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Cape Cod Marathon 2011: My Race Report

November 20, 2011

It was not an ordinary marathon: It took 18 minutes longer than my PR to finish, I did not feel like quitting and there was no wall. This race left everything it had on the course and I took it, and now I crave to run it again.

My last training run was the Friday before the race along the Shining Sea Bikeway, going east a little over a mile-and-a-half to the beach, then back to the Woods Hole Inn. Sunday was going to be exactly like that: A quiet trail run filled with glimpses of the sea, with dense woods that led to pretty beach houses. My Sunday marathon was going to be sunny with temperatures in the 50s, but Friday afternoon brought a new forecast — a snowstorm — and a state of emergency throughout the Northeast. Falmouth was under a severe weather warning expecting wind gusts on Sunday to reach 54 mph. Western Massachusetts was hit with 27 inches of snow, but the snowfall was minimal near the coast, where I was.

I normally do not make wardrobe decisions at the expo, but that weather was not ordinary and I panicked. I bought knee-high compression socks and an ear warmer headband. On Sunday morning my weather app insisted that the current temperature measured 32 degrees and the ‘Feels Like’ was 21. I waited for the taxi by the window and the wind was shaking the street. The sign that stood strong in front of the art gallery yesterday, now lay on the gallery roof outside my window, side by side with its wooden post that lost to the wind in the battle. Its nails were exposed and fragments of glass were scattered around it. I considered changing into tights but talked myself out of it; I did not want to add another level of unfamiliarity to my clothes and gear. I already had three items with which I never ran: A handheld bottle, compression socks and a headband. I could not let long pants add uncertainty to my race.

I struggled with the front door when I exited the hotel; I was in a wind tunnel and steps away from broken glass, a flying gallery sign and four-inch nails. Then I fought with the taxi door and sat in the front seat. My driver kept his calm; he did not show resentment toward my aggression or the wind. His large face was peaceful and tan, framed by long wrinkles, his eyes were warm and brown. He looked like a professional fisherman from the cast of ‘The Perfect Storm’. “Usually it’s sunny out here in October,” he said. I could not place his accent. We talked about the weather. “Oh, we won’t get snow,” he said, “just rain.” Then, as if he was trying to relieve my anxiety, he told me about his daily bicycle rides to the beach. “It’s a peninsula, so we have sea all around us.” There was no point in trying to impress him with our big lake in Chicago, he was already winning. I said I worried about debris on the road, branches that snapped off and falling trees. He said that the wooden bridges may be slippery.

The good driver dropped me off by the big truck at the finish line. “Looks like they are setting up, not packing up,” he said. It was an hour before the start and runners were nowhere to be seen. I said hello to the workers who installed the finish line and walked toward the Post Office where two men in winter coats were cozying with Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cups. The landing at the top of the stairs seemed like the place to hang. One of the men asked if I was running.

“Good for you!” he said. “I ran the half yesterday.”

“Congratulations,” I said. “The weather was good yesterday.”

“You’re running the relay or the full?” He asked.

“The full,” I replied.

“Good for you,” he said again.

“I worry about the wind,” I tried to solicit insider information.

“Yeah,” he responded and then paused, which freaked me out even more. He turned to his Dunkin’ Donut coffee buddy and told him: “She is running the marathon.”

They began to diagnose the wind and I became the patient in the room. Another man arrived at the Post Office stairs and joined the wind symposium. “Most of it will be tailwind,” Man Number 3 said. The conclusion was that only two sections of the course would get headwind.

“And Sippewissett can be hard,” Man 3 added.

“Save yourself for Sippewissett,” Man 1 concurred. “Don’t start fast.”

Man Number 3 then told the story of how he once ran this marathon and started fast and felt great, until he got to Sippewissett where the medical staff diagnosed him with hyperthermia. They gave him chocolate milk and rolled him out of the race on a stretcher. I did not want to hang out with these men anymore.

Patches of snow spotted the trucks and the equipment on Post Office Road. I walked the distance between the start line and the finish line. We were going to start running east on Main Street and finish the race running west on Main, past the start line, keeping west for another tenth of a mile. It was important to note where the finish line was. In the last few seconds of a marathon the clock races faster, every breath matters, every step is an effort, every inch is a yard.

Unlike in Chicago, the start moved fast in Falmouth, Massachusetts. There were no corrals. All the runners were directed to gather in front of the Post Office building. I watched the runners gather and I examined the middle of the pack; I tried to assess their paces through their layers of clothing, but they all seemed stronger than me because they all looked local: Tan, frizzy hair, white shoes, no mascara. I took off my extra pants and shirt, stuffed them in a plastic bag and handed it to a man standing on the back of a truck. He wrote my bib number on the bag with a sharpie. “All set,” he said. “Nice shoes!”

The porta-potty line moved fast. The guy in front of me said he ran this race every year. His hat looked warmer than mine. I finished stretching my hamstrings and calf muscles when the speakers announced: “THREE MINUTES until the KICKOFF of the FORTY-THIRD CAPE COD MARATHON!” The announcer sounded sincere, as if there were three minutes until the kickoff of the marathon.

In the Chicago Marathon, I could not hear the blast of the starting gun from my place in the corral, only hear about it in the speakers. In Chicago, after it reportedly blasted, I had twenty minutes to get ready to start; here I only had 34 seconds before my shoe touched the start line. I took my position in the middle of the middle of the pack, in front of the Post Office building, and fought with my Shot Bloks to get them aligned inside my pants pockets. I had no time for my toe balance exercise. The singing of the anthem ended and then: “BOOM.” An actual cannon went off.

Mile 1-2-3:
I started beating myself up for not doing my toe stretching but everybody else there seemed ready and we had to start running down Main Street. The sharp turn onto Shore Street came too soon and surprised me, I forgot to keep right and took a wide turn. I needed to focus and forget about the stretching. I had to slow down and think about Sippewissett. Another surprise came at Mile 1: A black timer with yellow digits, the kind the big marathons use, was hanging on the side of the road — almost out of place. Behind it were off-season boats, shrink-wrapped in white and blue plastic, which made them look like enormous frozen turkeys. Grand Avenue. Menauhant Road. The ocean. How grand — I could smell the salty sand. A short steep climb and a complementary descent offered a little teaser. That did not feel like a marathon and I was not going to get tired.

Mile 4-5-6:
I saw a crowd in the distance and signs directing the relay traffic to the exchange area. I saw a pair of porta-potties. I needed to pee, I thought. My body did not need to pee, but I calculated that my body was probably generating extra pee because it took me three miles to regain sensation in my frozen fingers and toes. These were not my normal conditions: I did not know how the course would turn or where the next potty stop would be, or whether I would need to pee or not. I had no plan, this was not a normal marathon. Better stop now and pee, then, I thought. Stop. Pee. More than twenty people formed a line in front of the potties. That was twenty people too many. I ran to the front of the line with conviction, but I had no plan. I faced the forewoman and she looked at my bib. The marathon bibs were a different color than the relay bibs and I used it in my defense. “You’re running, you can go next,” she said. That went well. Now I was back to beating myself up for wasting my time, for waiting in line with people who needed to pee. Line. Door, unlock. In. Out. There went three minutes. This is the last one, I decided. No more peeing for you.

I was running again, for a change, I was coasting by the white sand beaches. It blew my mind, How could this be a marathon? It was very pretty and quiet. Somewhere around Mile 5 I ran in front of two runners and listened to them chat. The woman had a husky voice, perhaps she was old, perhaps a smoker. The man contributed an occasional ‘Aha,’ or a ‘Nice!’ It seemed that it was a bigger effort for him to run and talk than it was for her. She told him about a 3:20 marathon she ran in the 70s. He said ‘Wow’. She said she was running with a friend who was pacing her. She said that last year she ran five marathons, and the year before, she ran seven. I never saw their faces.

Mile 7:
I was scheduled to meet my husband at Mile 7 and give him the jacket and the gloves. It was not getting warmer outside. The spectators were wearing down coats, hats, earmuffs, gloves, chunky boots. Children were covered head to toe, their big round eyes gazing at me. I was unsure if I was ready to give up my jacket. I needed to run a simulation first: I took off my jacket at Mile 6 and tied it around my waist. I had one mile to run in a tank and decide what to do. It felt alright. Then I saw a porta-potty an eighth of a mile away, a lone porta-potty. Three girls waited in front of it. I did not need to pee. But what if I need to pee later? Those were not my normal conditions. I will not have my jacket, my body will work harder to keep me warm. Yet, there were three girls in line, and that would be six more minutes. I was running past the potty and was still not sure whether I should stop, but I stopped and walked to the back of the line. I put on my jacket, zipped it, pocketed my bottle, optimized my moves. What a waste of time that was. Back on the road I saw my husband. We exchanged smiles and he was yelling: “Hurry up! You are late!” I was officially a slacker. I handed my jacket and turned my head to respond. “I’m saving myself,” I told him.

What a loser I was, I was so angry. I was not even a bit tired. I sped up and high-fived a young cheering person on the side of the road. The runner behind me followed my lead. “Youth,” he told me, “This what we need. We need youth.” I said nothing.

At the intersection of Davisville Road and Route 28, a policeman signaled me to stop. In my head, I was outraged: Traffic??! Are you kidding me?! This is a marathon for crying out loud! And I am LATE!! In real life, I stopped and said nothing. The cars went first, then I was allowed to cross. “Thank you,” I waved to the policeman and smiled. I had two angry birds on my shoulders, one was squealing: “Speed up! Speed up!” One was whispering: “Sippewissett… Sippewissett…” I was so angry. Shut up, both of you! Let me think. I had no plan. The course was turning left onto Old Meeting House Road at Vidal Avenue and I saw a policeman in the corner directing the traffic. He signaled the cars to stop. Because this is a marathon for crying out loud! The car at the intersection stopped and gave way to the runners, but the SUV behind it did not stop. I heard the loud cracking of a large bumper collider and witnessed an accident. Not my fault. God, this is horrible!! I kept running west.

Mile 8-9-10:
Going north on Old Meeting House Road was a constant climb. I overtook everyone on my way, it was easy. After three miles of curves and climbs, I saw the timer at Mile 10, the second timer I saw so far. I was running a constant pace but the time I lost up-front was a sunk cost which I would not be able to regain.

Mile 11-12-13:
Mile 11 had forests on both sides of the road that curved around hidden driveways. Moms and dads came out to watch with their two-to-three small children and leaned against their corresponding trucks. Their mittens muffled the sound of their clapping but not the sound of their cheers.

“Way to go!”

“Looking good, 1-1-2-3!”

I high-fived the little hands and said ‘Thank You’s to the moms and dads.

Runners were spaced out 50 feet apart at that point. My pace was strong, I kept passing other runners. The mile markers were hard to find. They were simple white signs, the size of a campaign sign, with thin black numbers. They would appear sometimes on my left, sometimes on my right, stuck in the ground at knee level. I saw a white sign that said ’17’. It was smaller than a mile marker and it could not have been a mile marker because I was at Mile 11. I wondered what that fake ’17’ was. I wondered how I would feel when I got to the real ’17’.

A lady in a fluorescent orange jacket was standing at the curve, holding a tablet in her hands and a pen. She examined me closely as I ran past her, then she looked down and marked in her tablet. Another lady in a dark blue coat silently stood next to her and followed her moves with her head. They must have been the human monitors; that curve must have been a checkpoint. She was logging my time and numbers in case I filed a dispute later.

We started running up a hill. We climbed and climbed and climbed. That hill stretched for almost a mile-and-a-half and I kept iterating to myself:


Finish the hill.

The halfway point is on the other side, where everything gets harder.

Mile 14-15:
A steep downhill welcomed me to the other side. I felt recharged and picked up my pace. Many people were walking, they looked done, finished, pooped. I ran past a girl, turned to her and said, “Thirteen miles!” She was walking. “Thank God,” she said. She had the saddest face. I passed a guy, I did not say anything, I did not want to upset. I kept running and the spectators shouted out at me:

“You’re not cold??”


“Nice job, 1-1-2-3!”

I said ‘Thank you’ and waved. The next two miles were flat and easy.

Mile 16:
Palmer Avenue was not flat. I thought it would be flat but I miscalculated the slopes. It ran into a thick forest and over a wooden bridge, up and up and up, then going down, down, down. Then it turned right onto Sippewissett Road.

I was there. Sippewissett was real.

Mile 17-18-19-20-21:
The next five miles were a blur. The air was quiet and full of misery. More people were walking and the runners around me became familiar. Two women looked as if they were sleepwalking side by side. They did not talk. They walked on the uphill and ran on the downhill. I passed them on the uphill, then they passed me on the downhill. We repeated that sequence on the next hill, and on the next one, and the next one. I tried to keep a steady pace. I saw a man in a yellow jacket with ‘Marathon Maniacs’ printed on the back. He was walking and I passed him. Then he passed me, and I passed him again. I wanted to count the number of times we passed each other; I wanted to beat a marathon maniac and I believe I won.

I decided to move my refueling break up by a half mile so that I could slow down and walk up the hill, and not down the incline where I had an opportunity to run faster. I walked and ate and drank and watched how everyone ran past me. When I finished I ran to reclaim my position in the pack. We ran up and down in quiet rhythmic sadness. I cursed and whined in my head about not seeing Mile Marker 19: Where are you, 19?! NINETEEN!! Damn you, 19. Come on! But ’19’ was not there. Everything was frozen. Everything remained unchanged. The road was padded with broken branches and dry leaves that were wet. I passed by a runner in a Dr. Seuss shirt. She was walking with her buddy and was sobbing loudly. He walked by her side and did not say many words. I did not want to listen, I did not want to find out why she was crying.

The endless sameness ended at Mile 19 and then started again. It ended again and once again at Mile 20 and at Mile 21. It was like the part in my yoga workout when Rodney Yee instructs to ‘exhale, exhale, and exhale’. I wanted to look at the pretty houses in Woods Hole, to appreciate the manicured yards and the luscious golf course. But I did not care. Just get me out of here.

Mile 22-23-24:
It was over, I was out. Is this it?! I felt weakness in both knees, what I would usually experience in the last two miles of a long run. My training only took me as far as 20 miles. This was my longest run this season: I was at Mile 21 and had five more miles to go. My knees going soft did not discourage me, it was normal. That did not surprise me; what surprised me was that I forgot about the tightness in my right thigh. It started in Week 11 of my training and every run would trigger deep pain in my quadriceps. For weeks, I kept training, researching, stretching, feeding them magnesium, giving them rest — but nothing helped. The pain did not go away until the night before the race. It was the first day in 41 days that my right thigh felt relaxed and completely healed.

We were back in front of the ocean in Woods Hole. Three women ran by my side and one of them announced: “I’m going to pick up here. I wanted to finish in 4:30 and it’s now 4:00.” She looked back at her friends to delay her departure, then smiled and turned right onto Church Street. I would not see her again.

I ran through the sea breezes and fixated on the white sand. I was doing it, and it was amazing. I already forgot about the horrors of Sippewissett and I wished to run this marathon again some time, to break 4:30 maybe. We approached the Nobska Point lighthouse and the ultra steep road that curved around it. It featured on the marathon website to scare away people before they signed up. Seeing the lighthouse did not scare me, it made me feel happy. They all stopped running and walked the climb. But I kept running at a constant pace — my marathon pace — and passed everyone on that hill. Some dudes in costumes on Oyster Pond Road were playing music in their front yard at Mile 24. Dancing would have been appropriate, but my body would not agree to dance, only run.

Mile 25:
I kept running toward more ocean, onto Beach Road and Surf Drive, where a man was standing by himself on the corner and sounding inspirational words. “You can see the town from there,” he told me. I made the turn and looked for the town to see if he was telling the truth. Down the road, a lady was sitting on a crate on the sand in front of a big house. She was wrapped in blankets. A massive speaker by her side blasted rock ‘n’ roll. I thanked her.

After we passed her house, runners began to slow down. We were confined to the right lane of the street, the left lane had the car traffic. A section of the road was flooded, except for a narrow strip in the sand, the width of a single shoe. We formed a line and waited to cross the body of water. A runner turned back to me and said: “You go ahead, you are running.” On the other side was Mile Marker 25. I could not believe it, none of us could.

Mile 26:
I took my last dose of Shot Bloks and started running fast. My fast pace turned into a sprint. I wanted to run this marathon again. I knew I would run it again. I turned left onto Walker Street. This is it, less than three-quarters of a mile. I could hear the music and the crowd. I was fast, I skipped over puddles, I gauged their depths and stepped up on the sidewalk, then back down to optimize my route. There was a large puddle in front of me and a runner who was slowly walking by it. There was no way around them. No time for polite nonsense now. I landed in the deep of the puddle and splashed him. My left shoe was thoroughly soaked. I turned to him and said, “Sorry,” then turned my head back and smiled, maybe laughed a little. A gang of teenagers walked toward me, away from the finish line and one of the girls shouted out: “Luv the knee sox!” My husband was watching from the corner of Main Street. He looked relieved. I sprinted to the finish when I heard the speaker announce: “From CHI-CAAAAA-GGGGO!”. I did not hear him announce my name or any mispronunciation of my name, but I must have missed it.

The finish area was the size of a room. A man gently slid a medal around my head, a woman gave me an aluminum foil blanket with a Dunkin’ Donut logo printed on it. A kid handed me a cup of red juice; that red juice was the best tasting food I had ever had. The official photographer snapped my picture from the side while I was drinking. He said: “It tastes so good, doesn’t it.”

  • A Cape Cod Marathon Fact: Six Chicago runners participated in the 2011 race, three boys and three girls; I was the fastest girl.

Photos © Nurit Pazner

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 21, 2011 6:33 PM

    Great report! You were brave to try running in compression socks for the first time! This race sounds beautiful and like something I’d like to run — unless Sippewissett sucked the soul out of me.

  2. November 21, 2011 9:55 PM

    Thank, Layla, I appreciate it. I truly recommend this race, it was very satisfying and it would not be as rewarding without the Sippewissett experience. Do it! Run it! I know I want to run it again.

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