On Sunday I ran the Boilermaker in Utica, NY with Geoffrey, Meghan, and our friend David. This was despite Geoffrey's best effort to kill us. I love the man and he's a great runner, but he drives like a NYC taxi driver at rush hour. Not that I care. I'd let a blind man with Parkinson's drive as long as it meant I wouldn't have to. I hate driving.
The Boilermaker was 15 kilometers of pure awesome.
Considering that 15,000 runners converged on Utica, there was precisely zero percent chance of us securing a motel room for Saturday night, or even an errant box on a street corner. So we decided to camp!
I'm not big on camping. I don't have an inherent love of the wilderness. I enjoy peeing on a shrub as much as the next man; and it's exciting to eat a banana in a place that's not the kitchen. But beyond that, just seeing a bug makes me itch. And it only takes 30 seconds before every inch of me is covered in organic debris.
What we did was technically camping. But based on the definition I just Googled®, staying in a motel room can also technically be considered camping. Sleeping in your living room instead of your bedroom can be considered camping. You can even "camp out" in your own room. It's a pretty useless word, like describing a granola bar as "all natural". Don't eat it! It's a candy bar in disguise.
|Packing to be away for.... one day.|
Geoffrey and Meghan were committed to making the experience as little like camping as possible. This was evidenced by the fact that they brought a tent big enough to house a family of 8. They brought an inflatable mattress. They brought a special power converter so they could inflate the mattress off the car battery while they watched with silent approval. They brought enough food to feed half of Africa, but didn't eat any of it because we went out to dinner Saturday night anyway.
I'm not saying this in an accusatory way. We were running a race the next day, and they didn't want to have to f@#k around with rocks and twigs the night before.
I on the other hand bought a microscopic Walmart® tent. I bought a used Walmart® tent. It was so small that you could see my toes poking out the side. I brought a couple of blankets and a couple of pillows. Geoffrey and Meghan barely got any sleep. I slept amazingly. My back had been hurting for over a week before that night and the next morning it was cured.
|Tiny home away from home.|
Why didn't they sleep well? Because it was pouring rain the entire weekend. Apparently rain falling on a giant tent sounds like a drum circle with no rhythm (so... every drum circle). Considering that most of New York state is currently in a drought, we couldn't even remember what rain was. We were like, "why is everything getting wet?!"
Our friend David also camped with us and ran the race with us. He brought a french press and some kind of propane powered turbo water heatermajig ("Jetboil" I think). So I don't have anything judgmental to say about his camping experience. We were totally fine with tearing down our tents at 5am in the rain because we had coffee. Whatever misery we may have been suffering was extinguished with the first sip of that divine concoction. Thanks David!
To rewind a bit, we drove up Saturday. We went to the expo, which was very densely packed. Geoffrey bought another hat, which - if you recall from my previous race report - is his big thing. This one was blue. I bought a tech shirt. Usually I get smalls, but I decided to get a medium this time. It looks like a flag billowing in the wind. It's HUGE around my waist. But the small looked like it wouldn't fit a 5 year old in the shoulders. Gah. Meghan got a triathlon themed tank that is now the brightest thing in her closest. I think it has sparkles on it. David waited for us impatiently for about an hour.
Then we went to the Herkimer Diamond KOA Campground, which between the cabins, RVs, trucks, playground, pool, pavilion with bathrooms and a flatscreen TV, looked like anything except a campground. We waited for the rain to abate and set up our tents. Then we drove back to Utica for dinner with a bunch of awesome fellow L.U.N.A.R. runners, including Shawn Mastrantonio! We ate at Georgio's Village Cafe, and the food was amazing!
Shawn gave me some good training advice. It was quite valuable for me, as my current training is like that of a toddler who just discovered his feet. I write about running all the time, so you'd think I know a thing or two. But most of what I write amounts to: "Run, get sore and tired, then run more anyway." Amazing, I know.
We drove back to the camp and went to sleep.
My alarm woke me up at 4:50am. It was still raining, and I didn't want to get out of my cozy little tent. Then I remembered the promise of coffee and stumbled out. I was all packed and ready to go in about 20 minutes. Then I stood huddled under the car's hatch listening to Geoffrey grumble about the rain and his lack of sleep. I watched David pump out dozens of cups of coffee with quiet fascination.
With some minor difficulty we made our way to the race and managed to park in front of an Italian food importer about half a mile from the starting line. I had no idea that's what it was. I looked it up on Google maps just now. It was a huge brick building full of monsters as far as I knew.
We walked the short distance and ran into a mob of people about half the population of the town I live in. I've never seen that many people in one place before. I went to NYC for New Year's one time, but I spent the whole evening on a rooftop with a bunch of Scots, drunk. I ended up waking up on someone's hardwood floor the next morning with my shoe for a pillow after being lost on the subway for many hours. So that hardly counts.
We immediately got in line for the port-o-potties, and somehow made it out without missing the race. I didn't have enough time to do my usual warm-up jog. I waded into the massive crowd. After a few minutes I ended up in a roped-off... corridor I guess. I followed that until I saw people with the same color bib as me and got into my corral.
It would have been way easier if I had actually been listening to the loudspeaker. They actually did a great job of organizing the runners by their paces. There were about half a dozen corrals, each with a giant banner above it matching the color of your bib. I got to my corral a bit early, and it was almost empty. It was weird having all this free space around me, so close to the starting line, with over ten thousand people behind me. I felt a little bit like a cheater (a cheater in a kilt). But hey, I ran within two minutes of my predicted time, so whatever.
|10,000 people eyeing my corral jealously.|
The first to go was the wheelchair race. I was close enough to watch them blast off from the starting line, their Herculean arms pumping at warp speed. It was quite inspiring to watch such dedicated athletes competing no matter the obstacle. The ropes between the corrals were removed and the rest of us bunched up to the starting line.
|Wheelchairs about to start!|
The air was vibrant with the energy of all those excited runners!
The mayor said some motivational words. He reminded me of the Fuccillo "HUUUUGE" guy (if you're not a central New Yorker, you have no clue what I'm talking about). There was a snazzy trumpet rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. And then we were off!
Being near the front I got to my pace without too much trouble. It probably took the runners behind me some time before they crossed the mat. Almost immediately I became aware of the cheering spectators along the sides, spectators who lined almost the entire length of the course. I've never run a race with so many people. It was great.
Even more exciting was the music. There were plenty of radio stations blasting recorded stuff. The majority of it was live music though! There was a cool dude pounding a drum to records. There was a teenager doing an awesome Zeppelin cover. Several other live bands charged us on. Towards the end of the race there was a row of.... I couldn't even count, maybe 30 or 40 drummers all in a row? Epic.
The water support was fantastic. You were never thirsty. There were overhead sprinkler systems, um, sprinkled throughout the course. I didn't have to worry much about overheating.
We had to climb a pretty big hill near mile 4. At the top a lady runner called out to me. She recognized me from a previous race by my kilt! I don't know her well enough to share her name, so I'll call her Lady Archnemesis (but, like, affectionately). Then I lost her as I flew down the other side of the hill like a maniac.
|Apparently I'm easy to spot.|
Also flying down that hill at breakneck speeds were the wheelchair racers. I couldn't fault them, as they had just spent the last 4 miles inching up obnoxious inclines. We all shouted for runners to move to the right, and that worked out OK. However, apparently that wasn't the case every time...
David too saw a wheelchair zoom down the hill. And in that case runners were shouting to make room as well. However, there was one stupid idiot running the race in his headphones. I don't like to insult fellow runners, but seriously, do not wear f@#king headphones in a race, especially one with that many people. He had his music turned up so loud that he couldn't hear the people shouting directly into his ears. And you can already guess. Yes, the wheelchair slammed into him full force.
David couldn't see the fallout from that situation, but I feel terrible for that wheelchair athlete. I don't care about the runner. I hope he got knocked into orbit. But the person in the wheelchair had persevered through some obvious hardships, and had climbed some gnarly hills, only to get sidelined by some jerk who couldn't spare an hour away from his jams. I hope he learned his lesson.
For the most part the race went smoothly. The crowds and energy level continued to be sky high. A couple of miles before the finish, Lady Archnemesis passed me! Apparently she did a better job of managing her pace than I did. I nuked it up and down those hills, leaving myself a bit fried for the rest.
|Contemplating my first encounter|
with my archnemesis...
I kept her within eyesight for the rest of the run, and then on the last one third of the race I turned it up to full throttle. The gap between us was melting, but I could see the finish just ahead. Could I catch her in time? I increased my speed until me legs were a comical whirl of motion like in the cartoons. We crossed the finishing mat at the exact same time (1:07).
However, I later I discovered that her net time was 11 seconds faster than mine. Which is why she's the Lady Archnemesis. We exchanged some further pleasantries at the end, making a promise to Facebook® each other. I don't even know how people met before that. "Hey! Can you rapidly spit out ten digits at me? I'm sure my endorphin-addled brain will totally remember them."
I collected my fancy pin and water bottle (I promptly lost it on a sidewalk somewhere). I reconnected with my friends and some other LUNARs. We loitered around the massive after party. I believe it's considered the biggest race after party in the US. I believe it! Picture ten thousand people in one place eating bananas, drinking sports drinks, listening to live music, and slamming free beer (so sad that I'm sober now).
After that we headed back home. I'd like to say we all crashed into happy naps. But no. Geoffrey and Meghan swam for 40 minutes and then went on a long bicycle ride. I ran more for a total of 18 miles that day and bicycled 16 miles. Because I wanted to eat, just, an obscene amount of ice cream without running out of calories.
All in all it was a truly amazing weekend. I had a blast spending time with Geoffrey, Meghan, and David. It was super great seeing Shawn and many other amazing LUNAR runners. And the race, of course, was incomparable. On a sad note, I did lose my Garmin Forerunner 235 on the highway in Utica. It's fitting that Boilermaker was the last race I wore it for. Back to my old but trusty Forerunner 220.
Shawn is a VHL Warrior. Check out the site and show your support: http://www.vhl.org