This is an EPIC tale, EPIC failure, and EPIC accomplishment. I doubt it will sound as incredible as it felt, but here is my story…
I’m a member of the Half Fanatics club. It is related to the Marathon Maniacs, and is sometimes seen as the younger sibling, while others view it as a completely different kind of animal (since the half marathon and marathon are totally different races). Membership requires completing a specific number of races in a certain period of time, and there are different levels/ranks you can move up as you complete more races.
In 2002 after I finished the Portland Marathon, I said I would never do another marathon. “Never say never” came to bite me in the butt as the 2014 Dopey Challenge included my fourth marathon. Anyway, while I said I would “never” qualify for the Maniacs I realized that the earliest level “only” required two marathons within a 16 day time frame. Since I had already decided to run the Dopey Challenge again, all I needed was to find one marathon within two weeks of the Disney Marathon that had a generous time limit and I could qualify. It would be a one-and-done, I thought. So I reached out to the running community for suggestions.
Eventually I settled on The New Years Double in Allen, TX. This is the end of a race series, and offers a 5k, half marathon, and marathon on 12/31 and on 1/1. You have the option to run on a single day, or to run both days. If you do a race on each day, that’s a double. There is also the option for the “Double Double,” which is a 5k each day followed by either a half or a marathon each day. All of the past participants who nominated this race had good things to say about the race and the director/organization. Since I was going to spend the cash to get all the way to Texas, why not do two marathons? I registered as soon as I had decided, because these races sell out early every year.
Preview: I have nothing bad to say about this race.
Pre-race communication was excellent. Questions posted to the race’s facebook page were answered promptly, and the race director was very polite to those asking very stupid questions (and yes, there is such a thing as a stupid question). The race director was even very polite to the whining runners who decided to drop out of the races because they didn’t like the medal designs. (No, I’m not kidding.) Other participants chimed in to answer many questions too (many of them should have ended with either “…just like it says on the website” or “…as stated in the email dated…”). Instead of one massive pre-race email, information was doled out in three shorter messages during the weeks prior to the event. All deadlines, including refunds and drops, were clearly stated.
Pre-race planning was also great. There were special prices at multiple hotels near the start. Medal and shirt designs were revealed. There was plenty of parking and even a printable .pdf map for the parking lots, plus a specific address for GPS direction purposes (the races start in a park, and putting in the park name doesn’t necessarily lead you to the parking). Locals had multiple opportunities to pick up their packets before race day (and to drop off old shoes for Soles4Souls), and there was also a Friday packet pick up opportunity; packet pick up was also available before each race, and after the race starts on 12/31.
Leading up to race day, I thought I was pretty well prepared. While I didn’t put in as many miles as suggested by the recommended training plans (available on the event website), I had spent plenty of time cross-training the back line of my body–after many races I finally figured out I needed to add strength to my glutes and hamstrings (I’m a quad-dominant runner). Despite the fact that I lived in Texas for years and should know better, I had this silly idea that Texas would be hot. Not so much. I’m thankful one of the pre-race emails had the predicted temperatures (30s and rain) and reminded us to check the weather to pack accordingly. I loaded my suitcase up with my Sugoi fleece-lined tights (for Eve) and my CW-X compression tights (for Day). I packed two beanies, extra socks and shoes, and layers for both days. I packed snacks, an extra space blanket, recover compression to sleep in between races. The flight in was uneventful, I enjoyed a lovely dinner out with my Aunt Elaine and my cousin and his girlfriend, and my roommate and I completely hit it off. I slept terribly, but that’s the night before a race for me.
On race day I got up early and layered up, grabbed a mocha and a croissant from the hotel, and went to pick up my Eve bib and shirt. I planned to arrive extra early in case there was a line for bibs, and to put my drop bag in the tent. (The course is in loops, and there is a drop bag area where you can leave supplies.) Then I looked around a bit and headed back to my car because I was freezing my butt off.
The New Year’s Eve Marathon. I carried my giant orange flower, since part of the point of doing two marathons back to back was to see what my legs would feel like; this is in preparation for the MS Run the US, during which I’m running 160 miles over six days. (Click HERE to donate your latte money.) The course is four loops for a marathon and two for a half, with a large part of the loop forming an “out and back” such that you pass by other runners on your way in and out. The first two loops were pretty awesome. There were a ton of Maniacs and Fantics in the house, and loads of people waved and shouted about the flower. For the second loop I walked most of it with a sweet guy who had just planned to relocate to Austin who was finishing the half and ran him through the chute. I spent some time talking to another great guy living in Hawai’i who was working on the 50 Marathons in 50 States. I had planned to take it easy–no need to burn out on the first day, right?The third loop had significantly fewer people, which made it more challenging. By the fourth loop I was pretty much the only runner left. I finished in 7:06.
Along the way I had a variety of thoughts. I’m awesome. I can feel the strength from the cross-training. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that Pilates class on Monday. I’m really doing another one of these tomorrow? Runners are the nicest people. I’m freezing. I’m an idiot, what was I thinking? This isn’t so bad. If Mom can deal with chemo, I can be cold for a little bit. I’m a sad, sad sack.
And then I finished. Almost last, but DONE! I picked up my finisher’s medal, a heat sheet, and my drop bag before limping towards my car (halfway, the guy driving the golf cart picked me up to finish the trudge, which was super nice). There was one woman behind me. Turns out running in the cold makes me much slower than I thought, though I was trying to take it easy, and came in at 7:06. My Bia told me SIUBC and it took me awhile to figure out what that meant.
A quick stop at Walgreens for a rain poncho (and a scarf, and warmer gloves, and some disposable hand warmers) then I drove to the hotel where my roommate wisely steered me directly to the hot tub. Funny thing, when I first got in I felt VERY cold and the hot tub felt VERY hot. In about 15 minutes, I felt like both of us were about the same just-below-room-temperature. Hm. A quick shower, a wiggle into my compression tights, and I was off to dinner with my roommate from Georgia and the nice guy who had just made plans to move to Austin. He chose the venue, a delicious place called Napoli’s Pizza (1512 East Exchange Parkway, Allen, TX 75002 in case you’re planning for next year). Great place–locally owned, delicious everything especially the garlic knots, and friendly customer service. From dinner we basically headed straight to bed–at the geriatric hour of 9:00 p.m. It must have been New Year’s Day somewhere.
The New Year’s Day Marathon. I double-checked my phone and the weather app at least 10 times due to the forecast–20s and freezing rain. My roommate looked out and said the sidewalks looked dry. Liar. As I went to take my luggage out to the car, I was pelted with rain and stopped to add a layer and put on the poncho. I picked a larger mocha and a muffin and drove over to pick up my bib and shirt (which came with a plastic bag, multiple faux tattoos, and a box of Advil cold and sinus for which I am very thankful!). I set my drop bag down and huddled under the drop bag tent with a much, much smaller number of starters than the Eve race.
Along the way I realized that running in the cold is miserable. This is why when I wake up for a race and look out the window and see rain, I STAY HOME. I dislike being soggy, and I really dislike being COLD and soggy. It was in the 20s to low 30s, and during the first loop there was ice on the tree branches. The pants I had on top of my compression tights got wet and sloshed in a swingy way as I was running. It was fun to have people cheer for the orange flower–and I remembered to bring my runner cards to hand out–but it got soaked and heavy, and the water made the fake fuzzy stuff come off of the stem and it started to chafe, so I dropped it after the first loop. After the first loop I also dropped the Hokas I was wearing–and good thing I could not feel my feet, as they gave me the craziest ugly blisters on the last joint of my big toes–put on dry socks, and changed into Brooks Adrenaline. During the second loop I realized that not only could I not feel my feet, I couldn’t feel my thighs either; I was having difficulty steering when I was walking, much less running. The hand warmers started to kick in around the start of the third loop, but there were fewer and fewer runners, and I couldn’t see most of them anyway because of the rain covering both sides of my glasses despite the visor partially shading them. I spent a good portion of the first two loops thinking just a few thoughts: This is miserable and I am so cold I can’t stand it; If I feel this bad on the second day of running, how on earth am I going to do six days, oh man I hope Nebraska is warm in June; I can quit after I finish this loop; I can’t believe I came all this way for an expensive DNF. It is really cold and I did this why??
I also repeatedly talked to myself, out loud and everything: I CAN do this. I WILL do this. I AM DOING this. I am strong. I am brave. I am unstoppable.
During the “out” portion of the out and back segment of the third loop I was fortunate enough to meet a runner named Dexter, who has got to be one of the finest human beings on the planet. At first we were both walking and we chatted a little bit, but then when he said he also still had one loop left, I remember how hard it was to do that cold fourth loop alone and decided to tag along. Dexter is a runner from Loma Linda, a Marathon Maniac (#5473), and had helped Mike (another runner) finish the Eve race. Dexter has many, many more marathons under his belt and I am certain he could easily have looped me and finished a LOT faster but he chose to stay with me and help me on the course. I’m so thankful, so lucky, and so blessed to have met Dexter. Seriously, if you know of any award for best exemplar of a runner who is also a kind and generous human being, please let me know so I can nominate Dexter. We had a great conversation, which effectively distracted me from the cold and the pain. When we hit the end of the third loop the announcer told us we had missed the cut-off to start the final loop (the same thing I’d heard the day before), and then the race director stopped us to make sure we knew they were going to shut down the aid stations at a specific time and we might miss them, Dexter said, “They don’t scare me,” and he promised me we could finish.
The fourth loop was hard. Harder than hard. My hardest race or run. I stopped to use the bathroom and told Dexter to go ahead, I’d catch up. (Note: pulling compression tights on is even harder when they are wet.) I ran, walked, ran, walked, and ran some more, and could see Dexter’s bright orange hat bobbing in front of me. At the final aid station–the one right at the turnaround point–Dexter was waiting for me. “I was worried about you!” he said. Again, he could have kept on going and finished much earlier, but he didn’t. The Allen Lady Eagles Lacrosse Booster Club staffed that station, and had left us a pizza and several cups of electrolytes and water. (One of the moms there turned out to be from Livonia, MI which is where I lived until I was six.) Dexter carefully pushed me to keep going. On the way back I had to take several dead-stop breaks, mainly because I was having serious trouble breathing. I was beyond snotty, all of my accessory breathing muscles were sore, and my throat felt about three sizes smaller than usual. Dexter kept on pushing me.
As we crossed the finish line–pretty much desolate–Dexter borrowed the Mile 26 sign from the UT Dallas Alpha Phi Omega crew who were tearing down the course. I posed for some pictures with Dexter while trying my best not to burst into tears (which I did as I limped over to my car). I drove over to Dexter so we could trade contact information. I expected just a business card, but Dexter also handed me some chocolate covered macadamia nuts from his native Hawai’i and a medal from Loma Linda. Seriously, nicest human being ever. (For my friends who are wondering: he’s older and happily married. You are not off the hook.)
It took quite a bit of time for my car to warm up, which is okay because I had to cry a little more and wipe off my glasses. I wrapped a space blanket around my legs and took off my wet mittens. The drive to my aunt and uncle’s place in Coppell took longer than I’d anticipated, but that was quite likely the most amazing hot shower I’ve ever had. Followed by catching up with my Uncle John and then a delicious pasta dinner made by my Aunt Elaine (such a creative cook–corn bisque and toppings, pasta with vegetable ribbons in a lemon caper creamy artichoke sauce, and homemade cupcakes with homemade gingerbread icing and homemade Andes mint icing). I phoned home to say hi to Dad, and crashed early.
To give you an idea of how much harder and colder Day was, race organizers reported 1404 timed finishes on Eve, and only 1073 on Day. Many, many thanks to the race organizers and the volunteers: Boy/Cub Scout Pack 811; Team in Training with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society; Allen Lady Eagles Lacrosse Booster Club; The Collective for Orphan Care and Education (providing resources for those in need in Kenya); and UT Dallas Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed service fraternity.
This was probably my only year for this race (as there are multiple other New Year race I want to hit), but it was great. If you are looking for a challenge or back-to-backs, I highly recommend the New Years Double in Allen, TX.