After the pancakes, the chocolate milk and the nap, I was talking with my mother about the race, noting how happy and impressed I was that my body felt pretty good.
“Well that’s good to hear,” my mom said. “Because you didn’t look so good at the end.”
Harsh. And true.
Welcome to The Lockport Y-10: WNY’s Toughest Race.
Why is the race so difficult? First of all, it happens in early February and race weekend almost always brings with it snow, cold and wind. Second, it’s 10 miles. Third, the first five miles are pretty fun to run with a lot of downhill while the second five miles is a pretty steady climb back including a very steep trip of Market Street Hill which comes at about mile 9.5. So yeah, good times.
But it is good times. As long as I put yourself in the right frame of mind and understand my goals for the day. And as long as I let go of things I can not control and enjoy what’s in front of me.
Winter Storm Nemo dropped a bundle of snow on the Niagara Frontier region and Lockport received more than its fair share. But kudos to the city and race team which worked to clear the race roads. The entire route was down to pavement with only a few slushy areas that were easily managed creating some of the best road conditions I’ve encountered this winter. The wind was only a slight breeze, a thankful happenstance since much of the course is wide open country roads which tend to whip the wind right into your face. The temperatures were another story. It was only in the high-teens and while the wind wasn’t gusting, there was a windchill factor which made it, well, freaking cold.
None of these factors, though, were in my control. Not the road conditions. Not the wind. Not the temperatures. The only thing I could control was me. Which is plenty. Because I can be a handful.
The 10-mile run fit in with my half marathon training. With the iffy weather conditions and the difficult hills, we decided not to make this a pace-based run but an effort-based run. After two miles, I would do a series of longer intervals — 5 minutes hard running, 5 minutes recovery jog. Prepared with my plan and wearing multiple layers, I took off with a few hundred other people on our 10-mile journey.
In the first half of the race, there was a guy running in shorts and a very old Shamrock Run sweatshirt. When someone asked him about wearing shorts he said that 220-pound guys sweat more. And then he laughed. He carried a camera with him and frequently stopped to take pictures. I don’t blame him. The snow-covered landscape was beautiful. He pulled over to take a picture of the snow-covered trees. He took pictures of the volunteers and of other runners. “I need proof for my wife that I’m not out drinking,” he said. One of the other runners around me laughed. “Well I guess if you’re not having fun, why do it.”
Whenever I started to feel my mind get stressed, I took a moment to shake out my arms and look around. This was where I wanted to be. This was what I wanted to be doing. I checked my watch and took off on a five-minute interval of hard running. This felt good. Granted, I was still on the downhill portion of the course. And so when my Garmin buzzed with the time for my third mile, I smiled and made the executive decision to only do three sets of intervals. I was running hard pretty steadily and I knew I needed to save something for the last two miles of uphill.
The lone water stop on the course is at Mile 5. I took a 30-second walk break to down sip some water and carried on for the final half of the race. Through much of this portion of the race I played leapfrog with another runner. She was in front of me and my thought was to stay with her. Suddenly I had passed her, but I knew she wasn’t far behind. It wasn’t so much about a competition in my mind. I could have cared less about that. Instead watching her run ahead of me, and knowing she was right behind me, kept me moving and motivated and inspired right at the point when my legs were starting to feel heavy and the negative committee in my mind wanted a 15-minutes recess. Strong and steady. That’s all I needed. And this woman was right about the pace I wanted to be at. I had no idea what that pace was. But this was where I needed to be. She became my imaginary best friend for the final four miles.
The course finally turned back on itself and we ran back over the Cold Spring bridge, past WideWaters and up Market Street. You can see the Market Street hill a long time before you actually reach it. And it’s daunting. Sometimes a hill looks harder than it really is from a distance. Not the Market Street hill. While you’ve been steadily going uphill for some time, the final half mile of the race is a beast. The final part is steep. Like really steep. And once you get to the top, and turn left, there’s a bit more hill in that final quarter mile until the finish line. And then, well, it’s nearly the finish line. So you suck it up and sprint it in because it is now very much time to be done running. At this point there is no such thing as running pretty. Hence, my mother thought I looked like I was dying while inside I was filled with a sense of triumph.
This was not my fastest 10-mile race. But I wasn’t going for time. I was going for effort. I ran my own race and executed the plan pretty well. I was able to enjoy and use the energy of the other runners without getting sucked into a hole of judgement and comparison. I was able to be my best self while being part of a larger effort. Sometimes you can measure growth by average pace and personal bests. Sometimes, you can’t quite quantify it, but you understand that you’ve just made a quantum leap forward in ways that reach far beyond running.