Saturday, January 3, 2009

Ringing It In On The Right (?) Foot

There's only one thing crazier than running a New Year's race in sub-zero temps -- running the race, then jumping in the ocean.

At least I can say I'm not as crazy as those runners, who after running a bone-chilling 10K on Thursday, decided they'd plunge into the frigid ocean -- an ocean that one person commented at the starting line looked "angry."

He was right. I looked at the ocean, with the wind whipping across the beach, and saw dozens of white-capped waves. Go in there? No thanks.

It was enough just to get me to the Hangover Classic that day.

I had signed up a few days earlier, thinking that (like last year) I'd start the year off on the right foot. A good race would get me out of the house, get in a training run and put me in the right frame of mind for the New Year.

But when I awoke on New Year's Day and heard the wind literally howling outside my window, I had second thoughts.

I had an internal struggle -- between whether it was really worth it to run in sub-zero termperatures and whether I had an obligation to because (thanks to a status update on my Facebook page) I had recruited a few friends to join me.

Throughout the morning, I received text after text from people telling me they wouldn't brave the the weather. Phew, I thought, still in my pjs on the couch.

I sent a final text to Erika, who ran Disney with me last year, telling her I was out.

Almost immediately, my phone rang. "I'm already on my way to the race," she said. I had forgotten she was coming from Portland.

So we chatted for a while, mostly reminscing about the Disney trip and wondering where the past year had gone. Finally, out of the blue, I told her I'd join her for the Hangover Classic. I could hear the excitement in her voice.

As I made the drive to Massachusetts, my car shuttered in the winds whipping across the highway. One entire lane was blocked by snow that had drifted into the roadway.

I couldn't help but wonder how I'd run in this. Radio news gave warnings to people to cover all exposed skin. Luckily I'd bundled up and was pretty much prepared -- I say pretty much because I don't think one can ever be fully prepared to run in windchills of -14 degrees.

I squeezed my way through the crowded bar where registration was being held, picked up my number and somehow found Erika among the crowd of runners bundled up from head to toe.

I also saw Geoff, who's recently gotten back into running, which reminded me of yet another person I'd coaxed into running this crazy New Year's race.

He and Erika were in for the 5K and made their way to the start. I had signed up for the 10K. If I was coming all this way and dragging my butt to a race on New Year's Day, I was a least going to make it worth my time.

At the start line, runners literally huddled together in an unsuccessful attempt to keep warm. We all questioned our sanity. Then, after what seemed like an hour wait, the gun went off.

I heard the sound of hundreds of sneakers scrunching along on the packed snow. It was like no sound I've ever heard. Runners whooped and hollered, some screamed.

It was cold. Actually, cold doesn't even begin to describe it.

We made our way through the small oceanside streets, at one point even having to duck under an enormous town plow that was blocking the way. Then, in a mean twist of fate, we ran by the lots where we had parked our cars. I could easily jump out of the race and back into my car, I thought.

I seriously considered it. Seriously.

I couldn't feel my toes and my legs were cold all the way through. The wind burned my face, despite the neck-warmer I had pulled up over most of my face, the winter hat I had pulled down to my eyes and the sunglasses I had covering any other exposed skin.

I realized I'd forgotten my watch. I certainly wasn't in this race to set a personal best, but I like to use the watch to gauge my pace. I soon realized that there were no mile markers either.

It was like being in a timewarp. I had no idea how long I'd been running or how far I'd gone. My sneakers had a tough time getting traction on the semi-packed snow, and at times it felt as if I was not moving forward at all.

But luckily, I must have been moving forward. Fifty-seven agonizing minutes later -- and after passing by a beer stop, seeing a runner in a full gorilla costume and witnessing ocean-divers strip down naked after their plunge -- another New Year's race was behind me.

Given the circumstances, I'm not sure if it was the right way to start off the New Year.

There could have been worse ways to ring in the New Year. But maybe there could have been better ways, too.

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