Truth be told, I was having a difficult morning. I needed something to do so I tuned my Netflix to Law & Order and added another coat of spring green nail polish to my fingers and toes. On most long-run days, I would already have completed my workout, eaten about half my body weight in carbs and be snuggling into the couch for a post-run nap. But part of the tradition of the Shamrock Run in Buffalo is that it begins at noon. And I just had to deal with it.
Thankfully, my plan had me running by 11 a.m., as my friend and coach Sue thought we could incorporate the 8K race into a longer run. And so the plan was to was run 5 miles before the race at my easy pace and then run the Shamrock at my half marathon race pace for a total of 10 miles. Oh, and for good measure, Sue had changed my paces up earlier in the week. Everything, from easy pace to race pace, was now 15 seconds faster. Such is the backhanded glory of workouts done well.
Thanks to the magic of social media, I was able to devise a 5-mile route that took me from my apartment in Kaisertown to the Old First Ward Community Center in South Buffalo. It was a pretty simple route, but one that I was unfamiliar with. Cue the anxiety. My goal for the day turned into not getting lost on the way over to the start. A light snow covered the roads and the sky was a lovely shade of gray. The wind wasn’t too bad, though when it came in your face it was biting, and the air temperatures were hovering in the 20s. With my brand new green compression socks and my Garmin fired up, I left for my run to the start.
Ideally, I would have run negative splits the entire run, but I didn’t want to get too bogged down in numbers. The goal was to have a solid 8K at the race, therefore if I needed to, I would back off in the first 5 miles to make that happen. My first three miles were pretty decent and felt really good. In fact, I made the conscious decision to slow down, particularly the final two miles as my route became open. The headwind started to bother me slightly and I hit a pair of overpasses which slowed me down, not so much because of the hill created but because of iffy footing.
But here was the key — I let myself slow down. “Don’t race your easy pace,” I thought to myself. “Work your plan.”
As I approached the race start, I slowed considerably, dodging fellow runners as I worked to get my final half mile in before the start of the race. My timing was slightly off and I arrived a bit too early — about 15 minute before the race start. The bathroom lines were far too long, so instead I found a water fountain, took a few sips of water, and headed back over to the start line and tried not to think of the sweat that was starting to freeze in my clothing.
The Shamrock Run is part race, part spectacle. It’s one of the three big social races in Buffalo along with the Turkey Trot and the Corporate Challenge where the post-race beer tent along with holiday-themed outfits dominate the conversation. It’s an event more than a race and brings out all kinds of characters. My goal? Enjoy the spectacle but not get sucked in to something other than my running plan for the day.
I started pretty well back in the throng of 5,000-plus runners, taking about two minutes to cross the starting mats. I tried to keep my mental cool as I maneuvered around the people walking at the start. I tried to stay true to my pace, not getting too wrapped up in the nasty, catty voices in my head that really wanted me to pass that very annoying girl in the green tutu. I settled in to my half marathon race pace and followed the crowd.
I didn’t take a good look at the course but after a few turns it became evident we were running the previous course backwards. One of the other runners noted, as we came upon a long overpass, that the course is less steep when run this way. He also said that the hill we were on was the last big hill. That gave me some added energy. I didn’t charge that hill, but stayed steady and strong and my pace stayed consistent.
Twice during the first few miles of the race I came upon people with a hacking cough, the kind of cough that usually indicates throwing up is imminent. They may have been sick. They have have been working really hard. Or they may have gotten a head start on the beer tent. Regardless of their reason, and with zero judgement, I artfully moved to the other side of the street to avoid having to steeplechase over any downed runners or end up covered in any sort of bodily fluids.
I had a range of race pace to work with and after a conservative first mile, was able to be consistently a tad faster on the next three miles. Then came the final mile. I was feeling pretty good. I was a bit tired but still felt strong. And so I decided to go. I ran hard the final mile. With half a mile to go I picked it up. By the last quarter mile I was digging in with everything I had. I crossed the finish line, grabbed me knees and took a breath to let the momentary desire to throw up pass.
After 10 miles my fastest, toughest, strongest mile was my last one. That? Is a pretty darn good day.
I walked about a mile back on the course to meet up with my dad, who came to watch the race and give me a ride back home, but not before we stopped for my special treat — a minty, delicious Shamrock Shake. It’s amazing what can happen when I stop doubting myself and just step in and do the work.