Around mile 7, I started to question my sanity. At least I had the comfort of knowing I wasn't alone in my madness. I was amid a mass of at least 14,000 others.
We all descended upon a small Central New York city to run in sun on a hot and humid mid-summer day. The Boilermaker 15K road race in Utica, New York, has seen a steady growth in popularity over its 38 years. It started in 1978 as a small race of 800 entrants. Now, more than 14,000 run, and participation is capped, or even more would choose to take part. The festivities also include an offshoot 5K race with 4,000 runners.
We all shell out money for running events in the form of entrance fees, travel costs and accommodations to partake in what turns out to be torture for many runners thumping along the pavement up and down hills for 9.3 miles.
I was struck with several thoughts in my final few miles of this most recent 15K race Sunday, July 12, at the Utica Boilermaker: Why am I doing this? What am I trying to prove?
This was my fifth Boilermaker, overall, and fourth year in a row that I have run it. Each time, I have been able to get a little bit faster as I get another year older (48 now). Running is not my favorite thing, but I enjoy the challenge of pushing myself to see what I can do racing against myself and no one else. My time of 1 hour and 26 minutes in the Boilermaker is a personal record but absolutely pales compared with some of the stunningly fast times people are able to run.
The Boilermaker 15K is the longest race I have run. I might try a half marathon someday.
Walt Disney World Marathon events are popular destination races, as are runs like the Bolder Boulder 10K in Colorado (50,000 plus each Memorial Day) and the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta (60,000).
It seems like more and more people are challenging themselves with road races and other mass-participation events. Many people have placed completing a marathon as life goal. Mud runs and obstacle course races like the Spartan Race, BattleFrog and Tough Mudder are surging in popularity. Many friends of mine love the Ragnar Relay Series, in which a group of runners each take multiple turns running a total of 200 miles during two days and one night.
So, why do people invest so much time, energy and money into the Walt Disney World Marathons, Bolder Boulder, Spartan Race, Ragnar Relay Series, Tough Mudder and other types of grueling challenges?
Everyone has his or her own motivations, I suppose. But generally, it really feels good to challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone and push your physical limits. That's how you really can feel alive.
I enjoy having something to look forward to, and this keeps me on track to train and stay active and work toward a goal. The day of the event is but a small piece of the overall experience. It's the best payoff, for sure, but your training and daily routine can help give you more energy and deliver wonderful health benefits, too. I feel best when I wake up each day with a sense of purpose and a plan to attack.
While looking forward to participating in the race, training for that challenge and setting goals such as new PRs, we also pick out races at specific destinations we like to visit -- and usually spots where our friends or family live -- so we get the added bonus of making the whole experience a mini-vacation. This is a fun reason to travel.
The camaraderie at these types of races is cool, too. People get so energized and work to cheer each other on. This extends to the communities and organizers who put on the events. Racing through Utica in the Boilermaker 15K, you're awash in a sea of smiles, from the runners to the spectators. The streets are lined with observers who deliver everything from claps and cheers to popsicles to passing runners along the entire course as it snakes through dozens of neighborhoods. Bands and other musicians, along with DJs, are present at nearly every turn to help pump us up as we chug along.
So, all of these reasons help explain why we take on these types of things. But they can be of little consolation when you start to doubt what you are doing, your legs feel dead and you're still more than two miles from the finish line.
Continuous glances at my Garmin GPS running watch reveal that my pace is not what I had hoped. Also, why did my mile indicator go off a full 200 meters before I hit the next official mile marker. Oh crap, I have been slowly but surely adding dozens and dozens of steps along the way as I wind around slower runners and some who decide to take walk breaks -- coming to a full stop right in the middle of others who are then forced to dodge them or stop or crash into them (please don't do this; instead, ease your way over to the "off ramp").
Maybe I should just slow it down a bit and bring it on home at a comfortable pace. "But what if you miss your PR by only a few seconds. You'll be so mad," I said to myself. Plus, I am still on pace to be about a minute or so under my previous best time. I won't get the time I had hoped, but I can still PR, I noted.
OK, let's toughen up and gut it out and see what happens. The final stretch helps, as the crowds thicken and cheers more loudly toward the finish line. Bands blaring, bleachers full of spectators yelling and the public-address announcer trumpeting finishing runners by name as they cross helps boost the energy measurably. Plus, the final half-mile or so starts sloping a bit downhill. Runners all flow toward the line at an improved gallop, me among them.
I almost immediately feel refreshed. It happens this way every year. Begging for the race to be over, and 20 minutes later looking forward to next year.
Oh, I recall one more reason we all get together for this seeming madness.
The post-race party!
Travel fit! Travel happy!