by Jon Lindenauer
The late great Kobe Bryant once said, "Are you a different animal, and the same beast?" To which Kanye West responded, "What does that mean Kobe Bryant?" Kobe replied back simply with "You're welcome." Kanye remained completely confused.
My initial introduction to the Helderberg to Hudson race was one of the most profound and significant experiences of my adult running career. It happened during a time in which most every race in the country was still being cancelled or postponed due to the ongoing pandemic and was willed into existence by the tenacity, vision and creativity of Josh Merlis and his ARE productions team. Almost everything about it was different from the 2019 debut iteration of the race. The pandemic modified version of the course did not start in Helderberg or go to the Hudson River - the whole thing took place in and around Altamont. It was held in the late summer rather than the spring. The ARE was not permitted to physically hand out water to people during the race due to COVID restrictions. Instead of a net downhill the course ended at a higher elevation than it began.
For me, it was my first race since falling on ice while out running the previous winter and breaking my ankle in two places. Like many others in the local running and racing community I had no idea when the next in-person race would be held and was willing to do just about any distance anywhere which had not been relegated to a virtual run. More so than achieving any specific time or placing I was just excited to run a real race with real people again. Even with heavy pandemic rules and restrictions the Capital Region could not have asked for a better "welcome back" to racing than that event.
Fast forward three years and it was my first time running on the initially intended Helderberg to Hudson course. This time, unlike 2020 Altamont-also-Altamont race, I went in with high expectations for myself. I wanted to run with a certain pace and a certain overall time. I wanted to stay within a certain range of the lead runners. I wanted it to be a race where it would serve as an encouragement for the remainder of my racing season.
None of those things wound up happening. If I was to base my recollection of the race solely on emotions completely divorced from reality, I would say the race was about 110 degrees Fahrenheit the whole way, contained at least three "hidden miles" not included in the racecourse profile or description, and had invisible course goblins that came out to beat up my quads when I was not paying attention. But what actually did happen? The world record for fastest half-marathon dressed as a witch was broken by approximately 12 minutes. An 80-year-old finished the race in under two and half hours. Almost 1600 total entrants crossed the finish line, including a top five which was from Pennsylvania, Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire - which I know because in sixth place yours truly was apparently the top-placing New York State resident; and that is likely the furthest I have ever reached for a self-congratulatory statistic from any race.
I finished feeling viciously brutalized by the exertion on a course that is intended to be highly favorable. I could not truly use the excuse of being an inaugural-course first-timer, as I previously lived near the border between Albany and Guilderland for several years and had run countless miles on the Voorheesville-Slingerlands rail trail in all different weather conditions - the fact that it was one of my all time favorite running routes was part of the appeal. As I peered out across the Hudson river from the beer garden - the glistening of the sun becoming more pronounced across the surface of the water as the daily high for Albany matched Miami, Florida - I contemplated an equation correlating intensity of suffering in a race to enjoyability of IPAs (my scientific conclusion is that higher suffer score directly equates to higher IPA enjoyment score). Even barely able to walk and requiring the most of the rest of the day to recover, it was difficult not to bask in the afterglow of such a massive and joyous event. The following day my legs still felt heavy and beat up on my run, but I sought to keep everything in perspective. I thought back to the time when all I wanted was to be able to run again. Then after that when all I wanted was to be able to race again. I thought about an Irish saying - being someone who particularly loves the country and culture of Ireland - the saying which goes "we don't always win but we always fight"; which I have reappropriated to running and racing. I thought about the fact that the sixth place finisher from 2019 when the race was first held is (as of this writing) unable to run and race due to back surgery. I wondered what he might say to me as I hobbled through my recovery run, complaining about not racing as well as I wanted and overall feeling like ten pounds of garbage in a five pound bag. "Okay, but are you a different animal, and the same beast?"
Rachel Schilkowsky, the first place female winner, had this to say about the race:
Although I currently live in Providence, RI, I am actually originally from Hopewell Junction, NY, which is about 80 minutes south of Albany. I was going to be in the area that weekend to see my 5 week old niece for the very first time (she's absolutely adorable, btw) and figured I would see if there were any nearby races. Sure enough, Helderburg to Hudson was taking place right up the river!
I had never done a downhill race before, so I didn't really know what to expect. I tried to be patient early on, but I definitely went out a bit too fast those first couple miles and then paid for it later on. The last two miles were particularly rough, especially since it had warmed up considerably by then. The spectators along the course really helped keep me going when it started to get hard. Knowing I was very close to the course record pace was another big motivator. When I reached the park by the river with 200m to go I heard the announcer say it was going to be close and started sprinting like crazy. Thankfully I was able to sneak under the old record. All in all, it was an awesome day and I am really grateful to have had the opportunity to compete.
Click here for Overall Results
Click Here or on Photos Below from Race
Jon Lindenauer is a force to be reckoned with. He is a member of Willow Street and one of its leading runners. In addition, his writing skills, which match his running talents, have made The Pace Setter an even more vibrant online journal.
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