Nine years ago, I participated in my first Turkey Trot. I’m not sure why I decided to try it. I wasn’t a runner by any stretch of the imagination. I was a dance teacher, I was doing my flipping on trampolines, and trying to keep my young 40-something self in shape. Through Facebook, I had connected with some old friends (students) from my earlier days at Spring Valley High School, and they were thinking of doing this Turkey Trot thing on Thanksgiving morning. It was a fundraiser for The Marisa Fund, an organization that raises money to fight childhood cancer. I guess I wanted to see myself doing more to keep in shape and to support a good cause, so I signed up.
I remember knowing NOTHING about road races, and even less about actually training for one. I knew it would be cold, so I wore lots of layers. I remember being excited, pinning my race number (1867) to my race shirt, feeling my heart bursting out of my chest because I had NO idea what trekking five miles would really be like. But, I was committed. I knew I wanted to do it, and when I want to try something new, I plan for whatever I can and then figure out the rest as I go. I remember my race day breakfast was chocolate milk and a peanut butter sandwich, because you need carbs and protein to run. I got to Rockland Lake on that gorgeous fall day and met up with the people I intended to run with, not thinking that my pace would certainly not be the same as anyone else’s. I’m sure we lost each other in the first half mile. I finished that first race in 58:33, an 11:43 average pace time. The fact that I could finish five miles in under an hour (at 41) was astonishing to me.
After that first year, I’d done a handful of trots. The most notable one for me was in 2018, the year of 16 degrees. That morning was frigid. I signed up and reconnected with my friend and former student, Hernz, so we could brave the race together. That morning was colder than I ever remember a Thanksgiving morning to be. We literally froze when we got out of our cars. He was a football player at Syracuse, so he was no stranger to working out in cold weather, and even he was wildly uncomfortable. We warmed up with dynamic drills together to try to prevent the chill from changing our minds and hightailing it out of there. At race time, we nestled our way into the middle of the pack, to try to find an iota of warmth. We started the race together, but somehow we got separated mid-way and had to find each other again after the race to make sure the other didn’t turn into a popsicle.
Note the layers and layers of clothing that made no difference in mitigating the cold. I think it took me a week to shake the chill in my bones. Amazingly, there were over 3000 people running that race, so we were in good (crazy) company. I finished that race in 59:38, average pace time 11:56.
This year, my 50th anniversary of circling the sun, was the 30th anniversary of the Rockland Road Runners Turkey Trot. It was in person once again and I decided to go solo this time. I wanted to see how I would do on my own. I hadn’t really done any specific training, save for my flipping, conditioning while I was teaching, and a random 5-mile test run on the back roads near my house about a month before when the weather was still nice. Every time I sign up for one of these trots, I’m always questioning whether or not I’ll actually go. Will the weather be good? Will my body feel up to it? I’ve paid my fee, which is the donation to support the organization, so if I just stay warm under the covers, will anyone really miss me if I don’t show?
There are always reasons to not do something, but I decided that this was not the year to bail. It was a beautiful fall morning, I had a great race shirt with a hoodie, and my joints weren’t screaming at me. It was time to go. I got up, put my layers on, pinned my number on my shirt (2001), and had my breakfast. This time, it was a chocolate protein shake and a banana.
Nike’s wisdom: Just do it. I wear those gloves to keep my hands warm-ish and to remind myself that sometimes you have to get up even when your brain wants to roll over and go back to sleep. The matching socks are work under my leggings to keep my ankles warm.
Over the last few years, I’ve run a bunch of races, particularly ones that were virtual because of the pandemic. There’s something special about this race. Although people come from all over the country to run it (like I said, people are crazy), it’s filled with locals who are there for common purposes – support a good cause, complete 5 miles, then have turkey and stuffing with a tad less guilt.
Before the race, people gathered in clusters, chatting and warming up. I even saw a group doing a little tailgate ritual. People bring their kids and push their jogging strollers with tiny humans all bundled up and rosy-cheeked. The more festive ones wear turkey onesies and knit caps. The sun starts shining bright just before the race starts, and someone sings the national anthem, accompanied by an ASL interpreter signing proudly. There is an anticipation that lingers over the crowd just before they give the sign to start the race. In that moment, I feel quite alive and connected. Even though I didn’t know anyone there (save for a couple of tap students I used to teach), I was happy to be in the middle of the pack.
Awaiting the start, I wiggled to the music that was playing in my earbuds to keep moving and when we got the “GO,” we slowly inched to the starting line and as the crowd dispersed, we were off in a burst. I didn’t really have any expectations for a finish time. I figured that this year, since I hadn’t been running much, I’d let my first mile set the stage for the rest of the run. That first mile is all about elevation – after the first quarter mile, you go up and down several hills that I figured would slow me down. What I didn’t think about was that I hate walking up hills and stairs. It is actually more exhausting to trudge up than it is to bound up. When I got to the first mile marker and saw that I was under 12-minute mile pace, I was energized. If I could keep it up, I could finish this thing in an hour. As the race moved forward, the sun warmed the air, and I was able to remove the gloves and balaclava. I shoved them into the zipper pockets of my giant sweatshirt, which also was removed and tied around my waist. I’m sure I looked ridiculous, but I was now on a mission – finish this race in an hour. I looked out at the gleaming lake through the mostly bare trees, took deep breaths, and kept my legs going.
Most of the race I spent running, with short pockets of speed walking to let my legs recover and catch my breath. My mental endurance for running is lacking – I can’t remember the last time I actually ran a mile straight through without slowing down to walk. I’ve developed a system of miniature goals – get past that tree/go 50 more paces/get over that hill, then slow down. Somehow, I haven’t discovered the formula for run and don’t stop running. C’est la vie. Entering the last mile, you know it’s time to find some energy that’s stored somewhere deep in your soul. You know it will hurt later, but in this moment, it’s all about crossing the finish line. As I rounded the last corner and approached the final straightaway, I sped up and took longer strides, trying to save a few seconds as the clock ticked forward. The hope was that the potassium in that breakfast banana would facilitate the muscular healing process.
I’m proud to say, I finished in under an hour, and it’s in writing. The chip pinned to my race shirt can attest to that. Of course, my Garmin watch disagreed with the chip – that said I was almost a minute slower, but I am not going to argue with the technology that was provided to me by the Rockland Road Runners. Nine years after my first race, I haven’t slowed that much. That’s cause for some celebration.
Throughout the race, my race buddy Hernz and I were texting each other and sending supportive video messages. He had relocated to Detroit this year for a great job opportunity and found a local 5K to run there. It was nice to have a friendly voice in my head as I chugged along. Afterwards, we got on Facetime and gave each other a race debriefing. Claiming he was out of practice, he reported his 8-minute mile pace, at which point I rolled my eyes as my heart was beating out of my chest and my hip reminded me that I had abused it and I will pay for that later. I gave him the play by play of my run, and we celebrated each other’s accomplishment virtually. After some cooling down and stretching, I grabbed a half bagel and a half banana (more potassium!) and enjoyed a few quiet moments of self-satisfaction.
As I headed back to the car, there was a Salvation Army truck handing out hot chocolate to the runners. Not a bad way to celebrate the end of the race and start Thanksgiving day. I spent the rest of the day with family, enjoyed the extra calories I would have eaten anyway, with just a little less guilt. Two days later, I still feet the beating my hips and quads took, but that has faded now. All in all, it was an effort well-spent; another Turkey Trot in the books.