September 24, 2017

Beat the Blerch Half Marathon

My return to running had started to have an effect on my mental state, but now the physical test was here, ready or not.

I arrived at the start early, as I always like to do. I hate being late in general, but especially on race day, I want a nice buffer of time. Time to take care of parking, pottying, etc. Time to stretch out, wander around, take in the energy of the crowd. Time to find a little clarity and determination of mind.

As mentioned in the previous post, the event would have couches, Nutella and cake at the water stations. If that wasn't enough, you could make yourself a burritoughnut before heading out. After grabbing a warmed doughnut, you can add more treats like bacon, potato chips and/or Gummi bears and then wrap it all up in a tortilla. It sounded like a recipe for hurling at the first mile marker, so I passed.

The event included a full marathon, half marathon and a 10k. The marathoners had already taken off by the time I arrived, and the 10k runners would start after we did. Everyone ran on the same trail, so they set us out in small groups to try and avoid congestion. I queued up in the first half marathon group and just in case anyone regretted not grabbing some sugar before starting, a guy dressed up as a Blerch was throwing marshmallows into the crowd. 

Though I was pretty unprepared, and the event was a little goofy, I was going to do my best with what I brought to the start line. I was hoping to get in under two hours and would have been pretty happy with something closer to 1:55. There is certainly a big mental factor to these longer events, and I felt like I had the right frame of mind going in. No pressure, just a day on the roads with strangers as friends.

The route is almost entirely along a wooded trail. The first mile or so included a gravel path along the river before joining up with what I assume is rails to trails conversion. After a few miles, the runners spread out into their own paces and I ended up running along with a handful of people. The morning was cool and calm, and running through the woods was peaceful.

At the first water station at mile three, there were the promised couches that the volunteers were encouraging us to take a break on. As this was an out-and-back course, I would pass by this station again at mile ten and told myself if the wheels had come off by then, I would indulge in the couch break. And maybe some Nutella.

As we moved further along the path, we caught a few of the marathoners. They had set out an hour or so earlier, and had run a side trail to add on some early miles. The marathon is certainly more than twice as challenging as the half, and I am sure it was a bit discouraging to have runners passing them by so early in their day. I was glad I was only half crazy this time.

We reached the halfway point and made our way back, but not before high-fiving the volunteer at the turnaround point. I had looked at the elevation profile of the race because I always like to know what is in store for the day. A late hill is always tough, but if at least you know it is coming, it is less discouraging. The elevation profile showed that we would be climbing in the first half and descending back down on the way home. The hill out seemed relatively gradual, but once I turned around it seemed more pronounced and that really picked up my spirits (and pace).

When I was nearing the ten mile mark, things were starting to tighten up, but I hadn't fallen apart yet. I decided I was going to resist the couch temptation and just grab some water and push on. When the stop came in view, there was a long line of 10k runners waiting to come through, and we were waved away. I couldn't have made it to the couch even if I wanted to, but they also were so busy with the 10k runners that we couldn't even get a cup of water. This was the only glitch in an otherwise nicely run event.

My calves, hamstrings and glutes continued to tighten. I had intentionally not looked at my watch all day, just wanting to run on feel and see what I could do. That said, it felt like I was doing relatively well, so I kept pressing on, riding the edge of discomfort. Each step and turn in the path brought me closer to the finish, but it also used up any dribbles of gas I had left in the tank.

Rounding the last corner I could see the finish line just that final tantalizing point-one mile away. I dug in to see if I had anything left to pick it up and finish strong. I don't know that I went any faster, but the finish line photos show that at least I looked like I was tapped out ugly. I will spare you that photo.

I walked through the finish area, medal in one hand and probably more importantly a cup of water in the other. I walked until my muscles calmed down enough that it no longer felt like I was going to pull something if I moved too suddenly. I had thought a doughnut at the finish (sans bacon or gummi bears) might be a nice treat, but I was nauseous enough that only potato chips sounded good. I also passed on the finish line cake.

When I finally looked at my watch, I was surprised and very pleased to see 1:51:33 as my finish time. I had no real business running a half marathon on that day. This almost forgotten about event finally forced me (procrastinatingly late) back out on the roads. I sort of expected to go down in flames, take my medicine, recover, and then start taking this (running and my health) seriously again. It is mostly all still true, but it is very satisfying to press on to a good result. To show up late for a test and somehow half-ass my way to pull it off. Probably a metaphor for my life in there somewhere, but we will just move on to some of the free photos provided by the race.


Kathy Kail said...

It's funny - you look like Jim in the photo with the sunglasses!

Sean said...

I'll take that as a compliment for both of us. ☺️