I thought that title would be too long. I thought, “Don’t use that title. It’s too long.” And you know what? I was right. It is too long. Does that mean I’ll change it? Not sure yet. I’ll decide when I’m done writing this.
This was my third year in a row running this 4-mile turkey trot in the beautiful seaside town of Huntington, Long Island, one town over from my hometown of Northport. And it was my coldest race, ever.
First, a little history.
THE 2016 RACE
I signed up for this race on a whim. I was home for Thanksgiving break when we learned that my vibrant, healthy mom had cancer. She spent a few days in the hospital and was out by Thanksgiving Day. I had not done a proper race in a long time (the last one had been a fun “color run” 5K in Brooklyn the summer of 2014), and had only started running more seriously in the past couple years. I did not consider myself fast but I’d always thought races were fun, and maybe I wanted to take my mind off my mom’s illness for a morning. I ran the 4 miles in a respectable 37:00, a 9:15 pace. It’s almost funny to me to realize now that this pace was slower than what I ran in the 2018 NYC Marathon. It’s pretty much my current “easy” pace. But at the time, I wasn’t as trained as I am now and that’s what my body was capable of doing for 4 miles. I finished 29th out of 84 in my age group and in the top 45.5% of the total field.
THE 2017 RACE
My mom had passed away on November 10th. I’d already signed up for the race, hoping for a faster time this year (and, again, maybe as something to help take my mind off my mom). I had gotten considerably faster and stronger in the past year. This time, with a lot of solid training on the hills of Northport (and a few more races) under my belt, I crushed my previous year’s time, finishing in 30:49, a 7:42 pace. I finished 6th out of 80 in my age group and in the top 12% of the total field. A huge improvement in one year. I was pleased.
THE 2018 RACE
For this year’s race, I honestly wasn’t expecting that enormous an improvement. I had just run the NYC Marathon two and half weeks prior, then took over a week off from running, then spent a week easy running. I hadn’t done any speed work of any kind in over a month. I did one run a couple days before the race where I did a few faster miles, but that’s it. I had hoped to improve over the year before but knew if I did, it wouldn’t be by much.
Thirty-six hours before the race, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to run it at all. During that “a few faster miles” run on Tuesday, my left toe suddenly hurt. I’m used to various aches and pains popping up during runs, and they usually disappear as quickly as they come. My toe felt weird for a couple of minutes in I think mile 2, but I soon forgot about it and ran another 6 miles.
That night, I noticed it was still sore. I took off my socks and was horrified to discover what looked like a bruise. It didn’t feel broken or anything. But it was weird, unlike anything I had ever experienced. I put some ice on it, propped it up, and hoped it would be better the next day.
This is what it looked like the next day. NO, I DO NOT GET PEDICURES AND YES, I KNOW MY SECOND TOE IS LONGER THAN MY FIRST.
To my relief, despite how it looked, it actually felt better. But what the heck, man? How did I BRUISE my FOOT while running at a normal pace? I didn’t trip, step on a rock, or do anything out of the ordinary. This kind of thing annoys me to no end, not because of the thing itself but the fact that I do not know what caused the thing itself. Don’t bother me with the what; I want the why.
Naturally, I Googled. It was possibly a burst blood vessel? I really didn’t think it was a sprain or anything serious, as I barely felt it as I walked. To be safe, I decided not to run on Wednesday. I iced and propped it up a few times, hoping for an improvement by Thursday morning.
I considered not doing the race. I had to know by 5 am though, as that’s when I needed to get ready to leave to catch a 6:30 am train from Penn Station. As if running 4 miles in 21 degrees isn’t crazy enough, I was planning to leave early from NYC in order to do it. My sister was hosting Thanksgiving in Northport so it would just be a brief stopover before settling down to feed my face for the next 12 hours.
Luckily, my foot was better Thursday morning. I hopped up and down on it just to be sure. Nothing. Great. I walked my dog, got my stuff together, and set out for Penn Station. I got to my train with plenty of time to spare, noting how nice and empty Penn Station is at 6:15 am on Thanksgiving morning. What, no one wants to get up before sunrise on a holiday?
I’d already eaten oat bran with a banana earlier, and I brought along a homemade granola bar to eat on the train. That plus a small black coffee seemed like it would be enough to get me through to a 9 am start time. No gels or anything for the race. It was only 4 miles. After marathon training, 4 miles seems like a mere jog around the block.
Did I mention it was beyond freezing out? The forecast called for 21 degrees at 9 am. I’ve run winter races, but never in anything below 30. I don’t mind the cold but my main concern now that my foot didn’t seem to be a factor was: what to wear?
I know what to wear when doing a normal run in 21 degree temps, but a race? I didn’t want to overheat – which, trust me, is possible in 21 degree temps. So I brought a few options. I wore one of my heavier long-sleeved running shirts, almost like a thermal (it’s so old it’s literally from the 90s) and regular leggings. I might have been able to get away with shorts had it been in the upper 30s or 40s, but I was genuinely afraid of getting wind burn. I brought an additional outer layer for my top and two choices of hats. I decided to wear my heaviest mittens – they’d belonged to my mom and have a convenient fingertips flap.
After taking a Lyft from the Huntington LIRR to the starting location, I got my bib, stashed my bag, and went out for a mile run to test out some clothes. I wore the extra layer and the less warm hat.
I also met a duck.
As crazy as it sounds, my torso was actually too warm. The sun really helped toast things up pretty quickly. I knew I didn’t need the extra layer. My head, however, was too chilly – the hat isn’t super snug so the freezing wind was getting underneath it. I decided on only one layer and the warmer hat, which we received for last year’s Fred Lebow Half. This combination felt perfect.
Almost everyone was well bundled up. I noticed I was one of maybe two or three people wearing just one top layer. Even in 21 degrees, I can’t imagine wearing a vest or jacket for a race. This is why I think it’s crucial to warm up: you want to feel like what you’ll feel while running. Or maybe I just sweat like a pig.
I did some warm ups outside while the kids’ fun run was happening (which I fondly remembered the year before I had mistaken for the start of the actual race). Don’t get me wrong – it was cold. But the hat and mittens helped. The sun helped. And for me, there’s something about knowing I’m about to race that in some way makes me more numb to external factors. Like even if it’s freezing, I don’t really feel it. Maybe I’m just so focused on the race, my brain doesn’t have room to think about what temperature my body is. I don’t know. But I was okay staying outside.
It was a very loose “corral” system, which consisted of a guy shouting while pointing to the large gap between him and the start, “runners who’ll finish in under 22 minutes behind me, slowpokes back there.” Never mind that he said “slowpokes” but did he say “22 minutes?” I actually asked, “Did you say 22 minutes?” thinking he might have said 32. “Twenty-two minutes,” he said. “Don’t worry, you look fast.” Twenty-two minutes is insanely fast for 4 miles: a 5:30 pace. (Case in point: only four people in the entire race finished in under 22 minutes.) Actually, now that I’m thinking about it… he might have been joking around. Damn it. He totally was. I’m an idiot.
Anyway, it all seemed in good fun. This is a small town turkey trot, after all. It’s not super competitive. It’s mostly families, kids, parents; casual runners who want to put in a few miles before stuffing their faces all day.
Not me. I wanted to see what this old broad was made of. It’s a mostly flat course. There’s one uphill in mile 2, but as it’s an out-and-back course, you come right down that same hill after the turnaround. As far as I see it, it nets out to be a flat course.
To keep warm, I kept hopping around and moving until the gun (was it a gun? I can’t remember) sounded. And then we were off.
Within seconds, I was glad I hadn’t worn the extra layer. It was early and we were right along the water, but we were also in the sun. I was also going pretty fast (for me). My plan was to see if I could maintain around a 7:30 pace. This is where I think I should be for the 5K, and what I would love to be able to maintain for the 10K in the upcoming year. So a 4-mile race seemed like a good test.
I thought it would be fun to compare it to last year’s race, when I ran a 7:49 in mile 1. This year, I ran the first mile in 7:27. To me, this is a speed that feels fast, but maintainable. I’ve been feeling better and better around here.
Mile 2 has the hill. It’s gradual and not super steep, but it definitely takes more effort. Last year, I ran mile 2 in 8:11. This year, I averaged an 8:01. I just looked at the graph showing my pace and elevation and was reminded that I actually sped up over the course of the very last part of the uphill. Here’s the graph for those who like to nerd out about this stuff.
This is because there was a guy to my left huffing and puffing his way up, and I wanted to get away from him – only because hearing huffing and puffing makes me feel, I don’t know, more tired? It’s exhausting to listen to, and honestly, if you’re breathing that audibly during any run, you’re going way too fast. Slow the heck down. For the love of god, don’t die in a turkey trot.
After a flat stretch at the top of the hill, we turned around and ran right back the way we came. I always love post-turnaround points – you know you’re more than halfway done, and let’s be honest: there’s a thrill in passing all the other runners behind you. While I didn’t fly down the hill, I sped up and went as fast as I felt I could handle without breaking my quads. At the bottom, I looked at my watch and saw that my pace in that moment was 6:45. Wow. My third mile last year was “an astonishing 7:27.” This year it was 7:16.
Mile 4 is mile 1 in reverse, so pretty flat. Once we hit the mile marker, I started speeding up and passed a few people. I remember last year, all I could think of was my mom and how she wasn’t alive anymore and somehow, that always made me run a little faster. It’s hard to explain, but I always had this feeling that the energy she lost throughout her illness somehow transferred to me. Obviously, it didn’t… but part of my brain likes to believe this. Anyway, I ran this mile hard last year, running it in 7:20. This year: 7:10.
As I approached the finish, I started to take off my mittens so I could stop my watch, completely forgetting they had a fingertips flap. Made for some weird finish line pics that obscured my bib, but oh well. At least I was smiling. Or was I grimacing?
I think it was a smile!
I felt great after I finished. Even my toe was fine – I never even thought about during the race. I remember feeling really depleted last year. This year, I was tired but felt okay. I might have even had some speed left in the tank. But it’s all good. I was happy. I ran my fastest race of my life: an overall 7:32 pace. I’m thinking a 7:30 pace 10K in 2019 might not be out of the realm of possibility.
One cool thing about Elite Feats races is they send you a text moments after you cross the finish with your results. I was so happy to see that I placed second in my age group! This meant I’d win something, always a plus. So I stuck around for a bit, grabbing a bagel with butter and some coffee.
I don’t know who Dot is, but I hope she had a good 100th birthday.
I won a t-shirt! Thanks Super Runners Shop! I know a lot of people like medals, and while they are cool, I think I prefer things I can use. And I swear I’ve been wanting a shirt with the word “running” on it, so looks like my wish came true.
I finished 2nd out of 62 in my age group (and top 10% of total field), beaten only by the great Erica Fraiberg, a track coach and all-around badass runner, so I’m in amazing company. To go from an age group 29th to 2nd in two years is a nice accomplishment. I’m happy.
Oh, and the race shirts we received this year are nice – I think it’s the first time they’ve been made from a tech material instead of cotton. They had run out of smalls by the time I got one, but the medium makes for a nice size when I want to cover my butt, which I did for that weekend’s long run.
I had a really nice Thanksgiving following the race, and yes, I ate all the food. As well as all the leftovers throughout the weekend. (Thanks Shana!)
And I think I’ll keep the title. Who cares? Do you? I didn’t think so.
– Time: 30:08
– Pace: 7:32/m
– Age Group: 2/62
– Women: 24/689
– Overall: 139/1392