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Dry Martini: Racing on a Whim and an Otter

To quote the great sage Ferris Bueller: "Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it."

When your life revolves around the academic calendar — my husband and I both work at SUNY Oneonta — the last few weeks of August are nutty. Most years, that nuttiness is complicated by our kids going back to school, too.

This year had other plans. The high school was a construction zone all summer. It would continue to be one a couple of days into the school year. The kids wound up with bonus days off; I wound up with extra days of couch slugs.

In the middle of all of the August upheaval, I had zero plans to run a 5K. And, yet, because of a dog musher in Wisconsin and my love of otters, I found myself on the starting line of a race in Old Forge three weeks ago.

To make a long story slightly less so: one of my most favorite twitter-ers is Blair Braverman. I was glued to her feed (and to that of the #uglydogs, which is kind of like a fan club and kind of like a chaotic force for good) during Braverman’s rookie Iditarod in March. During my obsessed refreshing of the feed for updates, I noticed that she has quite a few fans who are also runners. One of them, Jennifer, lives further upstate than I but has roots near where I live.

Of course, I followed her, too, if only because her dog looks a lot like my dog.

Near the end of August, she posted the medals for the Old Forge marathon, half-marathon, 10K, and 5K. She was running the half and would earn a moose. The bear medal caught my eye but I quickly realized that even though I have been known to make whimsical running choices, jumping into a marathon is a super bad idea.

You know you want one.

I do love otters, however, and a change of scenery would be refreshing.

A couple of computer clicks later and I had a 5K entry. A couple of clicks after that, I had a hotel room, because I did not want to get up before dawn to drive to the starting line. One phone call later, I had my best non-running friend as my wing-woman for the trip. Her August had been even more stressful than mine.

I didn’t have to break out the hard sell to convince her to be the Cameron to my Ferris. We even took her car. It is not a Ferrari.

Despite having lived here for more than 15 years, I’ve never really spent much time in the Adirondacks. At most, I’ve driven through them to get to Canada or Vermont. That is a poor decision on my part, as it turns out. Old Forge is charming. I’m plotting a family trip back this summer, should all of the stars align. I’m thinking a cabin on a lake, a gallon of bug spray, and a stack of books is all I’ll need. The rest of the family can sort themselves out.

If they ask nicely, I’ll share my bug spray.

Yes, I did go sit out on the pier for a bit.

The chill vibe extended to the race itself, so much so that it was hard to figure out where the starting line actually was. Maybe 100 racers — across all four races, mind — and about two dozen dogs moseyed around the rec center’s lawn. The half and full marathoners were rounded up, given a few instructions, and sent out into the woods. Fifteen minutes later, the rest of us took off after them.

The weather was ideal. Chilly but not freezing. Gray but not gloomy. Given that I’d jumped into the race just as the boarding doors were closing, I had zero expectations. All that I wanted was a very small adventure and that medal.

Rather than hold back during the first mile, I just took off. I felt pretty good when the second mile came around and kept the hammer down. We transitioned from snowmobile trail to trail-trail. Hopping over puddles was more fun than it should have been. Once we emerged from the trees, it was back down the paved road to the start. I pulled a Sarah and just emptied the tank.

This is my serious racing face.

According to Herr Garmin III, I finished in 34 minutes with an 11:12 mile average, which is pretty dang zippy for me. While that pace is pleasing, what matters more is how I felt. It was the most fun I’d had in running shoes for weeks. That makes all the difference.

I got my otter at the end. I also got an unanticipated apple cider donut and a break from the routine. What more could anyone want?

Have you ever jumped into a race at the last minute? What pulled you in?

10 responses to “Dry Martini: Racing on a Whim and an Otter

  1. I would probably pass out if I just up and decided to run a race, but the idea of a vacation with a cabin and books sounds pretty freaking perfect!

  2. I would have jumped in for that medal too! I signed up for a 5K in Kennebunk in early June, which still feels like April in the rest of the country. It was lovely and I felt strong. I abhor August because school and life collide and all of my best laid plains get shot to oblivion so I can keep breathing and not get fired. Way to look for the joy and grab the BEST medal!

  3. I love everything about this post, but “We even took her car. It is not a Ferrari.” is my favorite line.
    I’ve never jumped into a race last minute on purpose, but did run a FireCracker 5k this July 4th by accident (the course was set on my normal weekend route which I didn’t realize until I had headed out on my run that morning so I just went with the flow).
    I should start deciding my race calendar by the medals. That otter is pretty sweet.

  4. Yes, absolutely. My husband and I arrived for our vacation on the Cape Sat evening. As we were sipping adult beverages on the balcony, my husband discovered a 5K the next day. It was a blast! A small race with lovely scenery and friendly people.
    I have run the Old Forge half a couple of times, fun vibe, nice course.
    There is another animal themed race coming up, not too far from you. The Seneca White Deer race, 5K, 10k, half. It’s an opportunity to run with the white deer, which have fascinated me. They are not albino, just white.
    I have lived near the Adks my entire adult life, in, above and now just below. There is a lot to love.

  5. ALL the time…I signed up for my first 70.3 the day before…can’t do that anymore! If there’s a race and I happen to be “in town” I will do it…always have my running shoes with me (and swim stuff) Looks like a pretty place to run!

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