This is my 6th year running the race, non-consecutively. I started in high school on a whim and honestly, I’m not sure what drove me to sign up for it. I think at one family party, my cousins and I were talking about the Turkey Trot and next thing you knew, my aunt, uncle, and cousins were signed up to run it with me. I took a hiatus from 2006 until 2013, which is coincidentally almost the entire length of my running hiatus.So, as I’ve mentioned in every recap of this race, it’s my tradition. Much like it’s my tradition, it’s the tradition of 13,999 other people, too. This is what’s awesome and awful about the race all at the same time. I’ve lined up at the 6:00/mile marker before and still had to dodge families walking. Ultimately every year, my goal is to just enjoy the event because despite the easy layout of the course (you run South down Delaware Ave. and that’s basically it), it’s a really difficult course for me to PR; no matter how close to the start I am, there’s people I have to weave around!
This year I wasn’t really looking forward to the race because I’d be entirely solo. The friends and family I’d normally see had missed the sign-up and it sold out before they could register. It was a bummer since this race is fun for me, not one I’m aiming to PR or place in. Since I wasn’t excited about the race, I took my time getting ready and showed up at the finish about 20 minutes later than usual and grabbed a shuttle to the start.
The weather this year threw me for the biggest loop it ever has. I know how to plan for 15-20° F, but 55°F and windy in November? Color me clueless. I ended up wearing shorts with a tank top under a long-sleeved lightweight top and a headband. I knew I’d hang out in the gym until about 20 minutes before the start and I could probably put up with the chill.
I started to make my way to the start around 8:30am for the 9:00am start with a plan to get as close to the start as possible. I knew I couldn’t compete with the speedsters, but I really wanted a year where I didn’t have to dodge people or get stuck behind a crowd. On my way up, I ran into the same old college friends I always do. I felt bad ditching, so we hung around, caught up, and identified where we would meet post-race for our obligatory beer. When the gun finally went off, it took us over 3 minutes to get across the timing mats and that’s from a place I could actually see the start.
We went our separate ways and I focused on staying in a steady rhythm with good form. I didn’t want to expend energy trying to run around people but it was inevitable. A lot of people have the same M.O. – run as fast as you can for as long as you can, then abruptly stop and walk, then start running again once you can breath. Lather, rinse, repeat. I was that girl in high school and like I said, this is a fun race, but it doesn’t stop be from being frustrated. I did my best to stick to my plan for the first mile and my watch clicked right at the flag with 9:10.
At the 1.5 mile mark, we start up a gradual hill which looks scarier on an elevation chart than it truly is in real life. I ran right past my apartment, looked for Dunkin and J but they were still sleeping, and started up the hill. I started to feel a little uncomfortable with the pace so I just told myself to hold on. I knew my pace wasn’t outside of the realm of possible for an 8k, it was just the hill and the wind in my face making it a challenge. [Oh yeah, maybe I should mention that since the entire run is south down one street, you better hope the wind isn’t in your face. In Buffalo, we can’t have both nice weather and no wind, so we were reveling in the nice weather… and 17mph winds in your face for 5 miles.] I hit mile 2 in 8:58, right around the 2 mile flag again, which made me feel pretty good about the weaving I wasn’t doing and the tangents I ran (Delaware does curve a bit.)
Mile three continues with our uphill climb, but I know that at the top, we get a nice visible downhill for a few blocks and it’s basically home free from here. I focused on keeping the exact same pace I was cruising at, along with shorter, quicker steps. I kept my head up and focused on people that were hundreds of feet ahead of me. I’m so familiar with this stretch that I anticipate how quickly it passes on a leisurely run and expect the same during the race. I finish mile 3 in 8:47, slightly ahead of the flag this time.
Here is the visible downhill that I love and I wanted to use the momentum I could gain to carry me to the finish. I let my legs pick up speed and was passed by a girl doing the exact same thing, but with more gusto. I tried to stay with her, but her pace felt a little unnatural for me so I just kept my eyes on her instead. Many people were slowing up on the downhill, probably from over a mile of climbing (it’s only about 120 feet, nothing too crazy!) I was keep an eye on my watch, still looking far ahead, waiting to see the final turning point of Niagara Square. My pace was hovering in the 7:5x range for most of this mile and it started to feel too fast. I started to think about how I had much less than 20 minutes to go before I got beer and that’s motivating in itself. I kept holding on, finishing the 4th mile in 7:56.
I knew I had less than mile to go and wondered how fast I could push myself. Now, every year when I see Niagara Circle, I think I just need to turn around the circle and sprint it in, but it’s really two additional blocks before that happens. And just like every year, I picked it up a little too soon. I kept looking at 7:2x and 7:3x on my watch; my stomach started to turn and I knew my Honey Stinger Chews had a really good chance at becoming visible soon. I tried my damnedest to forget about what my stomach and throat were feeling. I turned my focus into, “Remember this pace. This pace is your half marathon pace in 6 months,” which is exhilarating and terrifying all at once. I followed the only turns of the course, saw the finish and picked it up, trying to pass every single person I could on that straightaway. If there’s one thing I love about my running, it’s that I can always find one more drive to sprint to the finish… which usually results in me hurling. Thankfully, not on Thanksgiving Day 2015. The final mile (less than) was 7:38 pace.
I didn’t expect to go into this run facing a PR so I certainly wasn’t disappointed to see that I was four minutes off. Aside from sore plantar fascia, I felt great post-race in terms of my hips, foot, and anything else that bothered me at one point during marathon training. By the end of the night my muscles were sore in a way I hadn’t remembered lately, which only gave me more fuel for the “get your butt in gear” fire. I’m happy with everything I felt during and after this race. Despite not running anything longer than 3-4 miles since the marathon until Thanksgiving Day, I started to feel like my base was coming back so it’s a relief to know not all is lost in my post-race recovery.
PS – Racing anything longer than a 5k and shorter than a half marathon is really hard to figure out.