Running weekend down the shore

I’m having trouble finding the words to explain it, because there are so many and I can’t get them all out fast enough.  I’m not sure where to begin, my thought is that this is not a typical race report, but then what is, and I guess I am not a typical racer. I guess it’s just nice when you get to celebrate it at the end, and other people celebrate it too, and it’s not like you’ve been a burden or anything like that. Last weekend was the MudHen series race weekend. I’m not even sure I have the words for this, but it has changed how I see myself as not only a runner, but a racer. I should start out that this has been an interesting year for me thus far. After four years of stagnation, and keep in mind I have only been running for five, after four years of no improvement/slugging along or plodding along, I am actually making some progress this year and the way that it is traditionally defined. For this I have to thank parkrun and my running partner Susan. (Yes!  I have someone to run with sometimes!  That’s for another post.)  But this race is, this race weekend, was outstanding. The half the most significantly so of all.  But I’m taking this chronologically.

So this race series didn’t use to be called MudHen.  It was the Wild Half.  And I’d been doing it ever since I trained up to do a half, which was 2014. This race holds my half PR, also from 2014 (3:14:00), one i haven’t ever come close to since.  2014 was also its inaugural year in its present form (multiple races, springtime date, generally this same course). After every one I went right back and signed up for the following year (discounts to current year racers!). And so this year, I think late 2017, I learned that the Wild Half would be no more.  Now it’s called MudHen and instead of Morey’s Piers (the boardwalk amusement park and other entertainment folks), it would be DelMo Sports putting it on.  And now a Friday night 5k too.  It was a shock.  Even though it was a local company and local ownership, it was still a shock.  So many concerns and questions.  What the hell is a mud hen and I miss the play on words of wild half.  What’s DelMo, Delaware and… Missouri?  (Hey, in my world with DelMarVa as the context, that makes linguistic sense even as it is totally nonsensical geographically.)  I have friends who broke up with this race because of the change and the way this change unfolded.  Some people were annoyed since the change meant no more free Morey’s day passes for runners.  Honestly my biggest concern – which will surprise no one who knows me – was time limit for the half.  Morey’s always had a four hour time limit, and a loose one at that.  Would it still be four hours?  If not, this would affect my ability to finish, to race, and was not what I’d signed up for so that would impact the race for me.

Many comments on the fb page. When this broke, it broke as a somewhat cryptic email and fb post.  I sent a message with my concerns and corresponded briefly with Steve Delmonte, one of the DelMo Sports owners. (Aha!  The DelMo!). He reassured me about the time limit and said they’d be there for me.  Which I repeatedly checked on periodically.

The 5K on Friday night was fast and flat, and I got a PR.  The 5k on Saturday was pleasant – a shakeout run on the boards.  After both races there was free beer from the local brewpub MudHen and a buffet.  The first one had all kinds of dinner food – corn on the cob, ribs, grilled cheese… outstanding.  I was impressed that Steve was mingling and making a point to talk to all the racers to find out our concerns, impressions, and thoughts.  He recognized me immediately by the time limit question and promised me there would be a finish for me.  My friend Nancy missed him that night, but she too had messaged him with questions and they were well answered (and I learned as the weekend went on, the answers were in fact effectively implemented).  The second 5k had more typical runner postrace food.  Both days had gorgeous weather.  So gorgeous that Heidi and I spent the day on the boardwalk and tested the water on Saturday.

And then we come to Sunday.  Wow.

Even though I did a half in Feb and one in March, and this one is relatively easy – fast and mostly flat – I felt unprepared.  I didn’t even begin to get excited until a couple of days before.  I had had a really rough couple of weeks at work.  I was stressed about the drive.  I missed my husband who wasn’t able to get off of work to come. Once I got there I met up with Nancy and Joe, and Heidi, and Chip and Kris.  And I met some new friends too!  Cheryl and Joanne, I’m talking to you.  ☺️

And overnight before the race.  Where it all goes pear shaped.  It got cold.  And rainy.  When I arrived (early, for the good parking spaces across from the Convention Center), it was so very cold and it was raining. The wind was unbelievable. I have never felt anything like it in all my years in Wildwood. Between the cold and the wind, it was pretty bad. I had planned to race in tank and running skirt, because that’s how I always raced in Wildwood. But there was no way. I dragged out my finisher half zip from a previous race, and my new, waterproof windbreaker that I had bought only a month ago, and wore them both. But, I thought about it, and figured that I would probably get hot, and not need both jackets. Which one would be better to run in, and what would I want to put on my body after became the question. So I ditched the half zip and just wore the thin windbreaker. I didn’t look too inappropriately attired for the client weather compared to the other runners, but I did wish I had had some gloves.

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Every time, before every 13.1, every 26.2, I really am in disbelief.  I always say to myself, “Am I really going to run ____ today?  Do I, can I, actually DO this?”

The rain stayed basically until we started, then tapered off. It’s still meant wet boards for the first couple of miles, so you really had to be careful because wet boardwalks are slippery.  Now this race. It was a really fast field. Usually with a four hour race, and then in my previous Wildwood experiences, I haven’t been the last one, there have been a number of stranglers at the end. This time, once the 8K group turned around, and I was left on my own, I really was all alone at the back. This is generally not a big deal. I have certainly done many races where I have been DFL and on my own – and oftentimes that has even meant being completely unsupported by any kind of age or signage.  That absolutely was not not the case here. The cones and signs and race marshals and volunteers were all up, they were all out, and the energy was high. But in between, in those early miles, it was me.  What was very discouraging to me at this point in the first few miles in, was the wind and the weather. It was so cold and so windy, and was a headwind all the way. I am short, but I am not a small person, and running into that headwind – it takes a lot out of you.

And then, like a knight in shining armor but not, up came this bike course marshal, a race official.  That was Tom, but I didn’t know it yet.  I’m not sure if his actual assignment was to escort or hover around the last person or if he took it upon himself to do that. When he first passed me, maybe mile three or so, he asked if I was OK and honestly, I was a little bit offended.  When people ask me that, my thought is always “why, do I look like I’m not OK?” It’s a different perspective, and one that I have to remind myself.  Most people, I think, if they see someone going my pace, assume that you are struggling or there is some something wrong.  Of course in my case it is neither – except here, this day, I was actually struggling because of the wind.  I was at my worst when I was in Anglesea going out to Stone Harbor, and coming back. Those middle miles. That’s when there was a constant headwind or a crosswind.  There are three bridges, and a completely open and unprotected marshy island. The course is an out and back, so that times two.  I had doubts, I think for the first time in all of the halfs I have run, whether or not I would be able to finish this one. I have stressed about finishing due to time limits and being swept involuntarily, but had never before doubt whether physically I would be able to finish the course.

Tom on his bike changed all of that. He was really my saint as we went over the causeway, and over the first drawbridge, we started talking. A lot of people made the assumption that I was a beginner runner, that it was my first half. This is understandable, because again when you look like I do, and run as slow as I do, it’s easy to jump to that assumption. Tom changed all of that. He kept my mind occupied and my spirits up as we went over the causeway, and over the first drawbridge, when we started talking. Tom and I talked a lot, and in those windy miles we compared a lot of notes.  He’s a triathlete and his favorite flavor Gu is strawberry banana. I don’t know his last name, but I know that he’s done half Ironman’s and Ironman and his favorite Gu flavor. He’s the first person that I’ve ever really challenged when he said that I inspired him. Why, what does that mean. He explained that for him, it was just seeing someone slugging it out, which he could relate to because that was how he felt in Ironman competitions.  That’s how running is, sometimes.  Spend a few hours running with someone and you get to feeling like they know you better than your best friend since college.

We talked a lot; he alternated that with cycling ahead of me and telling the oncoming runners – the ones who were on their way back – that I was coming.  He told the runners my name, that I was the last runner, and told them to show me some support. I couldn’t decide if this was embarrassing or not, because usually being the last runner, especially by that much, is embarrassing, and you just want to not be seen but here they’re broadcasting that you’re last. But, it was really really cool I decided what the hell, since obviously I was last anyway and it was a sweet gesture. And it really did give me a great lift to have all these dozens or maybe hundreds of other runners coming at me cheering me by name and cheering or high-fiving me, it was great. In the course of our conversation he also learned that I had done 30-something halfs, I think 34 or 35, and 17 or 18 fulls, I think.  I have a hard time keeping track. He told all the other runners that as well, he seemed like he was super proud of me as if he was my best friend and bragging about me to everyone! And Tom also got me moving more than I probably would have given the conditions.

The conditions really were awful, especially on those bridges and with the headwinds. When you’re sucking wind and it hurts to breathe deeply because the way the wind is cutting across and you have to struggle, the last thing you really want to do is run at the bridge. I ran a lot more than I expected I would have. And actually, I thank my running buddy Susan for forcing me in a subtle way to teach my body how to run while talking and having a conversation, and how to keep running even if I am sort of walking. The Stone Harbor police hit their sirens when I reached the turnaround point and headed back out; I’m not sure if they were cheering me on or if they were just really happy that they could shut down and leave. The officer at the bridge (the third one out, the first one back) did seem impressed with the 35 though. On the way back Tom stuck with me, and then another person joined the entourage, a Wildwood police officer named Shaun, on a motorcycle. He was in short sleeves and must have been SO cold! The two of them… with the wind I couldn’t believe that they were even able to stay upright.  He joined my… entourage just on the back side of the middle bridge, told us that once we made it to the turn for the last bridge, the causeway, Wildwood Boulevard, the wind died down a lot.  He was right.

We made it back over all the bridges and Sean surfaced again, with sirens.  He escorted us to Mile 9.5 off the causeway where ALL the kids and people at the water stop were still there, led by John Lynch who has made a foundation of being kind – ThumbsUp4Kindness.  And he didn’t falter here!

And on we went, those last few, not-quite-but-could-have-been-lonely miles.  Tom and Sean leapfrogging me, waiting for me to pass, then doing so again.  Every police officer still out, water stops still out, roads still blocked.  (Yes, I was under the time limit the whole race, but when you’re the last runner and everyone’s back, that’s still not a guarantee in some races.  And this being a new race in many ways, I wasn’t sure what to expect.)  Tom stopping to pick up discarded Gu packets and wrappers and cups from the street, Sean throwing away my cup from the water stop.  That last stretch from the lighthouse to the boardwalk can seem to last forever, and yet it didn’t because I had distraction!  By this time people were beginning to show up to walk and gather, because it was turning into a sort of nice day – the sun was out although it was still super cold and windy as all heck.  And Tom continued his mission of getting total strangers to cheer for me and wave at me.  With no more runners, he was telling random people, who were all too happy to cheer.  Eventually I made it to the boardwalk, the final couple of miles.  Sean followed me – I asked him, are you really going down the boardwalk?  He replied that he was – I was so surprised that a motorcycle could go down the boardwalk.  I don’t know why, I just was really confounded by that.  He said he was going to announce my finish with sirens.  Somehow I didn’t take that seriously.

By this time, the boardwalk was dry, but it was directly in line with the wind again so it was really cold, but it was still barricaded off to people.  There were still some people who crossed onto it, but not as many like last year and they scurried across and out of my way pretty quickly.  I guess it helps when you have an entourage and one of those people is a police vehicle.  There we encountered many of the runners, in mylar and medals around their necks, and those same people cheered me again.  Sean told Tom that he had me and Tom could go home now, but he didn’t.  Tom stuck with me the entire way back.  We got to about mile 12 just before the Mariners’ pier and I saw Sean start to move and I said, “no, too soon!  Too soon!  No way can I keep up a finishing pace for that long!  Try again at mile 13!” And we eventually made it to mile 13 where this man with a grey ponytail and glasses had been waiting for me.  He’s in the photo below – his name is Michael Feely, but I didn’t know that then, he had been so upbeat and supportive all morning, the day before… frankly, all the time.  He was part of the race crew whom I remember from last year too – he cheered me in a huge way, so enthusiastic, running me in (it felt like running, honest.  Even if it didn’t look like it!).  And there went Sean with the sirens as I finished – and there was Tom in the end.  It was like I was the first place finisher instead of the last.  And then everyone somehow evaporated and I thanked them but not as properly or effusively as the occasion warranted.  Steve the director saw me across the street, having my postrace beer, and fist bumped me.  Volunteers and other runners came up to congratulate me for the finish.

I honestly felt not one single bit of impatience, pity, patronizing attitude, derision, etc. the entire race.  I felt pride (I was faster than I anticipated, in challenging conditions), I felt like an athlete and I felt like other people also saw me as an athlete.  And that brings tears to my eyes.

And then I went on the rides.  It IS Wildwood, after all.