How do you recap a race you kind of hated?
Well, let me clarify: I hated the course and I hated the weather.
But there was plenty about yesterday’s Fairfield Half Marathon that I loved.
I went into this weekend feeling surprisingly optimistic about the race. Despite a somewhat tumultuous month battling an annoying Crohn’s Disease flare-up, I felt confident being on a high dose of steroids, hoping they’d kick in just in time for the Sunday morning start gun.
(I actually don’t think there was a gun, just an “On your marks…GO!”)
I wasn’t looking to PR in this race. I wasn’t looking to do anything but run smartly and make it to the finish line.
That happened. Yay!
I woke up at 4:30 am on Sunday morning, allowing myself plenty of time to follow my morning routine: abs, shower, eat, bathroom, bathroom, bathroom.
The temperature in NYC had already climbed to the high 60s, but in my mind that is perfect legwarmer weather.
No, I didn’t keep them on for the race. But they did keep my calves and shins toasty during the commute to Connecticut.
At this point you may be wondering, “Hey Ali, why did you go to Connecticut for a race when there are a million for you to do in NYC? That seems like a big effort.”
I did the Fairfield Half Marathon with the Run For The Rabbit crew! The finalists all ran the race together and the entire filming team was there to capture the action for upcoming commercials and webisodes. It was a little nerve-wracking, knowing I’d be on camera before, during and after the race, but it was also exciting.
I met up with Lee, the owner of JackRabbit, and two of the other finalists to drive up to Fairfield at 6 am.
The drive was easy, and we made it to the race start with plenty of time to pick up our bibs, use the bathrooms and do some filming.
I am happy to report that my stomach was feeling good at this point. I tried not to dwell on it too much, but I knew it was calmer than it had been at any time during the previous week. That fact alone helped me stay positive and happy.
One thing I immediately disliked about the race was the start system. There were no corrals, but they separated the start by gender. I’m not sure how this makes sense. Yes, I understand that many men run faster than some women, but overall the idea seems silly to me.
We started pretty far back in the pack, and admittedly I did a ton of weaving right from the get-go. I got the impression that many of the women I was behind weren’t out to race, but rather to enjoy the run with their friends. That’s fine, but please get out of my way.
The first mile was great. It was flat, and despite running in the grass and on the sidewalks to get around people, I was feeling strong. I kept my pace around 8:30, as advised by Coach Cane, and did my best not to try and fly right away.
Then we got to mile 1.5. We rounded a corner and I was greeted with a hill.
I train in Central Park, so I’m not really afraid of hills.
But these hills came at me like mountains. They were huge. Long hills. Steep hills. Seemingly never-ending hills.
I stayed strong on the first one. My pace wasn’t anything spectacular, but it didn’t suffer too badly. I also liked the downhill that immediately followed the climb.
But then the hills kept coming — and the shade disappeared.
Within the first five miles I realized just how challenging this race was going to be. I felt like I was constantly facing a hill and my breathing was heavy. I stuck close to an 8:15 pace for the first five miles, but by mile 6 that dropped off fast.
I was definitely dehydrated, as evidenced by the fact that I got so dizzy and went into blackout mode three different times.
Scary? A little bit.
I kept envisioning myself crossing the finish line on a stretcher. I don’t know if the film crew would have loved the drama of that or hated it.
Miles 5–10 were a huge mental struggle for me. I’ve had a few tough races lately and I just kept thinking negative thoughts. I convinced myself I couldn’t run a marathon. I told myself I was stupid for trying to “become a runner.”
At mile 6, I got a nasty cramp in my side and pulled to the side of the course to try to get rid of it. A nice lady told me to push in, breathe deep, something like that, to make it go away. It didn’t really work, and I ran the next two miles with a searing pain in my side.
Something I did love: all the sprinklers along the course. I don’t think there were enough water stations considering the heat, but I did love all the kind Fairfield residents who set up their hoses and sprinklers so we could run through them. The cool water felt amazing.
But still, the heat brought me down. After the third time things went dark, I realized I needed to regroup. So at the next hill, I let myself walk.
I never walk during races.
I knew I had to, though, or I wasn’t going to make it to the finish. I was so dizzy and felt so dehydrated. As much as I wanted to run through it, I know that walking two of the hills is the reason I survived.
Judge accordingly, but I say there’s no shame in walking during a race (just stay out of the way of the runners plowing past you). My little walking breaks were life-savers.
Once I hit mile 10, I somehow felt amazing again!
I finished the final 5K in a respectable pace and I swear I smiled the entire time. I knew at this point that the hills were behind me and I knew there was going to be a dang camera getting in my face at mile 12.
I didn’t love that so much. Running the final mile while being asked, “How do you feel?!” is kind of tricky. I yelled out something about the race being hard, then I’m pretty sure I told the camera guy to “get out of my face so I can finish this race.”
Classy, Ali. Real nice.
I promised myself I’d finish the race with a smile, and I did.
Official finish time: 1:56:11.
Way off my PR, but I’ll take it. I didn’t die. Score.
Also note how stretched out my shirt was because it got so drenched. Between the sweat and the sprinklers, I had to wring out my entire outfit after I finished.
But I look like I have leg muscles. Leg muscles = runner.
I was so, so happy to be done this race. It was really hard, but I don’t think I could have done anything differently. I’m trying not to beat myself up over the fact that my time was significantly slower than at the Brooklyn Half Marathon, during which I stopped twice to use the bathrooms.
Plus, we had a great time after the race! It was fun watching other runners finish and chatting with everyone about their race experience. It seemed like the conditions took a toll on lots of people, but everyone was happy to cross the finish line.
I was a little nervous to report back to Coach Cane about how the race went. I didn’t want him to be disappointed by my finish time — and he wasn’t.
Seriously. He is the best, and he made me feel good about the race.
An excerpt from his email to me: I am not disappointed in you at all. Keep in mind that all marathoners go through growing pains. Today was a bump in the road, but one from which we can both learn and improve. Also keep in mind that I never intended for this to be an “A race”. Let’s go for a casual run together this week or next and just chat as coach/runner/friends, without any pressure or expectations. I admire your competitive nature and your desire to do right by JackRabbit, but I want to make sure you do right by Ali too. And when you cross the line on 9/24 and give me a big smiling, sweaty hug, all this junk will be a distant memory.
Yes, of course I read that and cried. I’m a sappy runner.
I slept the entire car ride back to the city, got dinner with my cousins, ate 16 Handles and passed out.
And today I am wearing my most-sweatpant-like work-appropriate outfit. Comfort over cuteness.
There you have it: my Fairfield Half Marathon recap.
To summarize: Ali hates hills. Ali hates heat. Ali is beating Crohn’s Disease.