The Paine to Paine which took place this past Sunday was my first time ever running or joggling an official half-marathon or trail race. An almost, but not quite, new experience for me. This is also my first official race since I injured myself at the Yonkers Marathon last year(it totally healed). As a marathon joggler, I figured a half-marathon should be easy; for the most part, it was. The real challenge of this race is that much of it is an obstacle course of tree roots, jagged rocks, and hilly twists and turns. Good thing I often train on trails!
So I awoke at 6:15 the day of the race, well-rested and ready to take on the trails. I slept really well, and wasn’t nervous at all the night before, unlike how I slept the night before the Yonkers marathon last year. I had my usual breakfast of Weetabix with raisins and sunflower seeds, put on my running attire, grabbed my balls, and I was out the door. Though the race started at 9:00, I wanted to get there extra early, no later than 8:30.
Some people I ran into before the start were shocked over the idea of joggling a trail race. “Seriously, you’re actually going through with this?”, they would ask. “Joggling a road race is difficult enough, but a trail race, come on!”, is another common remark.
The race is called the “Paine to Pain” because it starts at the Thomas Paine cottage in New Rochelle, New York and well, the other “pain” is pretty obvious to anyone who has run it. It is a loop course that goes through several different towns on the Colonial Greenway, of which the Leatherstocking trail is a large sub-section. Since Thomas Paine is a kindred spirit, I love the idea of this race starting at his cottage and being named for him. Regarded as the philosopher of the American revolution, he was a highly influential proponent of Enlightenment values, and was an early abolitionist. I recommend visiting his cottage in New Rochelle if you’re in the area.
We couldn’t have asked for better running weather on race day. “Perfect” doesn’t begin to describe it. Clear skies and in the 50s just before the race and slowly rising into the 60s a few miles in. After months of brutally hot weather, the slight chill in the air at the beginning was more than welcome. My goal was to to complete in less than 2 hours.
So at 9:00 the gun goes off and the first wave of runners is off! Since I was part of the second wave, I had to wait a minute before I could start. Finally nervous with anticipation, I go to the back of wave 2 to avoid being in anyone’s way, and before I know it it’s wave 2’s turn to start.
The support at the start was pretty amazing with lots of spectators lining the streets, many of whom were surprised by my joggling. The first mile of this race is on the streets, so it didn’t feel like the race had really begun until I got to the first leg of the Leatherstocking trail close to the Larchmont border. I took it easy with the first mile, and also with mile 2.
Since I’ve done this trail a few times before, there weren’t any surprises. Juggling while running over rocks and tree roots may sound ridiculously difficult to you, but with enough training it is doable. I kept myself as much to the side as possible in case anyone wanted to pass me on the narrow trail, and a lot of runners did just that. I occasionally passed some slower runners whenever the trail widened. I generally got a lot of support from my fellow runners.
When things got really difficult during some steep rocky climbs, I would ask myself “why the hell am I doing this?”. I finally dropped the balls a little after mile 6 during a minor stumble. The beauty of the morning sun shining through the trees, the sweet birdsong, the earthy aroma of the forest, all while joggling over difficult terrain is an ineffably wonderful experience.
Whenever the trail widened enough and there weren’t too many rocks in the way I increased my speed, often passing a lot of runners. There wasn’t much support out there except at occasional street crossings where the locals and volunteers were pretty enthusiastic. Thank you people of Mamaroneck! When I arrived in Saxon Woods, I was in very familiar territory, having run these trails countless times. After zigzagging its way through the forest and going around these giant glacial rocks, the trail widened to the point that I was able to pick up my pace and pass many other runners in Saxon Woods. I occasionally traded places with a few runners, which got kind of funny after a while. The trail then starts turning south near the Golf course where I finally got some water at around mile 8.
Feeling renewed, I was able to maintain a speedy pace for a few miles, though rocks and slow runners on narrow sections sometimes hindered me. Also my left ankle bothered me a little bit at this point since I almost sprained it about a month ago. I dropped again around this point. I asked again “why am I doing this?”, and I would answer myself: “This is who I am”.
At mile 11 we entered Twin Lakes Park, a place I visit so often it’s my second home. Still doing a brisk pace, I dropped yet again and felt really frustrated that time. In part this frustration was due to being so familiar with this area because of all the joggling and unicycling I have done there. Surely I should know this area like the back of my hand. Going south, the trail snakes its way under the Hutchinson River Parkway and now we’re in Nature Study Woods on the wild periphery of New Rochelle.
Knowing I don’t have much longer to go before I reach the finish line at New Rochelle high school, I convince myself to push myself even more to make sure I complete in under 2 hours. I’m starting to feel a little sore, but it didn’t significantly slow me. At this point there are a few rocks here and there but they were easy to run around.
Finally, we’re out of the dark woods and into the bright sunlit streets again for the last mile, with lots of spectators and cheerleaders cheering us on.
I see the high school in the distance and start running like a maniac. 300 meters or so from the finish line and I drop one last time. I cross the finish line and I’m ecstatic, and so is everyone watching.
I finished in 2:01:25, with an average pace of 9:16/mile. Just a tiny bit faster and I could have finished in under 2 hours(my half-marathon PR when training on roads is 1:39), but I still felt elated over my accomplishment. Though I dropped the balls 4 times, I didn’t fall once. Though I felt fatigued, I didn’t feel as bad as I normally do at the end of a full marathon.
This really is a great race not just for connecting with history but for connecting with nature without having to travel too far from the big city. Some parts of the trail, particularly in Saxon Woods, take you through wilderness zones that make you feel like you are a thousand miles away from civilization.
All in all this was a great race experience, even with all the drops. It definitely was a worthwhile challenge joggling a trail race. I often found it more intellectually than physically challenging; what long-term effect this may have on the brain remains unknown but I’m excited about the possibilities.
A big thanks to Founding Father Eric Turkewitz for organizing this event and allowing me to joggle it. I’d also like to thank all the good-humored volunteers for making this an amazing race experience. Congratulations to everyone who completed this event, it was a pleasure running with you.
Paine to Pain Trail Half Marathon 2016