Race Report: Are you up for the 18.12 Challenge?

by Lillian Park

Race: 18.12 Challenge

When: August 27, 2017

Where: Watertown to Sackets Harbor, NY

Lillian: Hey, do you want to drive me to Watertown? It’s six hours north of here.

Jimmy: Why?

Lillian: There’s an 18-mile race up there.

Jimmy looks at Google maps.

Jimmy: It’s close to the border. Can we go to Canada? I need to buy Haagen Dazs.

Lillian: Sure! I’ll buy orange Fanta.

The best thing about PPTC is that no matter how crazy your idea is, you can always find a friend who’ll join you in your outrageous endeavors.

Yes, we really did cross the border to buy Haagen Dazs and Fanta. No, we can’t get these in the US. Haagen Dazs has five different flavors of alcohol-infused ice cream (Rum Vanilla Caramel Blondie, Whiskey Chocolate Truffle, Irish Cream Coffee & Biscotti, Vodka Key Lime Pie, and Rum Ginger Cookie) that is exclusively available only in Canada. As for orange Fanta, the formula for orange Fanta varies from country to country. I love the Canadian and European versions and hate the US one.

And yes, that pretty much was our real life conversation when discussing this race.

We took off for Sackets Harbor at the leisurely time of 5:30 in the morning on Saturday. Jimmy wanted to leave even earlier, but I begged for mercy and asked for another half hour of sleep. After stopping for coffee at Wawa, gas, Krispy Kreme, and visiting a friend, past noon we made it to the race expo at the Sackets Harbor Battlefield, which was the site of two major battles (first battle & second battle) in the War of 1812.  This is the war where the British troops famously burned down the White House (and something that Canadians like to take credit for as I learned when I lived in Toronto).

The theme of the War of 1812 is quite predominant throughout the race. The official route is 18.12 miles long (actually it’s shorter because I – and everyone else – always measures this course short, around 17.9 miles). They give out $1812 worth of prize money. The finishers medal and race shirt feature a patriot. I love well-thought out themed races.

The next day we parked at Sackets Harbor Battlefield, where the finish line would be, to catch a shuttle to the start line in Watertown. The weather was just about perfect – a shade over 50 degrees. Only a cloud cover would have made it better. Even without the cloud cover, the sun was not a problem. Because the race starts early at 7 am, there was plenty of shade from the trees, and when there wasn’t any shade, we were running with the sun to our backs.

Jimmy and I briefly discussed our race plans. Right before the horn went off, we mutually agreed that if we happened to run with each other that was great, but we were not to wait for the other person. All throughout the drive to Sackets Harbor from Brooklyn and earlier that morning, Jimmy swore he would start out between 9:00 and 9:30 pace. Instead, he took off charging like there was a battle in front of him that he had to storm.  I didn’t even get a chance to run with him for a quarter mile. For better or worse, I was going to run my own race and I watched him fade into the distance.

I eventually caught up to Jimmy at Mile 6.5. We briefly ran together and then I decided to go ahead because I was feeling good. At the end of the race, Jimmy told me that he followed me for the next several miles.

The 18.12 course was not exactly as I had remembered. All week I told Jimmy that it was a downhill down with one, maybe two hills in the beginning and another small one at the end.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

It is a net downhill course, but you’ll never realize it because of all the rolling hills. I counted the hills and in the end I lost track. There are a lot of hills, albeit small ones with gentle inclines, on the course. The net decline does help you and it shows up in your paces because you notice that you run faster with less effort.

Compared to last year, there was less entertainment out on the course. There weren’t any musicians, but I did see a little girl doing some Irish step dancing. The bulk of the entertainment came between Miles 8 and 13. Right before we entered Sacket Harbor, a huge group of cheerleaders cheered for us. A police officer welcomed us with the booming words, “Welcome to Sackets Harbor!” Sweeter words were never spoken. There was a pirate-themed water station with swashbuckling pirates handing out water, Gatorade, an ice cold wet towel, and sweet, sweet popsicles.

The hardest part of the race is the turn-off for the runners doing the 18.12 Challenge because you know the half marathoners have only another two miles to the finish line, but you have another five miles. At this point, I’m tired and think, “This is cruel.”

I was running really well and following the race plan that I set out for myself – to run the first five miles conservatively and then progressively speed up every five miles. A quick glance at my new-to-me Garmin (thanks, Jennie!) showed me that I was well on my way to smashing the previous year’s time. I decided to race out the final three miles and picked off runners left and right. This was really fun for me because I often fade at the end of races. I’ve been working really hard at having a strong end game, and it was nice to see progress being made.

One last turn and it’s the straightaway to the finish line. I’m thrilled to find out that I finished in 2:31:12, which is well over a six-minute PR for me. Jimmy crosses the finish line a couple minutes after me in 2:33:24, which earned him 2nd place in his age group. We both had great races.

The post-race party was wonderful. There was a ton of food (apples, oranges, bananas, sandwiches, pizza, yogurt, cookies, and more) and we were encouraged to take seconds and thirds. Fun music played over speakers. People took their time to enjoy the beautiful weather and scenery overlooking Lake Ontario after the race. I chatted with other runners while waiting for the awards ceremony.

I highly recommend the 18.12 Challenge to any PPTC member, especially if you’re doing marathon training. The race is well-organized, fun, and well worth having Jimmy drive you six hours to North Country. You might have to go to Canada though.

P.S. After the race, we went to sightseeing at Boldt Castle in the Thousand Islands because we felt that we didn’t do enough that day. The castle and boat tour were super cool and receive two thumbs up from us.