Nothing Special, Really

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Champion Of The Sun

5:45am, Sunday morning. I was awake. In less than 3 hours, I was supposed to run my first half-marathon.

At least I was able to get a good night's sleep.

It took me about a half-hour to fall asleep the night before, but for the first time in 36 hours, I was finally asleep. I woke up a couple times during the night but not enough to keep me awake. When my alarm finally went off, I woke up right away, feeling completely refreshed and ready to run.

We got to the race about 20 minutes before the start, but because the race started in waves, we weren't going to actually start until almost an hour from then. Once we finally got in our position, I wasn't really nervous about anything. I had no idea what to expect, but at least I had a good attitude about it. Any worries I had about being the last person to finish were quickly subsided when I saw A) the waves of people behind me and B) the guy in front of me inexplicably starting the race with his plastic bag of swag from the expo the day before. If I couldn't finish before THAT guy, then maybe I had something to worry about.

We finally took off just a little bit before 9am, but it wasn't long before I'd need to take my first stop of the race.

I had to pee.

I won't spare you the suspense; I finished the race. However, I'm officially shaving about 10 minutes off of my final time because I had to wait so long for the restroom. The girl standing in our line wasn't moving, letting people from other lines cut in front of her when the stalls in our vicinity opened up. Turns out she was waiting for another stall that wasn't out of toilet paper. By the time we figured this out, we finally found another stall to go into, but that was 10 minutes wasted that I shouldn't be held accountable for.

With nature's call out of the way, we got back on course and headed down McDowell for the longest straightaway of the race. My goal was to make it 4 miles without having to take a rest. I probably could have done more if I needed to, but with the uncertainty of such a long race ahead, I really needed to pace myself. I was feeling good though, really enjoying myself. When we got to the water tables at the 5k marker, my exuberance got the best of me as I tried to jump-kick my water cup into the trash can. Not a good idea; I started feeling a slight strain in my left knee immediately afterward. I toughed it out until the 4 mile marker, where we took a break to walk the next mile.

I stopped just before the 5 mile marker for some stretching and a photo-op (pictures later) before picking up the pace again. Miles 5-7 were probably the best miles; I hit what might have been my runner's high and actually picked up my pace. I was feeling great, pumping my fists at drivers by, and sprinting past any slow pokes in my way.

Between miles 7 and 8, we found my parents, my sister and my niece on the street cheering us on. It was great to see them; I felt like I was starting to hit a wall, but their support at least gave me an extra mile of running. I tried to act like a bad-ass and flicked my wristband at them as a souvenir but nearly hit the woman standing next to them instead.

We planned to stop at mile 9 for our next walking break, but when we hit the water table halfway between, we stopped early. I was starting to feel that familiar pain in my toe, but worse, I was starting to hit a wall mentally. I felt like I could get past any physical pain as long as I stayed strong mentally. But, since we were walking for the water break anyways, it felt like it made sense to just start walking then.

We ended up walking about a mile and a half to the 10 mile marker, at which point EVERYTHING started hurting. Toe, arches, back, hips, thighs, knees, everything. Not all at once though; it was like each part was taking turns being painful. To make matters worse, my body must have thought that it was time to rest. I don't blame it either; I'd never gone this distance before, and I'd probably be ready to rest too at that point. When it came time to start up running again, my body was having none of it. The pain kept going, so I was just going to have to suck it up and deal with it for another 3 miles.

I can't really say what it was that got me the final 3 miles. I did stop to walk briefly just after the 12 mile marker, when we went from the shade of an underpass back into the 77 degree heat of the sun. I could have walked the rest and no one would have been ashamed, but I talked myself into one last mile. I was sore, thirsty and mentally tired, but the one thing that kept me going was that I was somehow still having fun, as sick as that sounds.

For the finish line, Wac and I had a cutesy couples picture planned, where I would cross the finish line triumphantly holding my fist in the air, holding her back with my other arm as I beat her across. It all sounded hilarious when we planned it, but at that point in the race, I didn't care about hilarious. I cared about resting. We tried to get a picture of us holding hands into the finish line, but we dropped our hands just before the camera snapped. And all of a sudden, I was finished.

The end was rather anti-climactic. I didn't expect trumpets blaring or an arena of fans cheering me on, but after running for over 3 hours and then just stopping, it didn't seem as glorious as I anticipated. We walked over for the obligatory post race picture with out medals, grabbed some free food and electrolyte drinks, and caught up with my family.

I'm not necessarily proud of my 3:15 time (minus 10 for the stupid toilet paper chick) as I am of the fact that I made it across that finish line. For someone like me, who's been overweight for most of my life, without much motivation to improve my fitness level, just crossing that line represented a milestone. It took me almost 5 years after I initially set out to do this, but I can officially say that I am now a half-marathoner.

And as weird as that sounds, that wasn't even the craziest thing that happened that day.

To be concluded...


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