Comeback at Thacher Park Trail Fest

by Laura Clark

By now most of you know I had a heart attack in early July. It came without warning, although had I been armed with foreknowledge, I could have recognized some of the signs.  I had thought my race times were inching upwards because I was getting older, a logical assumption when one reaches the age of 75.  And perhaps my running-induced asthma was getting worse… 

All in all, it was rather a ho-hum heart attack.  I completed my Wednesday night Stryder workout, albeit slowly, drove home, showered, ate supper and then was taken by surprise.  What I experienced was extreme dizziness and faintness, with brilliant pixilated dots taking over my normal vision, probably not dissimilar to 100 miler hallucinations.  No chest pain, no headache, no sore arm. All symptoms that could have been explained by severe dehydration after a hot and humid evening workout. Fortunately, my daughter was there and called 911.

Two weeks later, I started cardiac PT and the following week I was back to working full time. I would like to say my comeback was due to being fit, but in reality a lot was due to sheer stubbornness.  In hindsight, I probably should have planned on working more half days as I became extremely tired toward the end of the day.  As runners, we are all accustomed to negotiating the road to recovery after an injury, so this part of my rehab at least was familiar. But there is an additional Catch-22.  Re-spraining your ankle isn’t fun, but at least it isn’t life-threatening.  Having another heart attack, not so much.  The result is I am afraid to push it.

If I am honest, this is a good excuse. Still, I was hoping that I would automatically get faster once my heart recovered.  A golden ticket to the fountain of youth.  The jury is still out.  So for my grand debut at the Thacher Park 10K, my real goal was to finish and feel good.  My imaginary goal was to at least beat someone.  I achieved my first goal; the second was more elusive.  Perhaps had I not gotten confused by what I thought were alternate markings, I might have been second to last.  But that’s quibbling.

Overall, I felt great—like I was dispatching vast distances in metronome style.  It is funny that as you get older, the workouts seem just as difficult and satisfying, albeit at a slower pace. And you don’t even feel like you are running that slower pace…Denial? Endorphins? Flashbacks?  Who knows.  At one point a course marshal greeted me with, “Nice to see you.  Didn’t think I would ever see you out here again.”  At first, the compliment carried me through.  On the drive home, however, I began to read into his message…Was he surprised I wasn’t dead?  Or at least grateful that I didn’t die on his watch?

Saratoga runners were surprised to see how dry the course was.  Known for its muddy, oozy stretches, the dirt resembled the pictures you see of cracked Western lakebeds.  I totally wore the wrong shoes. My Sauconys, which function outstandingly on mud and soft dirt, were way too unforgiving.  I would have been better off with road shoes; the surface was that hard.

The best part of the race was when Master of Ceremonies, Josh Merlis, welcomed us personally as we crossed the finish line.  I always look forward to that because it makes me feel valued and validated.

And the future?  I am hoping to cross the finish line in one of this winter’s snowshoe races in second to last place!


Laura is an avid mountain, trail, snowshoe runner and ultramarathoner who lives in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she is a children’s librarian.

Click on Laura’s picture to explore her writing.

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