I was late leaving my house and worried that I would not make it to the 8:15 AM start at the Montezuma Audobon Center in Savannah, NY. This isn’t the first time I’ve almost missed the start of a race, and it has to stop!
The Montezuma Half Marathon is an early Summer 13.1 mile dash through the Montezuma Wetlands Complex in upstate New York. Anyone who has cruised the NY thru-way between Rochester and Syracuse has seen this beautiful expanse of nature out both sides of their car windows. This was my second year of running this race. For whatever reason, last year I ran it fast, despite the heat and bugs. If I can make it there on time, I’d like to run it even faster today.
I pulled into the parking lot with 6 minutes to start time. Efficient parking attendants flagged me around meandering rows of parked cars stretching out across gravel and grass to virtually the very last spot available. I made it! I pop out of my car and jog toward the start line about 200 yards away….I’m all set!
But wait! I need to urinate! Two cups of coffee and a bottle of sports drink will do that to a 50 year-old guy! As I round the corner from the parking lot toward the crowd, I spy a beautiful row of eight green port-a-johns lining one side of the paved entrance. As I veer toward the first one, the door swings open and a young lady steps out. She takes a long, indignant look at me and says, “Hey, the line starts THERE.” As I crane my neck down the imaginary arc extending from her pointing finger, I see a loosely organized mass of about 15 anxious runners on the other side of the road, all waiting their turn politely. From the tone of her voice, I can tell I have been deemed a wanton port-a-john line crasher. I want to plead my case – in my haste I didn’t see the line! But, no time. Instead, I jog to the end of the line, quickly apologizing to my fellow runners, several of whom laugh and nod as if to say, “It’s cool. You’re just a confused old dude.” Pretty soon, I get to use senior discounts too.
Immediately prior to the start, there was a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem. Thank you, race planners for including this in your plans, and thank you, God, for this beautiful country.
We are off! Runners will tell you: a race is a physical challenge, but it is a very real mental and spiritual challenge as well. As I knocked out the first mile, I had these thoughts: “Perhaps my port-a-john controversy is an omen of the bad race that I am about to have today. Perhaps everyone here is rude and negative and see me as the port-a-john crasher. Perhaps I can’t do this anymore. Perhaps it is time to go back to golf.” Of course, those moments of doubt are, by and large, irrational. For one thing, my golf is absolutely horrid.
I reject this negativity and focus on my race. I establish about an 8 minute/mile pace in the early going. Because of my late arrival, I am buried in the back of the 338 runners, so I do a lot of dodging and weaving before I hit a broad open expanse of road. The Montezuma Half route is beautiful. The sky is a gorgeous blue. Before the end of the race it is a warm 88 degrees but there’s plenty of water along the route, and most of us revel in this heat after our long, long Upstate NY winters.
At about Mile 3, we enter the Howland Island Wildlife Management Area. I don’t think anyone would describe this race route as especially hilly but there are some elevations to consider and some stretches of ping-pong ball sized gravel that requires some careful footwork. An advantage of being a runner is that one can see up close a lot of things that others only see from a distance. At the Montezuma Half, the runner actually immerses into the open vista of the wetlands, the stands of trees, the farmed acreage and bodies of open water that many people only see from the thru-way. It is not just the sites that are enjoyable. The air is filled with the smell of childhood summer: soil, trees, vegetation. It is easy to feel like a kid again on this trail, at least temporarily. I’d love to run this with Bob Ross.
A word of caution: a lot of this race is in the open sunlight and there are bugs. Wear lotion and head protection and remain hydrated. The sweat bees seem to keep up pretty nicely with about a 9 minute/mile running pace in this wetland, so one needs to run faster or they may find themselves doing an impromptu run/swat cardio workout.
On my way back in I see one older runner who suffered an injury being brought back on a Gator. As he passes, we exchange words of encouragement: “Sorry about your injury, brother, but I’ll see you out here next year” followed by, “Yep, I’ll make it. Have a great rest of the race.” Such is the camaraderie one experiences on the running trail. As we try to beat each other, we are in it together.
For the last few miles, my pace dips to between 8:30 and 9 minutes per mile. I spent too much on the way out. I feel it too. At about mile 11 I am tired and hot and the questioning returns, but, again, I reject the negativity. I become the 34th runner to cross the line (1:50:18; 8:26 pace). I place third in my age group and get a great pair of thick Mission Vaporactive crew socks as an award. I’ll wear these during next season’s Greater Rochester Track Club Freezeroo series.
The Montezuma Half post-race festivities are terrific. Outstanding pizza, fresh-squeezed lemonade, Monster drink and, for whatever reason, about 10 tons of individually sized packages of pork rinds. I’m a vegetarian, but I make an occasional exception. A DJ plays terrific music and, thankfully, not so loud that one cannot talk to others. And, good thing, because the post-race crowd was filled with friendly, partying people – a great vibe. After two cans of Monster, etc., I need to once again use the port-a-john. This time I check for a line, but I’m all clear. My thanks to the Montezuma Half race planners. You did great.