If I'm actually going to finish the New York Marathon in November in one piece, I have to keep on challenging myself, both mentally and physically. To that end, a few weeks ago I signed up to run the Prospect Park Track Club's Cherry Tree 10-Mile race. In February. Which happened to be on the coldest day in New York City since 1994. (Thats the risk you take when you sign up for a race in February!) How cold is it in New York this weekend? So cold that they cancelled the annual Central Park Ice Festival because of the low temperatures! So cold that Mayor Bill deBlasio warned all New Yorkers to stay indoors. They said it reached -1 in Central Park today. Now that's cold!
So what did I do? I could have bailed this morning –- many people did. But instead I ran three loops around Brooklyn's Prospect Park and finished this race. And I survived, although I was an icy mess – instead of a hot mess – afterwards. I sweat like Whitney Houston did at a concert whenever I run, and this time, the sweat froze and left big chunks of ice in my hair. No joke. And that's only part of the side effects of this race. (More on the rest in a second.)
As I wrote the other day, the only thing I have resembling a superpower is what my running coach* calls my "consistent persistence." I have neither skill nor ability at running or athletics. What I do have is relentlessness. Remember that scene from "An Officer and a Gentleman, where a beaten-down Richard Gere is all "I ain't gonna quit?" I can definitely relate to that sentiment!
I could have easily quit after one or two loops in the race. In fact, my running coach suggested both those things as an option for me. But I felt that if I were going to be able to go the distance in November, I needed to get the miles in on my legs and test them (this was the longest distance I had run at once since last fall's Staten Island Half-Marathon.) And I also needed to continue to work on my mental toughness by surviving this.
This morning, I dressed accordingly for the cold weather for this event. Two pairs of running pants. Two pairs of socks. Four moisture-wicking shirts. Two pairs of gloves. A woolen hat. A scarf. A buff under my hat and around my neck. All that, and it was still very cold out! My body was mostly okay, but I really needed some sort of ski mask -– technical name is balaclava -- around my face. Because I could feel the cold and the wind pretty badly across my face during the race. Harsh!
To top it all off, I realized very early on that I couldn't listen to music during the race. My ears were so cold that my earphones kept on falling out! Now, this was a HUGE deal for me. Music is what gets me through tough times in running and brings me sheer joy. I have playlists and specific songs to help me push through – everything from David Bowie's "Heroes" to Missy Elliott and Pharrell Williams "W.T.F. (Where They From)." I even had a theme song picked for today's race: T.I's "Bring Em Out," a hip-hop song I heard in my spinning class the other day.
I only got to hear about one verse of the song before one earbud fell out. Then the other one. Oy. And no matter what I did, they wouldn't stay in. So I had to be alone with my thoughts during the race.
And that is a scary place, indeed.
As a world-class brooder and ruminator, I was worried that I would be attacked by ANTs – as in automatic negative thoughts. I am usually able to fight through any negative thoughts when I'm running by putting on motivating music. But what was I going to do without music? How could I distract my brain enough from the cold, without my favorite songs?
Instead, I had to listen to my breath (I realize I sound like a pervert crank caller, with all the heavy breathing I did while running today) and just think about how good it was going to feel when I finished. And how I will have one-upped Squawker Jon. I joked earlier today about how when I completed my race, I was going to call myself the Badass of Subway Squawkers. (Jon is faster than me, but he's never run more than a 10K.) But if I didn't finish, I wouldn't feel right about that! So I had to keep going, and push those ANTs off me.
I was mostly alone during the three loops. I did see my fellow running club member -- Josh right after I started (he was doing a 13-mile long run in the opposite direction on his own today.) And then about three or so miles in, I saw him again. He shouted "Eye of the Tiger" to me, which did motivate me. But it also reminded me that I didn't have my music. (Why I felt the need to tell him that is beyond me. I think I was already getting loopy!)
After the first loop, my coach, who I saw on the sidelines, asked me how I was feeling. I said I wanted to finish – I actually did feel pretty good, physically. I was a little warm, even -- I ended giving him the buffs, which were covered in sweat. (I was going to give him the scarf to hold onto, but he said to keep it on. Smart thinking.)
Now that I knew what to expect in the park, the second loop went by very quickly. But the third loop was a complete nightmare. When I got to Mile 8 or so, I really wanted to quit. But I couldn't, because by the time I would have reached to the finish line (and my ride), I would have had to complete the distance, anyway. Also, my phone had run out of power at this point, so I had no way to reach out to others where I was, anyway. I just needed to finish.
My face felt much colder in the last lap, and I started seriously worrying about frostbite. (At least that is a plausible ANT!) I kept on touching my face with my gloves to try to keep it warm. Especially my nose. I like my nose, and I don't want it to fall off from frostbite!
The last two miles were a slog – especially the last mile. I had to take a bunch of walk breaks, and keep up the positive self-talk, reminding myself that the race would be over soon. Finally, it was. I finished in under two hours and 15 minutes. It was 2:12:24, to be exact (13:14 a mile). Not my best time, but I'll take it. The point was to finish, and I did that, even with these brutal conditions.
But I felt terrible after the race -– completely exhausted. And cranky. I could sense that I was very loopy mentally for about 30-45 minutes afterwards (that is a guess as to how long, because I was, well, loopy!) I was slurring my words bigtime, sounding like I was on a bender. I was also feeling very weak, and very clumsy, unable to even do simple things like take off my gloves. When I got changed into dry clothes after the race, I was struggling to get out of my sports bra, as I was too weak to undo the clasps! I also noted that my skin was very red.
And I talked to two people on the phone afterwards – Josh and Jon – and I knew I was sounding confused and weird with them. (At least more confused and weird than I normally do, that is!)
Last summer, I saw Josh in the park when he had done an extremely long run, and seemed very loopy. Now I felt the same thing, even though it was about 80 degrees different in temperature!
It turns out that I most likely had a mild case of hypothermia, as my friend Michael suggested might be the case after seeing me (he said he had been through that himself!) When I got home, I looked up the symptoms, which include slurred speech, confused thinking, and clumsiness. Yep.
Fortunately, when I was stumbling and bumbling after the race, I saw Michael as well as my friend Yolande, from my running club. Thank goodness! Michael got me another hat to wear, while I tried to warm up, and Yolande brought me hot chocolate and a bagel, and got in touch with Gus, my ride. (My phone was out of power at this point, and my charger was in the car.) Then I was able to meet up with Gus and my running coach and head towards home. Gus smartly suggested that I change into the dry, clean clothing I brought (my clothes were soaked in sweat.) And I was feeling much better after using the Dunkin' Donuts bathroom to clean up (even if the stall itself could have used a good cleaning!)
Anyhow, I finally got home after my adventure and felt pretty good after I showered and put my feet up. I was pleased that I was able to survive this challenge. And sorry, Jon, I am the badass of Subway Squawkers. Unless you step it up now!
* Note: My running coach's name is known to everybody in my running club. But since he's anti-Internet, he doesn't want his name anywhere online!