The Adventures of Sweatman: The Sandown 5-Miler
By: Robert "RJ" Jones
It took a while when I first started running but eventually I got out of the habit of saying to myself while on difficult runs; “Ugh I hate running”. Because apart from being destructive it was also untrue. I didn’t hate running, what I hated was suffering and being clued into my own perceived inadequacies i.e. breathing like I smoked a dozen packs of cigarettes a day, feeling pain in every part of my body even my teeth, and realizing that I sweat WAY more than a typical human man. And as a personal point of pride , I’ve come a very long way from the person I was when I first started running. Now I look forward to my runs, know how to pace myself for optimized success, and genuinely find it to be a fulfilling, stress relieving activity.
This is all to say that when I consider a run to be a “bad run”, it means that it was egregiously bad. It means that I was on the verge of throwing in the towel and hitchhiking my way back to my car or just sitting down on the side of the road and waiting for my motivation to come back, the cops to show up and forcibly move me, or my slow demise, whichever came first because I was simply not going another step.
Such a race was the Sandown 5-miler. Now I want to preface this by saying that just because I had a bad run, it is in no way a reflection of the race itself or its sponsors. The Sandown folk did an awesome job putting the race together with fantastic volunteers and a fun and challenging course. It was however, about 90°F and 87% humidity when the race started, had more ups than downs, and I was not in my prime of race shape which combined together means I got my butt whooped.
It was my first time doing the Sandown and I foolishly didn’t look at the course ahead of time as I am a chronic procrastinator and signed up at the last minute. It wasn’t until I got to the race proper that I realized I had made a mistake as before me lay a Sandown race sign that read “13 Hills, 5 Miles, Road Pain=Your Gain”. In my time here I’ve come to know that you don’t bother counting the number of hills in a race especially in NH and VT unless those hills are substantial, so reading 13 hills felt more like reading “13 nails for your coffin”. Also having seen a few overly masculine taglines in my time like “Pain is just weakness leaving the body” and “The pain you feel today is the strength you feel tomorrow” I had a feeling this would similarly underestimate the pain to gain ratio I would actually be receiving. And spoilers; there were many things I was feeling “tomorrow” but strength was not one of them.
Things started off pretty wet, as during my warmup I managed to sweat through my warmup tee and had to switch into what was going to be my “ride home tee”. I was starting to think that despite my almost pathological hydration preparation, I may not have enough moisture in my body to make it through the race. No time though as the announcement went out that the race was about to start.
Earphones in, I decided to have “You Got to Run” (Thank you Jim Westrich) and “Running up that Hill” on repeat as my playlist for the race for a little motivation. With the power of Buffy Sainte-Marie, God, Anime (y’all remember Vine right?), and Kate Bush on my side, surely I could manage this right?
At first yes! And then no. Very much so no . I can’t speak for other people but usually by mile 2 of any race I can tell what kind of race it's going to be for me. And by this mile 2 (which seemed to take forever to appear) my body was already jettisoning sweat from every pore and I felt like I was dragged a sandbag behind me. And as I huffed and puffed my way up another hill one of my co-sufferers remarked by way of encouragement something along the lines of “3 hills down, 10 more to go” which, while I appreciate knowing what I'm in for, did not help my mental state one bit.
By the time I got to the next water station I was in two cup mode i.e. grab one thing of water to drink, and one to splash on my overheating body which was beginning to wonder what the heck it was still doing running.
There was a pack of us that were essentially leapfrogging around each other by vacillating between running, walking, and sweating and here something magical happened that occurs in races when you all acknowledge that you are on a rough ride. And that is dad joke level encouragement. I would pass someone briefly and they would jokingly call out “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be right there” or “hey you look familiar!” knowing that we’ve been in the same huddle for the past 3 hills. Honestly despite how ragged I was feeling, this kind of wry human connection gave me a boost.
At about mile 3.5 I was cursing Kate Bush’s name and had to ditch my headphones since they were too sweaty to stay in my ears. And I realized that it was time. Time for the shirt, which was more sweat than quick-dry synthetic fabric (not quick enough!), to come off! Not that I am shy by nature but I've never been one to drop the top in a public race. But desperate times call for desperate measures and at the time my brain was convinced that it would help somehow. So chest bared for all to see, and at this point we were on a public road so there were plenty of people driving by, I sallied forth. The longest or seemingly the longest of the hills drained whatever remaining chutzpah and bravado I had gained from taking my shirt off and I was somewhere between a walk and a crawl as I made it to the final half mile which was mercifully downhill.
Earpods back in, I was out of sweat anyway (which is not a good sign), but I gave Kate Bush a break and switched to some Megalovania (the heavy metal version) because I needed something loud to drown out my brain saying “You don’t have to run into the finish there’s nothing left in the tank” I did though, I really needed to run through the finish out of a severe desire to be done and get some water, maybe throw up. I won’t tell you the time I finished because I didn’t commit it to memory. I know it was certainly not my best and I certainly know why. I looked around at the other UVRC folk that were there, all of us drained, sweaty, but done. My head hurt, my body hurt, and I didn’t pee for several hours after the race suggesting a high level of dehydration. It was the worst I'd done and felt on a run in recent memory. But I don’t mind that actually. Because while I did technically have the option of just peacing out of the race and hitchhiking, I didn’t. I could have walked the entire rest of the race when I was really hurting without shame, but I kept running off and on as long as I could. There’s something perhaps even slightly masochistic about learning how much you can handle and putting yourself to the test. It also helped that other people were right there with me trying their best just to finish. And for me just getting to the finish has always been enough. I walk away with lessons learned and I renewed hatred for all things hilly. I’ll probably do it again….