiday season. I ran the Buffalo Turkey Trot with my sister-in-law Grace back in 2010 and the Troy Turkey Trot with my dad and high school BFF in 2011. (I didn’t trot in 2012, because I was still recovering from Hurricane Peanut.) This year I had a big goal – I really, really wanted to PR (beat my personal record in the 8k distance). I trained hard over the course of the fall and I was pretty confident that I’d get not only a PR, but a big one… until race day, when I woke up to this view:
I’m all for a white Christmas, but a white Thanksgiving? That’s real… unnatural.
Needless to say, I was pretty unhappy about the view out my window. We live on a major, high-traffic road and the race was being run not too far from my neighborhood. So I was just a leetle bit worried about the road conditions. It looked as though the plough went through, but there was no salt on the road and there was an inch of slushy slop covering the entire surface. If Delaware Avenue – on which 95% of the race is run – looked anything like this, I knew my PR was out the window. I wanted to set a new record for myself, but not badly enough to break an ankle. So I took a deep breath and tried to revise my goal to just have fun with my sisters-in-law and worry about a PR at the Shamrock 8k in March.
I grabbed an easy but filling breakfast (banana with pecan butter, Larabar and two cups of tea) and at 8:35 on the button, my father-in-law and sisters-in-law rang the doorbell. I hopped in the car and my father-in-law dropped me, Emma and Grace off at the starting line. We were almost late – thanks, snow and traffic – and had to run to the corrals, but we made it.
Have I mentioned that it was COLD? The temperature was in the high teens. Brrrrrrrr.
I could tell immediately upon arriving at the start line that Delaware Avenue looked much better than my street. Yay! The city snow crews must have given my street a cursory effort because they were all busy getting Delaware into race shape. (They obviously went back for a second pass at my street later, because it looks fine now.) The road was a little wet, but otherwise perfectly fine. I decided to go for my PR after all. My A, B and C goals for the race were:
A – Beat my previous 8k PR of 56:19.
B – Run the entire race in under an hour.
C – Finish. (This is always my C goal. Heck, sometimes it’s my A goal!)
The loudspeakers played The Star-Spangled Banner, and we were off!
(The start lines, viewed from the corrals just as we started to move.)
The first mile of the race was wall-to-wall people. I tried to find some running room, but there wasn’t really much space to be had. I waved to my father-in-law, who was cheering just past the start line and spent the rest of the mile fighting my way through the crowds. The first mile does contain one of the most fun moments of the race – when you run under the “New York Central” bridge and everyone shouts “WOOOOOOO!” all at once. Sorry for the crummy picture, but I was running:
As expected, the first mile was my slowest – but I was so distracted by just trying to find an unoccupied patch of pavement to put my feet that it seemed like no time at all before I saw the flag marking Mile 1.
Aside from the finish line, I was happiest and most excited during this stretch, because I knew that “my” spectators would be waiting for me. Just as expected, right before the 1.5 mile mark, I saw my two favorite faces:
Look how disgruntled Peanut is! You can just see her thinking, “What new way have they come up with to torture me now?” I took a quick detour to give her kisses all over her face, and she slapped me. I laughed and headed back onto the road.
Somehow I missed the mile marker for Mile 3, and this felt like the longest mile of my life, until I realized… duh. This was the stretch where I dug deep and focused on running a smart race. There was one traffic circle and I carefully ran the tangents in an attempt to get down closer to the shortest legal distance. (A smart strategy during any race, but especially a race like this, where the crowd never thinned out and I spent the entire time weaving between other runners – I knew that I was running much longer than the 8k distance.) I dug into my bag of motivational tricks to keep my feet going: picking a spot on the pavement to stare at until I ran over it, and then another and another, and repeating my favorite mantras: “go mama go” and “strong legs, strong mind.” I pulled out that second mantra when the lazy part of my brain started suggesting that I take a walk break – even though I knew that I didn’t need one. My legs weren’t tired at all and the rest of me felt great too, so it was only my mind that wanted to slow down and walk. I instructed my mind to get on board with my legs, and we kept running.
Just before Mile 4, the road starts sloping noticeably downhill. Yay! (It’s pretty much all flat or downhill anyway, but the last major stretch is really downhill, and so much fun.) My overall plan for the race had been to run at a comfortable pace for the first four miles and conserve plenty of energy, and then turn on the burners in the last mile. So when I saw the flag marking Mile 4, I started to gradually pick up the pace. By the time we entered Niagara Square, with just under half a mile left, I was flying. (Or, flying as best I could while weaving in and out of the crowds of other runners.) I turned two corners and saw the finish line looming up ahead. Hooray! Or maybe not…
The Finish Line
This was where my race experience soured. I ran all out in the last short stretch and I felt like I was floating two feet above the road… until about five feet before the finish line, when I came to a screeching halt. There was a bottleneck inside the finishers’ chute, caused by people crossing the line and coming to a dead stop (exactly what the pre-race email warned people not to do), and the bottleneck had spilled out of the finishers’ chute and was making it impossible to cross the finish line at all, let alone at a run.
I just barely managed to stop without mowing down the people in front of me and immediately screamed with frustration. Was I really standing here, completely still, not moving at all, five feet before the finish line? This had to be a joke. Alas… nope. Those last five feet took almost a full minute to travel. I was incredibly frustrated because up to that point, I had run exactly the race I wanted to, I was feeling great about my training and the effort I’d put in, and I knew I was very close to my hoped-for PR. I finally crossed the line, but instead of the huge smile I had worn for 99% of the race, I had a huge scowl.
Final time: 55:40.
So, despite the snag at the finish line, I did end up hitting my “A” goal for the day. I PRed by 39 seconds. I was happy to get the PR I wanted, of course, and I was proud of the effort I put into training and on race day… but it stinks to know that you could have finished faster, were it not for a circumstance outside your control, like bottlenecking at the finish line. If I had missed out on a PR because of the weather, I’d have been bummed, but I wouldn’t have been too upset, because no one can control that. But losing out on the chance to sprint across the finish line because of other people’s inconsiderate behavior – stopping in the finishers’ chute – really left a bad taste in my mouth. I tried to reframe the experience in my mind to make it more positive: after all, if I hadn’t trained well, run smart, and poured it on in the last mile, I wouldn’t have hit my PR at all. So the good work I did earlier in the race made it possible for me to have a good day and meet my “A” goal – my first PR in over three years! – despite hitting a snag at the finish line.
Still, I’m looking ahead to another chance to PR, and this time the way I want to, at the Shamrock 8k in March. I’ll be crossing that finish line at speed, even if I have to sprout wings and fly.
If you trotted on Thursday, I hope you had a great race! I’ll be back on Monday with a recap of the rest of our Thanksgiving festivities.