Syracuse Half Snow Storm Saga Race Recap
You know you ran in an epic half marathon when it’s newsworthy that Runner’s World talks about it. It was freezing, it was windy, it was a friggen snow blizzard and now that I am warm again, I have to say it was pretty bad ass. But before we get to the part where we ran through hail (hell would have been preferable), let’s rewind first…
In running you can plan and practice for a lot of things- your outfit, your fueling, your race strategy. You can train for hills, work on your speed and do your best to really nail down your pace. And while you can train for the elements, it’s only to a degree especially when the weather becomes extreme.
In the week leading up to the Syracuse Half, we all knew that the weather was going to be an issue which is unfortunate since they intentionally pushed the race back two weeks from last year to avoid weather issues.
They forecasted low temperatures at the start (24 degrees, 8 degree windchill), high winds (25-35 mph with 50 mph gusts) and a trace of snow (1-2 inches). While those conditions aren’t favorable, the most concerning to those of us that live here and trained outside this winter was the wind.
Since I had trained to PR this race (< 1:45 finish), I was nervous that with winds that high it might not happen BUT the race the previous year was rather chilly and cold so I thought maybe I had a chance. I did all the right things leading up to it the the week before and even went about carb loading the night before with Nicole from Fitful Focus at an allergy free restaurant called Yum Yums in Syracuse.
We had some fun at packet pick up before…
….all an attempt to take our mind off the impending weather.
As much as the forecast wasn’t looking promising, I was determined to make the best of it and do what I had to do to get as close to a PR as possible. What I didn’t count on was the forecast going from bad to worse…
Pre Race: WTF Texts
I woke up race morning only to find a slew of texts on my phone from fellow running friends that all said “WTF” which immediately lead to me looking out the hotel window to see INCHES of snow and extremely blustery conditions. As the wind whipped and howled, I attempted to brush off my car only to discover a layer of ICE underneath. In that moment I tried to remain positive but deep down inside I knew that this ice was an ominous sign of how the race would go.
Skip forward to finally arriving at the race after sitting in a 40 minute traffic jam (I was only 10 mins away) then having to rush to use the porta potty and fight the crowd to get to my corral which was impossible.
With the freezing temps and slush all over the roads, the start was a cluster and I only managed to get to the 10-11 minute corral when I should have been in the 7-9 minute group. I was already feeling defeated and the race hadn’t even started yet but little did I know that was far from the worst of it.
Mile 1-3: I can’t feel my toes.
I spent most of the first few miles weaving in and around runners while trying to dodge massive puddles and piles of slush which was pretty much impossible. My toes were literally frozen and as I chugged up the James St. hill during the 2nd mile I was honestly afraid that my feet were frostbitten. Was losing a toe or two worth finishing? I decided it was and kept going.
Mile 3: I can feel my toes now…oh wait, my shoes are water logged.
By mile 3 I finally was warmed up enough (relatively speaking) that feeling finally came back into my feet only to discover that my shoes were completely water logged. Despite the fact that I felt like I was running with bricks attached to my feet and every step felt heavy, I was determined to keep pushing…no turning back now…only 10 more miles to go.
Mile 4: Blinding Blizzard Strikes!
Just as I hit mile 4, the weather gods decided that wind and disgusting slush covered roads weren’t enough. Out of nowhere the sky opened up, snow began to fall at epic rates, winds started to howl at 35 MPH and soon it was a white out. Seeing in front of you was nearly impossible the snow was so heavy. Just to take a step became a chore. In this moment, it became a game of not just making it to the next mile but making it to the next minute. It no longer was a race but a crazy running adventure.
Mile 4.5: There’s hope.
Just about a half mile after the blizzard began, I literally ran right into one of my insta-running friends, Alain. I am not sure I have ever been so excited to see someone I have never met in person before. I am pretty sure we both said “this is crazy” and agreed to tough it out until the end together.
Miles 5-6: It’s only hail.
Seriously, just when you think you have dealt with all you can possibly deal with weather wise during a race, it starts to hail HARD. For the better part of a mile or two, we ran head on into hail pelting us in the face at 35 MPH with 50 MPH wind gusts. I could no longer see, my eyelids were frozen shut, the front of my leggings were covered in a layer of ice and even breathing became a chore. Determined not to give up and with Alain at my side, we kept pushing on. The only choice we had at this point was just to finish.
Mile 7: “This is just demoralizing”
Somewhere around mile 7, I heard a guy say to his friend “this is just demoralizing”. All I could think was YES…that word perfectly describes this entire race scenario. Whatever pace you trained for, however fast you think you are, whatever you think you’re capable of normally, didn’t matter. Hopes and dreams of a PR, gone.
Mile 8: My eyelids are frozen shut.
I can’t really remember much of mile 8 which is probably attributed to the fact that my eyelids were still frozen shut and I couldn’t see a damn thing.
Mile 9: I hope I don’t bust my ass running down this hill.
Last year when I hit mile 9, I was elated. It’s the first major downhill of the race course and typically I would use it as a chance to make up lost time. This year, I was more concerned with the fact that I might actually bust my ass on the way down. Picture running down a slide with lots of butter on it….kinda the same thing except this hill was covered in slush/snow and ice. NOT fun.
Mile 10: Let’s play dodge the puddles.
There were puddles and potholes throughout the entire race but at the bottom of the hill, they seemed to be everywhere. After getting rid of much of the water my shoes had taken on earlier, I failed to dodge several puddles (small lakes) and my shoes were water logged again.
Mile 11: Ice, ice everywhere.
As we entered mile 11 the roads suddenly went from snow and slush to snow, slush and ice. Literally, ice everywhere. I don’t know how much energy I wasted as I struggled to keep from slipping but it was a lot and as much as I wanted to quit, I just kept telling myself that there was only a few more miles to go. A few very cold, very snowy, very wet miles but at least it would all be over soon.
Mile 12-13 Fight to the finish.
The last two miles circled around Armory Square back to the Oncenter where the race started. Toward the end of mile 12 we rounded the corner only to be nearly blown away by 35 MPH head winds. Tired, wet and frozen to the bone, I somehow mustered up the energy for one last push. I looked at Alain and yelled out “LET’S DO THIS”. We agreed to end this thing together, pushed on the gas and sprinted across the finish line with all we had left in us.
At this point in the race, I’d normally be over analyzing my time and how I could have done better but in that moment, I was never so happy just to be done with something. The time it took to run those miserable 13.1 miles meant nothing, just finishing this race proved that I was fighter.
Post race: WTF just happened?
Elated to be done with my medal in hand, I squished as squashed my way back inside along with Alain to warm up. As my other running friends began to finish, texts and calls started flooding my phone with “WTF just happened?”. Did we really just run that race? Did we really just survive that 13.1 mile storm? We did. I am not sure how but somehow we did.
To EVERYONE that ran the Syracuse Half that day, HUGE congrats! I laughed (maybe scoffed) when the email we received from the race organizers eased us into the idea of braving the weather by saying we’d have “bragging rights”. And while I am SURE they had no idea it would be that bad, I have to say I am a tougher runner than I was four days ago BECAUSE of this race and I know everyone of the 3700 runners who chose to brave and fought their way to the end is now too.
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