Heavy Duty Honor: to Bear a Bear

by Jon Lindenauer

        Tom O'Grady, 2nd; Jon, 1st; and Alejandro Gauna, 3rd

There are many, many half-marathon races in the Northeastern United States, but only one holds the special distinction of being named the "Best Half-Marathon in the Northeast" by Competitor magazine, and that title is held by the Adiondack Half-Marathon at Schroon Lake.

The lake and the course are undoubtedly beautiful, set in the heart of "Adirondack Country" of upstate New York, with striking vistas of mountains and stretches of waterside tranquility. If one is inclined to seek the deeper meaning coin incidental circumstances, it is almost as though the lake was made for a marathon: the marathon course fully completing the circumference of the lake via the adjacent roads, with the half-marathon beginning at its halfway point to complete the circuit.

Reflecting back now - as someone who oftentimes DOES try to find the meaning in the coincidental - there were a number of factors which compelled me to run the race.

For one, it is part of the USATF Adirondack Grand Prix, a series of races throughout the USA Track and Field-designated "Adirondack region" in which points are assigned based on completion of those races.

Additionally, I wanted to race. I would describe autumn in upstate New York as the Superbowl, the World Series, the Stanley Cup and the NBA Finals rolled into one from a trail and road racing perspective. The more ideal weather and the fall foliage combine to stack the racing schedule, which has in the past compelled me to run races which I was unprepared for just for the sake of getting in on the fun.

The final reason, and the most important, was the fact that someone in my family had passed away. After a long bout with illness including a period of remission she died shortly after her son's (my cousin's) wedding, as though she had spiritually intended for this specific sequence of events to occur. I have always loved the idea of honoring someone's memory in the best way a person knows how whether that is painting or writing a song or starting a charity or some other way. In my case, I had it set in my mind that I wanted to honor her by running this race.

Honoring her would be far easier said than done as it turned out. At the Malta 10k one week out from the Adirondack Half I raced catastrophically and was purely in what runners might refer to as "survival mode" after two miles; a point in which a runner's mindset shifts from racing in any competitive way to having purely the goal of completing the race with no time or pace ambitions. If this same circumstance replayed itself in the half-marathon I would still have roughly 85% of the race remaining at the "survival" threshold. Even my Garmin watch had very little faith in me: its "race predictor" feature was telling me, based on training pace and heart rate data, I would likely run five minutes slower than my latest previous half-marathon (and this prediction is premised on completely ideal racing conditions). I tried my best, though, to set all of these factors aside.

The village of Schoon Lake was indeed very cool. On the eve of the race, as a fervent brewery enthusiast, I made a point of checking out Paradox Brewing, located approximately 8 miles outside of the village. I could not give this particular establishment a more glowing review and was definitely excited that their beer would be available at the finish of the race. It was also very clear in and around the town, even as someone with an affinity for big cities, how people fall in love with this kind of small lakeside town life.

The start of the half marathon also speaks to this: it begins near a community of lake-front vacation homes in the actual town of Adirondack. I went on a small jogging tour of the homes as I warmed up for the race and was cheered on my fellow half-marathoners who thought I was running the full marathon, as it was difficult to run anywhere other than the race course. It is a very quaint town. "Is this not the dream for just about anyone?" I thought as I wove my way through the housing community "getting to be here all day and all weekend without an impending race to whisk you away?" I thought about the fact that in many other people's estimation we were spoiling a perfectly good day at the lake by deciding to run a half or a full marathon around it. In my own estimation this WAS how a person can best enjoy a nice day the lake - by running miles and miles along it at your physical limit.

When the race went off, after about 30 seconds to a minute I was by myself. I would pass a huddle of spectators in camp chairs and after their cheers dissipated, I was alone again with my thoughts on an empty stretch of road. The highlight of the racecourse was undoubtedly the Word of Life spiritual college from mile 4 to 5. At that point the course is lined with throngs of cheering students rejuvenating you with their energy and positivity. The only downside of that is the fact that from there the course becomes a far lonelier, hillier slog through the remaining 8+ miles.

Each marker felt like a taunt as it harkened its inverse: still have seven miles to go, still have six more. I would tell myself this hill would be the last of the race, knowing full well I was telling myself an egregious lie and sometimes saying it when the next hill was already in sight up ahead. The anguish of my prior race loomed heavy in my thoughts, "Would it happen again? And if it did, would it onset more suddenly and mightily due to the longer, more brutal race?" The toughest mile of the course was likely mile 10 in which I experienced a momentary world-wearied feeling which typically precedes hitting the wall in a marathon, but that is NOT supposed to happen in a half EVER no matter how fast you are running, and so it was all the more concerning. But I continued to surge onward and onward, I continued to push through to the end, knowing quite literally I was almost full circle, until I emerged into the village of Schroon Lake and thereafter into the finishing chute where I was announced.

That was when I could finally fully take it in - the beauty of the lake, so open and calm on that fall day, the feeling of having earned that serenity, the feeling of having earned a craft beer courtesy of Paradox Brewing, the feeling of having earned a tribute to the late and great Sharon Lindenauer. I also earned a hand-carved wooden bear, which happened to be very heavy, and it was left to me to find a way to transport it to my car (apparently it was my... wait for it... bear to bear). Yet, more than anything, I was left with glorious memories. Sure, any visitors at my house would now be greeted by a 3-foot wooden bear wearing sunglasses, and I do not envision that changing anytime soon. Every now and then though there is a race which perfectly reminds me of all the reasons I love to run and race. The scenery. The feelings (good and bad). The things I am trying to prove to myself. The things I am trying to prove to others. The friends. The teammates. The comradery. Getting to be cheered on. Getting to cross the finish line. Getting to have your name announced to a crowd. Getting to compete in honor of someone who has passed away and is maybe, hopefully spectating in their own way. And (of course) getting to enjoy a post-race beer.

Click here for race Results – 316 finishers

             Sweet taste of victory – beer with bear

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