For Thanksgiving’s long weekend, I flew up to Albany to visit my family. Although I had just been for a visit in September for my brother’s 40th birthday, I was still super psyched to get back and see everyone!
I had a few flight delays, but nothing terrible, which was great considering that I was flying the day before Thanksgiving, which is the highest traffic day. However, I still didn’t arrive in great spirits thanks to a night of almost complete insomnia on Tuesday. Although I had gone to bed at 10pm, I couldn’t get to sleep until 5am… and I had to be up at 6:30am for my flight. 90 minutes is not enough sleep! I was especially annoyed because had I known I would be up that long, I would have done something productive; instead, I kept doing short things like catching up on blogs, thinking I’d fall asleep soon. Waste of time, especially when I wanted lots of energy to see my family
But when I got to my brother’s house in Saratoga on Wednesday afternoon, I forgot all about that, and was just so glad to see everyone 🙂 After a quick trip to the grocery store and to Kohl’s (I ordered a new cheesecake pan to use for Thanksgiving Day, for in-store pickup), I settled in for a night with my brother Lars, sister-in-law Andie, nephews Torin and Breckin, and my sister-in-law’s friend Elizabeth and her son, who’s good friends with my nephew Torin. And then just in time for dinner, we were joined by “Grandma Susie” (my mom)!
We had a simple dinner of tacos, which is perfect for a meal with the kids, so they can be picky and eat only what they like. We had both shredded chicken and ground beef, and while it’s rare that I eat red meat, I was absolutely loving the ground beef tacos; Elizabeth also made black beans that were excellent. As a result, I pretty much stuffed myself, which probably did not bode well for me running a fast time in the turkey trot the next morning.
But really, nothing was boding well for the turkey trot. The weather was extremely cold, with a high of just SIX degrees (Fahrenheit). I spent most of dinner hoping we’d all decide not to do the race on account of the frigid cold, and I think I had my sister-in-law on board, but my brother was adamant that he was doing it no matter what. Well, if he was doing it, I couldn’t wuss out… so I dutifully set my alarm for the race even as I went to bed crazy early to make up for my (almost) all-nighter.
After 10 hours of sleep, I woke up feeling surprisingly rested, but with my voice almost totally gone from a sore throat. Upon evaluation, the cold was just in my throat and nowhere else, so I decided to still run, but I still wasn’t getting my hopes up for a fast time. I know from past experience that it’s the sleep two nights before that really counts, and I had totally botched that one. But with the house quiet, I wondered if we were going at all? We ended up leaving a bit later than the time we had all said, but we still made it to the race in plenty of time.
My brother found us an awesome parking spot that was just a few blocks from the finish. The course was kind of a lollipop loop, but the start was at the end of the lollipop stick, while the finish was midway up the stick. My brother had warned me that the stick was a big hill – so we’d start going uphill, and finish on a big downhill. That didn’t sound ideal for a fast time, but I told myself that for 3.1 miles I could suck it up and get through it!
When we first got out of the car to walk to the start, the cold didn’t seem that bad. Or at least, it didn’t feel like it was single digit temps. (In fact, it was 5 degrees out, with a “feels like” of MINUS 6!) Still, we didn’t want to wait outside anymore than we had to, so we went into the Saratoga Hilton that was on the course, and headed for the Starbucks, where my brother and sister-in-law grabbed espresso shots. I passed on getting a drink, though in hindsight, I think a hot coffee might have helped warm me from the inside out, and also given me an energy boost I probably needed.
We discussed how none of us wanted to go out into the cold, but finally the race start was approaching, so we sucked it up and followed the crowd out to the starting line. As we neared the start, I recognized the announcer – it was Josh Merlis, who runs the Albany Running Exchange! I had actually emailed Josh a month before the race to ask if he thought it was a good course to PR (his response: absolutely not; it’s super hilly and tough), and I was really excited to get to say hello in person 🙂
I caught back up with Lars, Andie, and Elizabeth, but right as I did so, it was about time to take our places for the race. I headed toward the front, though found that there were several dozen high school cross country runners amassed there, so I stayed behind them. With my cold and lack of sleep, I really had no expectations for this race; I just wanted to give it my best effort and get a little exercise in before it was time to stuff myself with / like a turkey.
The race announcements went on longer than I would have liked, given how absolutely freezing cold it was, but finally we were off and running. Although I had worn my flipbelt, I decided it was too difficult to try to get my phone into it while I was running (and with two pairs of gloves on), so I just held my phone in my hand. However, with the two pairs of gloves on, I couldn’t check it, so I had no idea what pace I was running. I assumed pretty slow (relative to my normal 5K pace), since there were a lot of people streaming past me.
Looking at Strava, we were on an uphill right from the very start, but in real life, I thought I had about a quarter mile of flat before we really started going up. My brother had told me that the first mile or so was uphill, so I was prepared for it mentally, but that didn’t at all mean that it was easy. In fact, almost as soon as we started going up the hill, I felt my hands start to go numb, despite the two pairs of gloves I was wearing. I ignored my hands, and tried to just keep going at a steady pace (though not exactly a “charge”) up the hill. On the bright side, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my lungs weren’t hurting from the cold; I was just generally tired.
Finally I saw the left turn off Broadway up ahead, which I hoped would signal the end of the hill. No such luck! We turned into a parking lot with a quick left and a right, and continued to climb. Just after the turn, there was a clock announcing the one mile split, and I was at 7:23. Lately, that’s a pretty slow 5K pace for me (who have I become?! Thank you, Orangetheory!), so it confirmed my expectation that I wasn’t going for time; I was just going to finish.
But as I continued to go up the hill, I started wondering – should I try to push harder and go faster, so I could be done sooner? Surely 20-25 minutes wasn’t enough time for me to actually get frostbite on my poor hands, but I wasn’t entirely sure. I just knew I’d feel like a complete idiot if I got frostbite while doing a totally voluntary turkey trot where I wasn’t even going for time 🙂 But was speeding up to be done faster the answer, or slowing down so my heart would work less on running and more on pumping blood to my extremities?
As I was having these thoughts, we mercifully reached the top of the hill (1.2 miles in) and began to go down – FAST. I was thrilled for the break, and reminded myself to keep pushing the pace. It’s always an adjustment going from uphill to downhill (or even flat to downhill), and I find I have to be very conscious of remembering to change my rhythm so I’m still using the same effort I was on the downhill, just made easier by the grade. I found myself flying past a few others who were sticking to the pace, so that felt good 🙂
Unfortunately, just after crossing the 1.5 mile mark (more than halfway done!), ahead I saw… an uphill. What the heck? I admittedly hadn’t reviewed the course profile, but I thought the hill was just that whole first half, and now we were getting to go downhill to the finish. Nope – instead we had a steep uphill that made up for the downhill we had just gotten. Darn it! This hill was much shorter, at least – only about a tenth of a mile. And right at the top was the two mile mark. I clocked the second mile in 7:35 – slower than the first, but I didn’t care. Just one mile left, and this one had a lot of downhill!
The road now flattened out quite a bit, and I took advantage of the lack of elevation to discover that I could say “Okay, Google” to voice control my playlist – hooray! Although I had not made it to put my phone into my flipbelt, it still was impossible for me to use my phone – my right hand (the one holding the phone) was so completely numb that I couldn’t feel my phone at all, and just hoped I wouldn’t drop it due to a lack of grip. Fortunately, for the first time, it occurred to me that I could change the song by gasping out “okay, Google – next song” – which meant I could get some great power music to help me finish strong. It didn’t always work, but it helped me out here!
Finally, with a half mile to go, we turned back onto Broadway, and now I knew it really was all downhill from here. I was using my old standby trick of counting how many songs in the race since I couldn’t see my watch, and I knew I had just one or two songs to go. Unfortunately, I was tired, and didn’t have the motivation to push it down the hill like I should have – I found myself going about the same pace I had been going on the flat part, rather than picking it up. As I got closer to the finish, though, I tried to change that, and my Strava showed me getting steadily faster up till the end – and I was consistently around 6:30 for the last half mile, which was a big speed pickup. Finally, when I saw the finish line in front of me, I sprinted hard, registering a sub-6 minute pace for the final stretch!
Or at least I think I did, given the Strava data online. After crossing the finish line, my Strava kept going, but my hands were too numb to actually get to it and stop it, so I didn’t know my actual finish time – I was guessing somewhere around 22 minutes. At the moment, though, I didn’t really care about my finish time; I just wanted my hands to stop being so cold and numb. I walked around a little bit in shock at the finish, amazed how much my hands somehow hurt even though I simultaneously couldn’t feel them. After a minute, I realized there wasn’t anyplace there I could warm up my hands, so I started trekking back up the hill to my car as fast as I could, trying not to cry all the way. I just could not believe how much my hands hurt!
I was almost to my car when I heard my brother yell my name, and looked over to the course and saw him coming in strong. I cheered loudly for him, but then continued on to the car – I desperately needed my hands to get warm! It took a few minutes of them directly in front of the vents before I could start to feel them (OUCH), and a solid 5-10 minutes before they started feeling normal. But they did, at least, get back to normal – so I wasn’t going to be the idiot who lost her hands due to stubbornness about a turkey trot 🙂
This was a really tough course – which I had been warned about, but hadn’t taken all that seriously. It was definitely not a course to try to PR, and I was kind of glad it was so cold so I didn’t get my hopes up for something like that. But, I was pretty proud of how I did – 27th female out of more than 1000, and a lot of the women in front of me were high school girls on their cross-country team. I think next year it’s more likely that I stay in Colorado for Thanksgiving and go to Saratoga for Christmas, but if I were in Saratoga for Thanksgiving again, I’d definitely love to run this race under more temperate conditions and see if I could set a personal course PR. I’m super psyched that my family has become “that family that runs 5Ks on holidays” (as this year’s popular meme goes) and look forward to continuing the tradition.
Distance: 3.1 miles
Overall place: 103/1941
Gender place: 27/1041