In the world of running, Thanksgiving morning means Turkey Trot. Running USA’s infographic illustration shows how they have become increasingly popular in the past couple of years. As an NCAA athlete, Thanksgiving fell three days into my post-XC season break and so I was always a cheerleader for my dad at our local Turkey Trot in Morristown, NJ. Last year I joined him in the race to gauge my fitness in the middle of some serious base building when I didn’t have XC eligibility. Thanksgiving tradition became a freezing road race followed by thawing out while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and the National Dog Show on TV before an afternoon/evening full of food.
This year was a little different. This year I became part of one of the biggest, traditional Thanksgiving Day road races: The 77th Manchester Road Race. Though it was my first, this year’s race seemed to be even more about tradition, as it was Amby Burfoot’s 51st, setting the record for Manchester Road Race finishes.
To be perfectly honest, I had some serious self-doubt before this race. I hate to admit it, but I was feeling pretty negative. I have always heard about this race and what an awesome experience it is, and I had been excited about running it all fall. The more I learned about the race from friends and coaches who have participated in it before, the more I became concerned about the 4.748 mile distance (a little longer than what I’m used to) and the monster hill that is the entire second mile. Somehow everyone that told me about this hill did so with a smile on his/her face and assured me that I would have so much fun.
Still, once the spaghetti dinner was over and I was sitting in the hotel room thinking about stripping down to my Oiselle uniform in the anticipated 30° weather to climb a crazy hill, I questioned my sanity a bit. I was having moments of mental weakness thinking that it would be nice to know I could bundle up at home and watch the parade on my couch with a cup of hot chocolate. My dad was coming up to watch and then drive us both to my aunt’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, and all I could think was that we would be stuck in traffic eating sandwiches from a rest stop as our Thanksgiving dinner instead. Not my idea of a good tradition.
I think these negative thoughts stemmed from nerves. I needed to pump myself up, remind myself why I was there, and answer myself every time I asked what the hell I was doing. While I was laying out my race day clothes, I started to snap out of it. That Oiselle uniform means something important and I wanted to represent it well. What the hell was I doing? I was doing what I love and being thankful that I can. I was remembering I spent five winters in Syracuse and 30° is nothing (especially with the arm warmers I planned to wear). I was being the confident, fierce competitor that I know I am. Yes, sometimes I experience moments of weakness and I start to get a bit negative. The important thing is that I have ways to get myself back in it and support from a lot of people who remind me to be positive as well.
The morning of the race, excitement started to replace my doubts. It was cold, but the sun was out and the way the community shares this tradition in Manchester reminded me, yet again, why I love runners so much. During the warm up, Rebeka and I chose to check out the start/finish instead of dwelling on the hill. I went through my usual routine and by the time we had to take our sweats off, the cold didn’t seem too bad. My Oiselle race kit with the arm warmers, throw-away gloves, and a headband worked out perfectly.
The gun went off and the first mile felt pretty good. With a distance like 4.748 miles, it was hard to think about what kind of pace I should hit, so I thought more about being competitive with the other women in the race. I was in a good pack and then I saw 4:59 on the clock. Even though I didn’t think too much about pace, that was faster than I thought. Nevertheless, I tried to keep calm because it was time to start climbing. When I got to the top, I realized I was happy the hill got so much hype from everyone I talked to. It was definitely a big, long hill that you have to grind through, but all the hype made me expect to feel worse on it than I did. It was keeping up on the downhill that everyone flies on afterward that was a challenge, but I managed to survive that as well. Finally, we came around the last turn for the last downhill. I could see the finish line for about 600 meters and I finished strong.
In such and elite field, I was definitely happy with my fourth place finish. And yet, once the excitement died down a bit, I couldn’t help wondering if I could have pushed a little harder in the middle and had the leaders a little closer to catch for the finish. First place was 15 seconds in front of me, second was 8, and third was 6. As an athlete, I think it’s important to find a balance between being proud of what I accomplish, and not being 100% satisfied. There’s always room for improvement and I have enough of a competitive drive to want more. I’m willing to work for it. It’s going to be a good year.
Things I’m Thankful For
1. The Cabral Family for taking us in Tuesday night so we had a place to stay before Rebeka and I could get into the hotel.
2. Nat for always being supportive with my running career, even when I’m a little crazy like I was when I was sharing my doubts with him Wednesday night and he helped me to stay positive.
3. My family. My dad drove all the way up to watch the race and get me home for Thanksgiving Dinner (no, we didn’t eat rest stop sandwiches in traffic on the highway). My mom is always very supportive even if she can’t always be at the race, I can never wait to call her when I finish. And my brother and sister were home for the holiday as well. I’m thankful that I have all of them, and my extended family, and that I get to spend time with them as often as I do.
4. The rest of my support system: My coaches, past and present, and teammates.
I’m thankful that all of these things have come together to help make me achieve my goals and make my dream life happen.