All my life, I’ve never been big on spontaneity. I tend to enjoy well-laid plans and have a keen ability to follow through. Life according to plan is what thrills me.
That’s changed quite a bit over the past two years, though, as I’ve learned that plans are overrated and, often times, are not entirely necessary in order to have a good time.
My life lately has not at all gone according to many of the plans I’ve tried to make and so, in light of potential “disappointments,” I’ve generally stopped planning.
And I’ve gotta say, this lifestyle shift is working out mighty well.
Lately, I’ve embraced last-minute decisions and a touch of spontaneity, and I have not once regretted it.
On Friday, I decided I didn’t want to spend my Saturday morning running laps of Central Park. I wanted to run somewhere else this weekend. Change it up a little. See the world!
So I bopped around online, found that registration was still open for the Fairfield Half Marathon, and signed myself up.
I had run the Fairfield Half Marathon in 2011 when I was doing Run For The Rabbit, and I had a pretty rough day. It was super hot, the course was hilly and I didn’t fare well on the hills. In fact, despite being in good shape at the time, I walked a bunch of the hills and I got whacked with a major side stitch around mile six that refused to ease up. It wasn’t my day.
Fun fact: Brian and I were dating then, but no one knew, so no one really questioned my decision to “get a ride home with the film crew” instead of with my fellow Rabbits. Mwahaha I just wanted to spend time with my secret boyfriend. Brian also took photos for me during the race as a “favor to one of the runners,” but actually as a favor to his secret girlfriend. Livin’ the scandalous life. Or so we thought. Turned out, no one cared.
By Saturday afternoon, Brian and I were in a little hybrid rental, headed for a Hilton Garden Inn in Shelton, CT. We drove straight to a nearby beach, laid in the sand for a few minutes, hit up an Outback Steakhouse for dinner and were in bed by 10:30 PM.
I was relaxed, happy and feeling zero pressure the night before a race.
When I used to make big plans for races, I never felt zero pressure. In fact, I can’t remember many times in my life in general when I felt zero pressure, but we can talk about that another time.
I had a few goals for this race: First, of course, I wanted to be able to complete the race without having to make bathroom stops. That’s pretty much what racing is about for me right now: getting from start to finish bathroom-free.
I also wanted to work on my mental game. Now that I’m getting back into things, I want to stay grounded, reasonable and happy. I’m so grateful to be out running — a point which, I know, I’m shoving down everyone’s throats lately — and I don’t want time goals or pressure to cloud my appreciation for being out there.
I got up nice and early on race day, even though the start wasn’t until 8:15 AM. I spent time in the bathroom, I showered, and I read a bunch of my old race recaps from when I first started racing. They were all filled with good lessons from Coach Cane and lots of positive thoughts. My mind was in the right place.
Brian drove me to the start, which was on a beach! Everything was super well-organized. Good job, Fairfield Half organizers! I picked up my bib, my safety pins, and my T-shirt, and still had time to walk around the mini expo on Jennings Beach.
I used the porta-potties three times, and each time the lines moved really fast and the bathrooms were unbelievably clean.
I was practically oozing happiness and positivity. I was excited to run and race. Go team.
A few things to note:
Friday’s November Project workout kicked my ass — or rather, my quads — so hard. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I woke up Saturday and could barely walk. I had to hobble around straight-legged because my quads were so sore from doing hundreds (seriously) of partner jump-squats (they called them hoisties…is that a real term of an NP-coined term?). I was worried the soreness would be worse on Sunday, so I went into full-on recovery mode Saturday night: a dip in the cold hotel pool (waist-up only, brrrrr), icing my quads, legs up on the wall, etc. When I woke up Sunday, the soreness had dissipated slightly, but was definitely still present. Ouch.
The Fairfield Half course changed last year, and apparently changed again this year. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of hills, despite everyone saying it was a “hilly course.” I glanced at the elevation chart, but didn’t really analyze it. I figured when a hill came, I would just run up it. Seemed like a solid plan, no?
There’s a separate men’s and women’s start at this race, which I remembered from the last time I did the race. The genders come together just after the first mile. I was excited to be standing next to a girl who was running her first half! Remember that feeling you got when you ran your first race, no matter the distance? Excitement, nerves, joy, fear, all that good stuff. I was feeding it off her big time. (And I never saw her after the start, so I hope she did well and had fun and is already signed up for her next one!)
Another thing I quickly remembered from the last time I ran this race is that the crowd support is phenomenal the entire time. The course winds through lovely suburban areas and people are out on their front lawns cheering. Little kids have lemonade stands set up, people are handing out water and cool sponges, the Lululemon girls are going nuts with their funny signs, and there are tons of sprinklers to run through. It’s really wonderful.
Yes, the course is hilly. No, that should not turn you off from running this race.
This race is awesome.
For every steep hill you encounter, there’s a downhill on the other side, and those downhills feel so good. Plus, none of the hills feel particularly long.
Another goal I had was not to walk any of the hills. I knew they’d probably be plentiful, and I didn’t want to set a precedent for myself that it was “OK to just walk them.” This wasn’t a goal race for me; it was a training run if anything. I wanted to work on toughening up and not quitting when it starts to feel difficult. I want to get comfortable being uncomfortable and work on always powering through. I knew if I walked one hill, I’d be tempted to walk all the hills after that. I didn’t want to do that.
So the race started and, as always, it was a bit congested, but that’s fine. I took the first mile nice and easy (or so I thought…my splits tell me otherwise). I decided to wear my watch for this race so I could look at my splits afterward and sort of assess where my running is right now. I forgot what it’s like to run with something on my wrist. Ick.
Almost as soon as I started running, my quads loosened up and felt OK, but both my calves were on fire. What’s that about? I had never experienced this before. I wasn’t on a hill, I wasn’t running differently than normal, so it was very strange and unsettling. But I reminded myself that what’s present in mile one is almost never still there by mile 13. So I kept running and even though it hurt like hell, I didn’t freak out. I knew it would probably pass. It almost always does.
The first hill was OK. Claire ran up behind me and was all excited because she loves this race and all I remember is saying to her, “I see what’s up ahead…” because you’re on a straightaway and you can see the first steep hill looming ahead of you. With that, she smiled and waved and finished a full 10 minutes before I did. Good job, Claire! She has a cat named Dorito. I think that is hilarious.
I thought that hill would be horrible, but it came so early in the race (maybe two miles in or so?) that it was over fast. My calves were still burning, though, and then it felt like there was something in my left shoe. I debated stopping to take my shoe off and check it out, but really didn’t want to lose momentum so early in the race, so I kept moving and eventually my left foot went sort of numb. That was a fun weird feeling!
Again, though, I knew it would pass and, without even realizing it, soon I was running pain- and discomfort-free. The calves were good, the foot was good, I was just cruising up and down the rolling course.
I didn’t take in as much of the course as I probably should have. I glanced at my watch often but not obsessively. I didn’t have a pace plan. I just wanted to keep feeling OK, which I did for the most part.
We ran along the ocean at one point, which I didn’t remember from last time (I think that’s part of the new-and-improved course), and it was almost shockingly beautiful. There were lots of mansions along the way, and I felt good at least until mile 8, at which point I was ready to start winding this thing down.
Miles 10-13 are always toughest for me mentally. You’re so close to the finish, but you’ve still got a 5K left, so it’s not time to start kicking it yet. For me at least. I don’t kick it until 13.05. Strategy.
I was not thrilled to realize that in order to get to the finish, I’d have to run up that hill I blazed down early in the race. What a tease.
I was running straight up the hill, pumping my arms as best I could and trying to keep my head and shoulders lifted. I was about to pass two guys ahead of me — one to my right and the other to my left — when both of them started converging toward each other. Where was I going to go?! I twisted my body so as not to hit either of them as I passed through, and then something cool happened: the nice older man on my right put his hand on my lower back and sort of guided me up the hill for a second.
I couldn’t turn around because that’s how people fall and die and cause runner pile-ups, so I just gasp-yelled “Thank you!” and he said “Go go!” But it was nice. I swear. He wasn’t pushing me out of his way. He was cool. I was cool.
I don’t remember any hills after that. We got another downhill and then wound through some more suburban beach towny areas, and then the crowds started to thicken, which meant the finish was imminent.
I took out my headphones so I could finally appreciate my surroundings, and I easily spotted Brian (not hard when he’s in his full bike kit and has his bike with him on the sidelines; also he’s very very loud).
I felt like crap at this point, frankly. There was no “gas left in my tank” (ew, cliches) and I didn’t think I had much left to give. As much as I would have liked to sprint that last 500 or so meters, I was in “cruise to the finish” mode.
The race finishes on a gravel straightaway, which is tough because your footing feels a bit off. There’s also a huge American flag hanging, and from far away you assume that’s your finish line, but it’s not! The finish is a few meters past the flag — another tidbit I remembered from my 2011 Fairfield race.
Seeing Brian did give me enough of a boost, though, and I was able to push ever so slightly to get myself across the finish line. Mrs. Coach Cane once told me that sprinting finish line photos are more badass than happy perky finish line photos. Noted. For life.
I knew my time would be slower than my Bridgehampton Half time, but I also knew it would be a course PR, which is cool!
Considering the course was mildly difficult (I actually prefer rolling hills over flat courses) and my legs were pretty toasted going into the race, I’m happy with my finish time and my race effort. My pacing wasn’t great — I was able to easily negative split Bridgehampton but positive split this race — but I did exactly what I set out to do.
I ran happy, I finished strong and I definitely crossed the start and finish lines smiling.
Oh, and I didn’t even think about my stomach the whole time. That’s possibly the greatest victory of the day. I was aware of the bathrooms along the way, but I didn’t need them and tried not to think about needing them. Out of sight, out of mind, out of the bathroom. The less I think about my stomach, the less it tends to bother me. Go figure.
My day in Fairfield was pretty perfect.
After the race, I went for a dip in the ocean, which felt so good on my sunburned and tired legs, and then Brian and I laid down in the sand and both took an unexpected snooze for about an hour. (See aforementioned sunburn. This nap did not help.)
I scarfed down some watermelon (best finish line food; they also had pizza, lemonade and entire loaves of garlic bread), took a lovely shower back at the hotel, took a second nap on a different beach (again, with the sunburn…), got in a quick round of mini golf and was back in NYC hitting minimal traffic along the way by 7 PM.
A great race, three beach naps and 18 holes of putt-putt, all in 24 hours? I think I’ll stick to this plan-less lifestyle. It seems to suit me.
That’s three-for-three on stop-free races now.
Go ahead: Call it a comeback.