This weekend was a big weekend in the world of running. Chicago Marathon was on Sunday, and Boston Marathon (deferred from April) was on Monday. The not-quite-as-famous Mohawk Hudson River Marathon in Albany, New York, also took place on Sunday, and this is the one that I ran.
I selected it because I was looking for a fast marathon course, and the course is considered one of the faster ones out there. It’s mostly flat on a bike path by the Hudson River, and it’s net downhill. I also knew I was going to get marathon FOMO if I didn’t run a race this weekend, so this race had two attractive features.
When I signed up, I pinged a fellow running friend, Cyndi, who has been spending a lot of time on the East Coast, to see if she wanted to join, and she also signed up to run it. We then invited Sydney, who declined to run it because she would be running Boston on Monday, but did want to come cheer us on, and then we invited another runner friend, Lisa V, who also decided to join as cheer squad. So, we had a whole cabal of friends gathering in upstate New York for the weekend, and then caravanning down to Boston for Marathon Monday.
For this race, I had been working with my coach Emily Torrence (an incredible athlete; has qualified for the Olympic trials in the marathon and has won several ultras) with a goal of running a fast marathon, but after spraining my ankle a few months ago, my training wasn’t where I wanted it to be for something speedy. On the Friday before the race, we touched base and she suggested to try for a sub 4:00 and see what happened. So that was the goal going into it.
I was glad to have had this conversation, because I was pretty frustrated the entire week leading up to the race, knowing that it wasn’t going to be as fast as I wanted. I felt like I had been thoughtful about training for months leading up to this race, and due to forces beyond my control (e.g. injuries), I just wasn’t in the shape that I wanted to be in. Having Emily set a target that felt achievable helped me readjust my expectations for the race.
The day before the race was a bit of an exploration of Albany. I had never been to Albany before, and it’s a bit of a weird town, but we found some fun stuff to do during the day. Lisa V and I went for a short shakeout run, where I was able to preview the last mile of the course. After breakfast, we walked around a park and visited the Philip Schuyler mansion (of Hamilton fame!). Afterwards, Cyndi and I picked up our race packets and visited a thrift fair. The whole group of us went out for dinner, then went back to the Airbnb to hang out and do some stretching.
I slept surprisingly well for crashing on a couch. I had spent several days on the East Coast the week earlier, so my body clock wasn’t shocked by an early wake up, either.
The morning of the race, Cyndi and I walked to the bus, which was only a block from the Airbnb (thanks to my logistical prowess) and would take us to the start line of this point-to-point race. We piled on and chatted for a bit, before a few of us realized that the bus driver wasn’t quite sure where we were going. Another runner and I jumped to the rescue with advanced technology (e.g. Google Maps) and we were able to get to the start line with no problem.
As we were waiting for the race to start, I saw a herd of pacers walk by, all carrying signs with their target finish times. I hadn’t anticipated that pacers would be at this race, and decided my strategy would be to tuck in with the 3:55 pace group – e.g. just under 4:00, and see if I could keep up.
After the national anthem, the race started. I purposely started a few seconds behind the 3:55 pacer, because that way, if I finished in front of them, I knew I would be below 3:55 (assuming they were pacing well, which they usually do). I also didn’t bring a running watch and wasn’t planning to check my phone, instead relying on other pace signals, such as how I felt, various splits I knew (like 5k, half marathon), and following the other pace groups, to make sure I was on track from a timing perspective.
I floated behind the 3:55 cluster for a while, opting not to expend energy jockeying for position in the cluster of about twenty runners. I found another runner, John, with the same strategy, and he and I got to chatting for a few miles. This conversation was also a good forcing function to not start the race too strong, because I was using breath to have a conversation with him, so I couldn’t overdo it.
Around mile 7-8, I saw Sydney, Lisa V, and their partners – my first cheer squad sighting! I rarely have folks come to cheer me on at races, so it was really fun to see them here.
The course itself along this stretch was absolutely stunning. We were running along tree-lined bike paths near the river, and the leaves were just starting to turn the reds, yellows, and oranges of fall, so periodically we would get to see some of autumn’s most beautiful scenes.
Around mile 9/10, John and I separated. I caught up to the 3:55 group for a while, then floated back behind them again.
Emily had suggested trying to eat every 45 minutes (e.g. every 5 miles or so), and I hadn’t yet, so I ate half a Gu at mile 9 and another half at mile 10. She had also suggested possibly not eating the whole thing at once if it felt like too much, and this ended up being a great strategy. It also meant classically sticky fingers as the remaining Gu in the packet made continued attempts at escape, but sticky fingers are par for the course in long races.
Around mile 13, I started getting some chafing around my collar bone, where the neckline of the shirt was. Someone had generously left a tub of vaseline at one of the intersections, specifically so runners could use it. I had a moment of “what about COVID?!” as I approached it, but I dove in; this probably saved me a lot of pain later on (and I have no symptoms so far!)
I was still feeling pretty good at this point, with high energy, good hydration and fuel, and a positive mental state. My hamstrings were a tiny bit sore, which is a new development this year (probably due to the overdevelopment of quads from cycling, although who knows).
Around mile 14, I saw the cheer squad again, which I was super excited about (see picture below).
Miles 14-21 were not hard, but not necessarily easy either. I was definitely working a bit harder here. The course also took a turn for the less scenic; we were running along the shoulder of some fairly busy roads for several miles, and that was extremely demotivating. It is hard to describe the low-level irritation that comes with lots of noise and cars when you’re tired and don’t really have the brain processing power to tune them out.
The 3:55 pace cluster had thinned out quite a bit; around 15-20 people had started with the pacer, and now there were only 1-2. I used the opportunity to float up to the pacer again and see if we could strike up a conversation. She was running with an individual named Troy, and I jumped in to join them. However, I very quickly figured out I didn’t have enough lung capacity or mental energy for conversation, so I fell back to my standard 20-meters-behind distance and continued to trail them.
At mile 21, I saw the cheer squad again, and Sydney joined me on the course for a couple of miles. She was using this couple of miles as a shakeout run for her Boston race on Monday, and, as someone who can consistently hold a pace about 2 minutes per mile faster than me, she had boundless energy. I was pretty tired by this point and was mostly unable to talk and maintain my pace at the same time, so Sydney regaled me with wonderful stories (most of which I don’t remember, but were very appreciated in the moment!). She was a great running buddy and very understanding of the experience, saying things like “I’m just going to talk, and you don’t have to respond at all!” which was about the level of response k was hoping she would be fine with.
It was getting a little warmer as they day progressed, so I started drinking a bit more of both water and Gatorade at the aid stations. I also opened my Gu blocks – first and only solid food – and was eating one every so often. These forces combined to spur a requirement for a bathroom pit stop, so I jumped into the forest for 30 seconds before heading back to the course.
As we crossed mile 25, I knew the end was in sight, and I had also seen much of the rest of the course before. Sydney hopped off around 25.3. I sped up even more, to catch the 3:55 pace group, who I could still see.
I passed the pace group around mile 26, and in the final 100 meters, raced a random guy I later learned was named Kevin to the finish line, just for fun. He seemed to enjoy it too! I’ve never finished a marathon with a sprint before, and it was pretty fun in a silly way.
After I finished, I sat in the tent just after the finish line – still in the finisher chute – for a few minutes to wait for Cyndi to finish. She crossed the finish line a couple of minutes later and we celebrated together.
After the race, Sydney and Lisa V took off for Boston. Cyndi and I headed back to shower and followed along shortly after.
Overall, this was a good race for me. I had aspirations to run much faster when I started training, but on reflection, it was probably a laughably unrealistic expectation to take almost two years off of distance running and then come back to an immediate PR.
However, this season of running has been such a joy. Between the Virtual Burning Man 50k, the On-Playa Burning Man 50k, and San Francisco Marathon, and this one, I’ve gotten to run 4 marathon and ultramarathon distance races in the past six weeks.
Also, what makes a race special is different every time; sometimes it’s the beauty of the course, or the speed you run, or the progress you’ve made to get there. In this case, it was definitely getting to run with – and celebrate with – both my running and non-running friends, both on the day and on Marathon Monday in Boston.
I’m not sure what’s next – maybe some trail 50ks, maybe another fast marathon early next year? For now, I’m just enjoying getting some extra sleep this week.