This was hands down probably the hardest race/ run I have ever done in my life – still debating between this and the trauma that was Tower of Terror 2012.
Tower of Terror was about 80+ degrees and 1000% humidity. This race was 28 degrees, with a
1000mph 28mph wind.
So back to what the heck I was doing at this race to begin with since I hadn’t actually ever mentioned that I was doing it.
A few weeks ago I saw this event being put on by NYC Runs – The Running Festival of Lights which would include the Chanukkah Gelt 5k, the Oy Vey 10k and the Chanukkah Chalf. I totally got a kick out of it and when I realized I had a 16 mile run on the agenda for my Dopey training I thought it would be fun to do 13 of those miles with other people, in a new area and with water stops…for only $35, why not!
This was totally meant to be just a training run. Until the Wine & Dine Half Marathon when I surprised myself with a pretty decent time even while stopping for just about every character photo. I have to admit it was during that race that I started thinking that even though it would mess with my Dopey training plan, maybe I’d run the Chanukkah Chalf for time…
Well come race day arctic temperatures had moved in and I seriously debated just skipping the race (if I wasn’t meeting a friend there there’s a good chance I would have!). But I piled on some layers, packed a bag with more layers and a change of clothes and jumped in my car to head to Brooklyn.
I met my friend Alex at the starting area which was under a little bridge by a pier in Brooklyn and we huddled together and debated if we should add layers to what we were wearing.
The nice thing about this race is that it was SO small (it ended up being about 250 people – I think a lot didn’t show up), that everything was located right under that little bridge – bag check, porta-potties (which I hear almost blew away!) and hot chocolate, and the starting line was just right outside the bridge, so we were able to hold onto our stuff to stay warm until about 30 seconds before the start.
I had on leggings, a tank top, a heavy long sleeve layer, gloves and a headband and in the end I made the last minute decision to keep on my heavy fleece lined jacket, I figured it would be better to have it and have to tie it around my waist if I didn’t need it than to not have it…
At 10:30 we huddled together on the pier for the start…
The entire 13 miles was out and back along the rough, choppy, frigid water…
…and within the first few miles I realized there was a bigger problem than just the wind being worse by the water. The wind was SO strong that every once in awhile a wave would be so big that it would crash up against the wall and send icy sea spray all over the path we were running which not only meant you needed to watch out for icy spots, but if you had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time you’d end up wet. But hey, there were great views of the city and the Statue of Liberty so that was nice…right?!?
So, a quick recap of my race. I’m breaking it down into mileage segments since that’s pretty much how the race broke down for me (and apologies for not having any pictures but I couldn’t feel my hands so there was no way pictures were happening). I also don’t normally include my split times in a recap, but in this situation it helps to tell the story – you can easily tell when I was running with the wind or against it.
This was the first “out” portion. The wind was at our backs so the running felt fairly easy and it was nice to be moving finally! It took the first few miles for me to even be able to feel my fingers and toes again, but with the help of the wind I was comfortably cruising along at a faster than “normal” pace. I grabbed a cup of water at the water stop and there was a layer of ice on the top.
Mile 1 – 8:38
Mile 2 – 8:18
We made a u-turn and headed back now running directly into the wind. This was the first taste of how hard this really was going to be. My pace dropped quickly, I immediately got very cold again and the effort I needed to put in just to move in a forward direction was unbelievable. I was still pretty happy with my pace though and averaged out between running “with” the wind and running “against” the wind I still had a chance at a PR.
Mile 3 – 8:45
Mile 4 – 9:23
Mile 5 – 9:13
Ahhh, back to running with the wind at our backs! I started moving along fairly quickly again and at times the wind was pushing me so hard from behind that I felt like my legs couldn’t move fast enough to keep up and I was going to get knocked over!
The wind was definitely stronger than it was on our first “out” portion and I was trying to find a balance between running fast enough to keep on pace to PR, but at the same time I knew I needed to save enough energy to battle the wind on the way back. I don’t normally buy into the “time in the bank” idea, but in this case I needed to bank some time when the wind was with me.
Mile 6 – 8:34
Mile 7 – 8:37
Mile 8 – 8:36
Mile 9 – 8:41
At the end of mile 9 I was at a 8:43 average pace. Since my half marathon PR is a 9:05 pace I was confident I was in a good place to PR no matter what the wind had in store…
…I high-fived the volunteer at the turn around point and was excited to have just over a 5k left between me and a new half marathon PR! And then I hit a wall.
Not the figurative marathon type of “wall”, but what felt like an actual wall. When I made the u-turn the wind literally stopped me in my tracks. It was so forceful that no matter how much effort I put in I was barely moving. I was literally running forward just to keep from being pushed backwards.
I fought it for about a mile, but at mile 11 I gave up.
The best way I’ve come up with to describe what it felt like is that it felt like I was pushing one of those weighted sleds that you see football players practice with. I’d give it everything I had and only move a little bit. Plus, on top of that the cold wind going right down my throat as I was trying to breathe felt like it was suffocating me and the wind had really picked up so I was constantly getting hit with sea spray – luckily that outer layer and hood kept me relatively dry!
Miles 11 & 12 involved a lot of walking mostly because it just wasn’t worth the effort to run, but also because I was having a lot of trouble breathing. I gave up on a PR. It just wasn’t worth it.
With about half a mile left I saw the finish and realized if I ran hard I may still be able to finish in under 2 hours (my PR is 1:59:05, also my only sub-2 half) and the harder I ran the sooner this whole thing would be over with.
Mile 10 – 9:46
Mile 11 – 9:41
Mile 12 – 10:50
Mile 13 – 10:00
I crossed the finish line in 1:59:50. Only my second sub-2 hour half and given the conditions, a time I’m actually very happy with.
At the finish line volunteers quickly wrapped everyone in space blankets, gave out medals and directed everyone back under the bridge where there was hot chocolate and bagels waiting (although managing hot chocolate and a bagel when you can’t feel your hands was a challenge).
I waited for Alex to finish and we went to my car to warm up. We changed in the car and literally sat there for 20 minutes before going anywhere just to thaw out.
This race was hands down one of the hardest things I have ever done. I was so completely physically drained when I got home I didn’t move off the couch for the rest of the night and I got in bed at 9:30pm.
However, showing up to the starting line and finishing this run was a true test of character and determination which is exactly what you need to finish something as crazy as the Dopey Challenge.
Congratulations to everyone who left the warmth of their house yesterday and got out there and braved the weather for a run no matter how long or short. I’m sure you are a stronger person because of it.
And as for the Chanukkah Chalf? I actually really liked the race itself! A good flat course with views of NYC and the Statue of Liberty and hot chocolate, bagels and schmear at the finish? Count me in for next year, let’s just hope next time it really is the Running Festival of Lights instead of the Running Festival of Wind!