When I am lying about my running, I tell people that I race because all adults should have a hobby, because I need a good excuse to leave the bar, and because I want the mug.
We’re talking about THE mug – the one that goes to the top 100 male and female finishers at this Thanksgiving race that I run when I’m in shape sometimes, and oh God, even now I’m downplaying how important this race is to me.
Let’s be real: I’ve never been out of the top 10. I’m probably going to get a mug every time. But for some unspoken reason, the Ashenfelter 8K is my white whale, my albatross, my [fill in literary allusion], and as long as I’ve raced it, I’ve wondered if I had sub-30 in me.
There was absolutely no reason to think that I’d be anywhere close this year.
My training had been…fine. Fine! I was kinda hitting my paces for workouts, kinda getting most runs in, and kinda laying off office candy. “For health!” I told my coworkers. “For the mug!” But to hit 29:XX, you have to run 6:03 pace, and I was struggling to hold that in 5Ks. My fastest one had been 18:42, two weeks prior, and that felt terrible. So on Thanksgiving morning, I woke up resigned to run about what I always run, which is some metaphor for my above-average but generally post-collegiate running career as a whole. That would be about 6:10-6:15 pace. 6:0X if I was lucky.
I ran my warmup with two teammates. “I feel like crap!” I announced. “We’re running 7:25 pace,” replied Alyssa, which explained that. We got back to the high school gymnasium, whereupon I snagged a donut to eat post race, changed into my flats, and did fake strides down to the starting line.
Our plan – Alyssa, Chelsea, and I – was to go out around 6:10 pace. This was my idea. The first mile of Ashenfelter is uphill, and I’ve always thought it easy to make up the time if you go out conservatively. This was a really good plan that fell apart from the second we started running. The beginning of the race was chaos – tiny children sprinted in front of us, like it was some goddamn turkey trot, and there was much lateral motion and bobbing and weaving that I thought I was done with after quitting frisbee.
After finally finding our pace, it looked like there was a group of about 5-6 women together. That’s a rare treat in NJ road races. It also led to a first mile of 6:00.
“Oh,” I said. I had feelings.
We had, it seemed, committed to a pace, and I had no intention of letting the group get ahead of me. I mean, I had no intention, but after we hit the second mile in 6:01, that resolve began to waver. I was in over my head. What business did I have running an 8K like a 5K (note: apparently this is how you are supposed to run 8Ks – run your 5K and then hope you don’t die).
Alyssa and Chelsea pulled ahead, and I thought to them, “Ah, good luck, for I am dying.”
I was dying.
The deal with this race is, you make a big out-and-back loop and pass the finish line at 3.5 miles, i.e. the point in the race where THINGS REALLY START TO HURT. I have dropped out at this point before. I really hated myself that day and did not get a mug. I really, really wanted to drop out again. I might have, too, had I not seen my mother, who had driven down to see her daughter chase delusions of grandeur on Thanksgiving day.
I kept running. I beat my 4-mile PR by two seconds. I still had more to run, which was unfortunate, because I was starting to very dramatically gasp and groan.
The fourth mile has a short steep uphill, which is pretty mean, guys, and at the top of it I saw my friend Kristan and her husband, Will.
“Go Sarah!” shouted Kristan, who had a baby strapped to her. It was her baby. I stated that strangely. Anyway. She also said (I did not hear this), “You look strong!” Apparently, Will turned to her and said, “Why are you lying to her? She looks like she is dying.”
I would have laughed if I had heard that, but I did not, because I had just been passed by a girl in a Oiselle uniform, which is one of those things that just gets stuck in my craw. I said that I race for the mug, and for my dreams of something, but mainly I race because I am a competitive jackass who needs an outlet so that I don’t compete with my students and family members and fellow drivers on I-80 in Paterson. So getting passed in the last 800 meters of the race that I had been thinking about for the past six months? This was not an acceptable outcome.
I let out another dramatic heave. I started to see the finish line. I pushed, and dug, and somehow managed to stick it out through the pain in a way that I have not felt in quite some time.
I crossed the finish line in 30:05. I got a mug. It was a PR, and a decent one at that, and about as fine of a time as I could have hoped for. I cooled down, waited for awards, and trotted back to my car.
So that would be the end, except for one thing. Well, maybe half a dozen things. Those kids at the beginning of the race? They really slowed me down. Like, seven seconds of chip time slowing down. Like, when I checked the official results, I’ll be damned if it didn’t read 29:58.
It’s a weird feeling, attaining a goal you (a) deeply wanted and (b) didn’t think you would ever reach. It validates the silly hours of training you put in, those runs wherein you wonder why you don’t give up the dream, why you ordered seltzer at the bar, why you spend hours upon hours on a hobby that doesn’t seem to love you back. It’s less joyful than satisfying, and that satisfaction lasts all of 15 minutes before the itch returns to continue pursuing dreams you don’t really think you’ll get.
People asked me on Monday what I did over Thanksgiving. I said I had vegetarian stuffing, pie, saw “Brooklyn,” ran a race.
“How did it go?” they asked.
Congratulations to Sarah Schillaci of Hudson County, New Jersey on a great race, a great report and winning our 2015 Race Report Contest!!! When she’s not training hard for the 2016 NYC Half Marathon, this 31 year-old self-described “unmarried lady” teaches high school English. Thanks for sharing this amazing report and keep an eye out for your prize shoes!
You can read the second place race report, Proof of Life, by Athena Mericsko here.
You can find the third place race report, 41 Seconds, by Anna Denn here.
And THANK YOU to all our entrants for sharing your epic race adventures with us!