Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Memorial Day Marathon - Lenox MA

Strangely, even with the extended taper, I wasn’t really nervous about this marathon, I had read reviews where runners referenced the challenging course and that this was not the place to attempt a B.Q. So I took that to mean there’s no pressure to meet a goal time.

Because I forfeited my registration fee for the original marathon in VT, we decided I would play-it-by-ear so as to not throw away another registration fee. We would see how the weather played out and if everything was looking pretty good, we would wake up early and drive to Tanglewood for the day-of-registration.

The Memorial Day Marathon starts and finishes in Tanglewood MA, which is in the heart of the Berkshires, made famous by James Taylor and the music venue of the same name that hosts the Boston Symphony Summer Concerts. It’s a 2 hour drive from my house and the registration was from 6:30 to 7:30 and the marathon started at 8:00 so we woke up at 4:00AM to leave in time to make registration.

Although Memorial Day has a reputation for bad traffic, if you do your two hours of driving at 4:30AM you’re likely to avoid the holiday crowds. The drive was fine and registration was convenient enough. Since I didn’t pre-register, they wanted me to come back after the race to pick up a shirt since they were running low – no problem, I completely understand. They would also send me my medal since they were personalized Dog Tags to commemorate our fallen soldiers.

I went back to the car and changed into my running gear, it was easier than many of the races I had run since I only needed to pack one type of clothing. It was going to be hot, the humidly was high and the temps were already climbing.

The marathon and ½ marathon started together at 8:00 sharp, we did a quick loop inside the grounds and were then out on the rural roads of Massachusetts. It was humid for sure, by mile 5 my hair was dripping wet and my arms were glistening with moisture. By mile 6 I was getting a little worried and started to back off the pace. I relished every breeze turning out the inside of my arms to it to try and cool my core temperature.

We hit a water stop on a pretty big downhill, I asked when the next one was so I could time my gels with water stops, the volunteer responded that she didn’t know when the next one was but that we would be coming back by here on the return. What? This big hill is on the return too? Uh oh… that’s gonna be tough, especially on the way back. A little down the road I saw a mile marker for the return trip, it said Mile 17. I thought that hill is going to be tough at mile 17.

We continued along the Housatonic river I imagined its crisp, cool Berkshire mountain waters, as I began to become uncomfortable from the heat. I maintained fairly consistent pace along the relatively flat stretch as we followed the river.

At one point I could see the mile marker in the distance, I thought, great, I’ve made it to mile 12, but when I got there, it was only mile 11. “Oh come on …” I weakly muttered as I passed the marker, the heat and humidity were truly taking their toll on me. By the time I rounded the corner at the real 12 mile mark I had to stop and walk. I put my hands on my head and tried to expose myself to anything resembling a breeze. The wheels had started to wobbling… I would have to do everything I can to get back on track. I though, how ironic that I have to walk at mile 12 in my 12th marathon (I never had to walk in a marathon before).

I mustered the energy or maybe it was guilt to start running again, enduring the heat I made it to the next aid station and doused myself in water. My head, shoulders and arms.. I feel guilty that I’m wearing as much (if not more) than I drank, but it seems to do the trick and I shuffle off.

Every mile feels brutal and endless, there’s a small out and back, so I can see runners going one way as I have to go the other, knowing I’m running further from the finish line brings me a dreadful feeling, eventually I  make it to the turnaround which wasn’t all that far out anyway. Now for the road home.

The miles pass slowly, the hills seem to come more frequently than the mile markers. On the hills I find myself running to one traffic cone then walking to the next somehow rationing the energy I have to make it back. I keep wondering if I’m ever going to get in “the zone” or if I’m going to “hit the wall” and all this is just going to get worse.

Neither really… I just keep shuffling along, moving as best I could given the conditions. Taking a break to try to alleviate the heat. I found myself stuck in a group with a couple of other runners for what seemed like the next six miles, we exchanged the lead by up to 25 to 50 yards at a time but no one was able to pull away. It was becoming a race of attrition, I just had to keep moving.

After mile 20 I saw a cop directing traffic, I said to him “You guys sure aren’t bashful about your hills around here” and he responded, “No we’re not and there’s another after you take that left in the center of town”. Great, I wrestled some sports beans out of my pouch and sucked on those for a little bit before swallowing them.

At the corner the cop was referring to, I saw my wife. I stopped to complain a little, drink some water and see how my fellow runners were looking – did they look as bad as I felt? Most were pretty much shuffling along and walking too. After all there were only 135 of us brave enough or stupid enough to run 26.2 miles today.

OK, enough with the pleasant conversation, only six mile to go… I can do this, it’s just a 10k. I gave my wife a kiss and headed off to tackle this hill I’ve been hearing about. It  was a big hill… the people who were at the bottom claimed it was the last hill… it was not.

The sun was starting to burn through the morning haze and temps started to climb, the next few miles were all about managing my temperature, finding the shade on the course and cooling off at water stops. I think to myself couldn’t someone bring out a garden hose to wet us down? Over 20 miles and not one garden hose!

I came down a small hill and passed the end of a lake, I knew I was close... mile 25 has to be just around the corner.

It was, but it was midway up the biggest hill of the day. What was this? Some sort of extreme joke or am I’m just dreaming this… maybe the alarm will go off and it will be 4:00AM and I haven’t even gotten out of bed yet.

Nope, this was the big one, halfway up a kind woman had set up her own little rest stop in the back of a minivan, she said she had pretzels, Twizzlers and water. All I wanted was water. She said she ran this last year and knew how hard it was and wanted to help the runners on this hill. Sweet woman… I’m sure everyone will remember her. She said we were doing great!

Top of the hill, finally! Somehow I started to feel ok, I was alone, everyone I had been running with had seemingly dropped back, I couldn’t hear them anymore, I looked back and couldn’t see anyone. That has to be a good sign.

Race photographers ahead... this is both good and bad… I know I look like sh*t, but it also means I can’t be far from the finish. They tell me it’s about a ½ mile to go.

I round another corner and guess what? Another hill… ok it wasn’t that big in comparison to the melee of hills in the previous 25.5 miles, but who needs this? Not me, that’s for sure. Top of the hill and I’m mad, I make a right hand turn at the intersection and it’s all out to the finish line.

I cross the finish line at 4:26:37. My slowest marathon ever, but this was something entirely different than anything I’ve experienced in the past. This was a Memorial Day Marathon.


  1. Anonymous7:24 AM

    Great review. I also ran that day and could not have described it better, this one is not for the faint of heart. My time of 4:54:12 was disappointing but at least I know I ran the Beast of The East!

    1. Thanks! Yes, it was quite the challenge, I hope to get back there this Spring to run the trail race they've added.