This morning I’m standing at the starting line of the Helderberg-to-Hudson Half Marathon and asking myself the question I always do at the beginning of a race: What the hell am I doing here?
I want to blame Harriet, who back in December said she was signing up to run a half and I should too. But I hadn’t run a race in ten years. I hadn’t run longer than five miles at a time. My toes are arthritic, my knee is balky, my body getting old.
So of course I get swept up in the momentum and say yes. As does her brother Robert and some of our friends.
About 1,700 souls are at the starting line and when the gun goes off it takes several minutes before I even move, since I’m lined up near the back where the slow-goers belong.
I feel good for the first few miles through the village of Voorheesville and then we get on the rail trail for a nine-mile stretch and I’m still feeling decent.
But it’s a warm day, around 70 degrees, and all the running I did to get ready for this adventure in self-torture was in 30 and 40 degree weather. I’m not acclimated to the warm weather yet.
Nonetheless, I persisted. Since I live right next to the rail trail, I’m familiar with the route and the landmarks. There’s the barn on Hilton Road and then comes the abandoned railroad overpass and then we cross Font Grove Rd.
Five miles in, still feeling decent. I get a drink at every water stop. I shove Blocks in my mouth to replenish energy. They’re chewy and sticky and gooey like gumdrops and stick in my teeth before dissolving. Not even halfway through. I should have worn sunglasses.
Around mile seven I have a letdown. My legs are heavy. My spirit flagging. There’s a runner just behind me snorting like a horse.
As a novelist, I possess the mindset to keep going, even when it’s going badly. Keep going. Keep going. I count steps. I deploy my running mantras. Just past eight miles in, Owen is waiting and he slaps my hand and his gesture gives me a boost.
The rail trail ends and I’ve got just over two miles to go along the Hudson River to reach the Corning Preserve and I feel kind of awful because someone chained iron weights to my legs. Those end up being two of the slowest miles I’ve ever run. But I get there. I experience the satisfaction of crossing the finish line. So do Robert, Harriet, Paul, and Caroline.
There is food and drink for us, and the requisite participation medal. Free beer, which I’m in no mood for. A band is playing. My quads and hamstrings cramp. I have no regrets, but I’m never doing this again.