Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tripping Down Memory Lane: Madison Turkey Trot Race Report

On Thanksgiving, I did something I haven't done in almost nine years. I ran a five-mile race. Not just any five-mile race, but the Madison Turkey Trot at Hammonasset Beach State Park in Madison, Connecticut. There was another race that day in Connecticut that you might have heard of -- the Manchester Road Race. People who know me well may wonder why I chose to do a "small" race at the beach instead of running with an international 15,000-participant field. I have no good answer, except my age-related illness known as "fear" compounded with a bit of nostalgia.

The last time I ran five miles in competition, I was in my 30s. The last time I ran five miles in competition, I was capable of traversing the distance in much less than 30 minutes (at times less than 29). The last time I ran five miles in competition, I won the race. This time, I was well into my mid-40s and I was no longer capable of a mile pace even close to six minutes. Fear of slowness and embarrassment may have steered my decision to take on a "Turkey Trot" instead of the much more prestigious 4.7-miler in Manchester.

But before you pass judgment on me, know that fear wasn't the only thing influencing my decision to run the Madison Turkey Trot. Something even heavier pushed me south toward the Connecticut shoreline. Call it nostalgia or the need to reminisce, the older I get, the more I yearn for the places of my youth. And Hammonasset Beach is where many ghosts of my past reside.

Hammonasset was THE beach of my summers. My family camped there. There were friendships I renewed there every summer. And when I learned to drive, Hammonasset was the first "far away" place I drove on my own. I even went there on a date once. And when the high school girls track team got in trouble with our coach for "sapping our energy" in the sun before an important track meet, it was done at Hammonasset Beach. It seems the only thing I had never done at Hammonasset was run a race.

That changed on November 25. After a nine-hour drive to Connecticut and a relatively decent night's sleep, my mom, my husband Jim, and I got up and made the drive to the beach on Thanksgiving morning. The weather was windy and overcast and in the low 30s. Just as I was about to complain about the cold, I overheard another runner say "at least it's not raining like last year." So much for complaining.

Mom checks out an explanation about beach erosion.
After registering and getting my number, I did some reminiscing with my mom. We took a walk and snapped some photos of the main beach (see photos below) -- a place I hadn't seen in over 20 years. Everything looked so small. The sensation was compounded by the fact that erosion had reduced the beach to a tiny strip of sand. In the cold dawn, I could barely conjure up images of summers past. Even the boardwalk -- the site of all that walking and all those splinters -- looked small and insignificant.

When I lost all feeling in my fingers, mom and I went back to the car to warm up. Jim just laughed at our need to see the beach in this weather. When I could feel my hands again, I got out of the car and went for a pre-race jog around the campgrounds. Again, everything seemed so much smaller than I remember and I was surprised to find it took me only 10 minutes to cover ground that seemed to take a whole day on my very first bike (the one with the banana seat that started out with training wheels).

A reason to wear my Punk Rock Racing beanie!
The race started at 10 a.m. In the starting queue, I found myself standing next to two triathletes. One of them had finished Ironman Hawaii this year. One had done it in 1984 (!). I smiled and added my accomplishment: "2002." One of them said "It's like we're a family." Needless to say, it WAS an unusual coincidence.

The first two miles were a flat out-and-back loop followed by a flatter and bigger loop that went to Meigs Point and back. Meigs Point had always been the "forbidden zone" of my youth. It was too far away for me to go "alone." I never knew why -- maybe shady characters hung out there? Several years ago, a woman was murdered there (the case remains unsolved to this day). At any rate, my brothers and I were not allowed to go there on our own although my brothers used to brag about doing it all the time behind my parents' backs. But on Thursday, I finally got to go there. And, as if in defiance, I did it right in front of my mom! Heck, it wasn't even really that far -- only a short run away. I'm sure my mom wasn't worried about my safety, though, as I was with more than 2000 other people.

The race itself began as an enigma. I had no idea how fast to go out. The last time I did a running-only race, it was a marathon. And after my last race -- Ironman 70.3 Clearwater on November 13 -- I took a week off. I was in no shape to attempt running a race. My body was in no shape for any speed whatsoever. My lungs were aching by the first mile. But surprisingly, I looked down and saw 6:20 on my watch. Not as slow as I expected. (Not fast either. But still, not slow.) Even more surprisingly, I was able to speed up and hold onto a 6:10-11 pace for the next three miles. By mile four, I even saw the leaders coming into sight.

I've seen better days (and better finish sprints).
Inevitably, disaster struck. (Did you expect something different?) As I passed mile marker 4, I felt like I ran smack into a wall. The last mile was a death march (I can't believe I just wrote "death march" in describing a five miler). I was in slow motion as I watched the women in front of me pull away. At that point, my brain turned off and I just ran it in. In my younger days, I would have fought to the very end. But on Thursday, I decided that I am now older and wiser. And I can choose to run it in.

My last mile was so slow, I refuse to mention it here. It was so slow, I may have been running backwards. It was so slow, I wondered if the course was long. It wasn't.

I "ran it in" to finish 66th overall, 5th among the women and first in the women 45-49 (i.e., old) age group. Mom, Jim, and I hung around long enough for the sun to come out, get some post race refreshments, and pick up my award (a neat little mesh bag). When they announced my age group and my time as 32:00, a guy in the crowd said to me: "that's a GREAT time." I added "for an old lady."

Older and wiser.

Here are some photos of the beach of my youth:


  1. If you’re afraid then I am, how they say, f*cked.

    I’ll never understand how someone with your talent and track record (pun intended) would let anything undermine their confidence at any level. Face it, your 45 and an AG winner (over and over again). So you went out for a run and finished 5th overall? You neglected to mention the ages of those 4 other women who crossed the line before you.

    Face it, everyone gets older and (gasp) slower than they were in their 20’s. We also get smarter and wiser. You, by the way, are still so much faster then I will ever be. In all fairness, I spent the 80’s cultivating the perfect haircut utilizing the members of Duran Duran and Robert Smith of the Cure for my reference points (but had I run back then, I’m sure I would have been faster than I am now).

    You’re not afraid of the course or the competition. You’re afraid of YOU. I find this interesting, because all the other runners are afraid of you too.

    Oh, I was right, it took me longer to read this post than it took you to run the race.

    Thanks for representing PxRx out there.


  2. What he said.... (Well done, Ron!!)

    True fear belongs to those who never enter the race.