Sunday, February 8, 2015

riding a roller coaster with my feet (half marathon #9)

Today I ran what I would say was the hardest race of my life. If you asked me whether my marathon was more difficult, I would hesitate before answering you. I’d probably say yes, but only for two reasons: In the marathon, my knee was really hurting and not braced, and it was twice the distance. But other than a hill (with a landing in the middle) at almost the end of the race it was flat.

When I finished, I did what I knew I shouldn’t. I walked to the grass and plopped myself down on my back. I’d deal with lactic acid build up later. I had to stop. Those sweet race people were so attentive. One wanted to be sure I was okay. I told her, yes, I just needed to stop for a minute. And another came to check too (perhaps I looked pitiful despite a strong finish?). One asked me if I wanted her to go get me a heat sheet for when I started getting cold (they are Mylar “blankets” that insulate). I had refused one because I was so hot, but this time I said “yes, please.” I realized that as hot as we had gotten (60s and sunny now—no real wind, which is not good when you are that hot), it was actually cool out and I would be shivering soon. I was light-headed at the end (that was a new one). My ear had gotten plugged up early in the race and never let up, so my equilibrium seemed, well, unequal. I forced a banana down (and I did take two gels on the course, as well as a bit of Gatorade—and I ate a full big bagel with cream cheese for breakfast, so nutrition was not the cause of being light-headed). My right ear gets plugged up a lot when I run, so I’m thinking I may talk to my doctor about this. I thought it was just sweat, but it’s always the same ear. Anyway, other than that, I was okay. On the first evil (and it was, indeed, evil) hill (mountain!), I realized that unlike my other half marathons. excepting the first, I was going to really feel this tomorrow. Rarely do I feel anything much the day after a half because I stay trained enough, at least with base mileage, that I can usually just go run a half without going through a 12-week training plan. Sometimes my quads or hamstrings are a bit sore, but I recover well. But the muscles we used to run what was, essentially, ten miles of hill repeats (without the slow jog or walk down), are not the same effort we may put on daily muscle use, even in running some hills. And also, running downhill is actually hard because to do it right, you need to exert control, and it’s work. I am not above taking the elevator to my office tomorrow! I didn’t even feel bad physically after my marathon, but I just have this feeling about tomorrow. OW!

Other than that, I decided to write about this mile-by-mile, recapturing some of what was going through my head. I have very few pictures to post this time because that took too much effort. I didn’t even want to deal with it. Staying focused was my only hope. I figured I would steal other people’s pictures. I sort of wish I had gotten one on the killer hill, just to prove how big and steep it was. But it was so big and steep, I couldn’t imagine fiddling for my phone. So this blog is mostly words. Here’s a play-by-play.

Pre-race: Woman behind me tells friend next to her that really the hills probably aren’t that bad, and the first one was likely the worst. She also said they were short. Woman behind me was a liar.

Lying woman in Fleet Feet yellow shirt.

Mile 1: Wow, this was a pretty decent turnout for a first race. This is a very pretty area.

Mile 2: I heard that lady at the start line saying that the first hill was probably the worst. Is that really it? I guess a lot of people don't ever run hills, so it seems steep to them.

Mile 3: Oh my gosh, another hill. Wait, do we have to run up that huge, long one I see ahead?

Mile 4: This is not a hill; this is a mountain. Running at Mt Scott was easier than this. I'm being led up a mountain. I paid to do this.

Mile 5: That was a really long mountain. Look! A turn! Oh, it's still going up. Exactly how high off the ground is the view of the city? How can we run this high up and not come down? Isn’t that, like, a law of physics or something?

Mile 6: The country club; we should hit the halfway mark here. The race director told me that after the halfway mark we would be rewarded with mostly downhill.

Mile 7: I take back every wish I ever had of running golf courses; I hate golf courses. They are roller coasters propelled by feet. It's still hilly. Finally, we’re off the golf course. It should start to be downhill now, right? Oh look, a newspaper was littered on the side of the road, but one page is ripped so we can see a headline. It says, “More women buying guns.” Yes, I think, to shoot race directors. I’m rationing my water. Wait! Is that a mirage, or is that little boy handing out bottles of water? “You are awesome!” I tell him as I take the bottle and let myself down the rest of my first bottle because now I have more than teeny 4 oz. cups they hand out. Little boy saves the race! He should get a mansion in heaven for that. Or something.

Mile 8: Okay, we got up the mountains. But why are we still going upwards, anyway? I saw a mile 9 on my way here this morning. We're almost there. It can't be that bad. But maybe I shouldn't drive home tonight. Maybe I should only drive partway and get a hotel, and drive straight to my class in the morning. I need a bath. A long Epsom salt soaking bubble bath. I don't want to sit in a car for 4 hours first.

Mile 9: Oh. I guess it doesn't start going downhill until mile 10? Mile 9 is uphill too (of course it is). So much for the reward of mostly downhill after the halfway mark. “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” I think channeling my thoughts to the race director. But I'm sure it goes downhill at mile 10, right? I don't think I've ever hurt this much running a race. The marathon was only harder because of the knee injury and the distance. This is the hardest thing I've ever done in a race. This race is about survival, not running.

Mile 10: We're actually going down a little bit. Only with all that uphill running, now I have to control my quads going down, and that’s hard too. No coasting. This still hurts. I think it's always going to hurt. I have inflicted a lifetime of hurt on myself from one race. Also, the sky is falling.

Mile 11: This is the part of a race where I usually take out my camera and post a picture of the mile 11 marker, which means I'm home free. However, the extra effort to take the camera out would be too much. I didn't take a single evidentiary  photo to prove what this race was like. Also, I'm not sure I'm going to think I'm home free until I see mile 13. Hey wait? Where is the marathon winner? The fast marathon runners always run by me between mile 10 and 11. Is it possible that the winner hasn't even come in yet because of the challenging course?

Mile 12: You only have 1.1 miles left, Tyrrell. Hold on. Why does 1.1 miles seem like a whole half marathon? And why are we still going up—again?

Mile 13: They just made us run a block out-of-the-way we seemed to be headed? Do they hate us? Is this race actually a secret plot of revenge for something? And then there's a slight uphill after that? Where is that finish line!? All the people around me seem to be walking now—even with the finish line less than half a mile ahead, lots of them just walk, even though they were not walkers.  Even after they see the finish line. They continue to walk. Muscle atrophy is setting in. I'm still running; if I start walking, I'll just sit down. Must keep running. Must keep running until I cross the finish line. I have no idea how my time is. The mile 4 mountain made me realize time was irrelevant; no one was PRing today. Maybe the marathon winner died. He just ran off the mountain to stop the pain. They had 13.1 more miles of this. How could someone do that without being bionic? That’s it. They were all so exhausted they died. I’ve never run a half in tandem with a full where full winners didn’t come in ahead of me. But I was almost done, and time was irrelevant. The bragging rights in this race were actually running and finishing. I suspected my usual half times, always around 2:30, give or take a few minutes on either side, were way off. I didn’t care at all. I hear people! I see the finish line! I just have to keep my feet moving, leg up, leg down. People are screaming for me! They say I look strong;  “way to finish strong!” Clearly, I mask things well. I've never been so weak at the end of the race.

Mile .1: Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!  I just have to run until I feel the timing mat under my feet. Am I injured? Do I hurt unusually? No. There's nothing wrong with my body. Except that I've been running up mountains all day. Okay they were paved, but they felt like mountains.

The finish line: What, what? I did that in 2:32:50? (20 of 48 in my age group). For real? Give me that medal now! I'm glad it's so big, because I earned every bit of that giant medal. 

Flopping on the grass: Yes ma'am, I'm all right. I just need to stop for a minute. Yes, please. I would like a heat sheet for when I start shivering in a few minutes.

Post-flopping on the ground: I need someone to take my picture in front of that finish line. I crossed that finish line. I didn't even walk. I'm either crazy or a rockstar. Or dead. Maybe this is an out-of-body experience.

I look so happy. I think it's Runner Delirium.

"This one's got grit," the race tagline says. Um, that's not a strong enough word, but thanks.

 A few final notes:

First, let me issue a disclaimer: I generally run hills well. Rarely a day goes by that I am not going up and down hills. I run hilly routes often. Well, actually now I believe I will call them “slopey” instead. Because now I know what hills are. But wait! You may say. You have run the Kansas City Half Marathon twice, and the first 10 miles are hills. Well, yes, KC is hilly, but compared to Fort Smith, AR, the KC Half is a fun run. Not really, of course, but KC wasn’t hard, even though it was challenging. This was hard. It was the hardest race experience I’ve ever had. It was one where even at mile 12 I wasn’t sure I was home free. I’ve never prayed so much on a course (Shout out to FCA for the stream of Bible verses about strength and running around mile 11). I could not believe how hard it was. But I did it. I really did. I ran the whole way. I can’t even believe I ran the whole way. If I’d have seen that course previously, I’d have probably planned to run intervals. If I’d seen it before I registered, I may not have registered.

Let me issue another disclaimer, as well: The race was very well done. I am quite impressed that this as an inaugural race because it was as well done as many established races I have done. There was a minor glitch with the first one or two water stops, but if you’re going to have a glitch with water, that’s where you want it! The crowd support was fabulous (except on the never-ending golf course which was void of crowds, where I’m pretty sure I was dizzy from the roller coaster hills). I was impressed that so many people took their Sunday morning to cheer us on in a city that has never had a marathon and half marathon. Nice work, Fort Smith. You are good people. Everything was well-organized and professional. The post-race spread was phenomenal. As a race itself, I would recommend it to anyone, but not as a first race and not for one who didn’t do well on hills (and remember, I do pretty well on hills). In fact, I was really hoping it wasn’t a first half or full for some people (unless they planned well and knew the course because they run it locally) because it was so hard it might make them want to reconsider another! But to be fair, the course was billed as challenging and hilly. We knew. Only we didn’t know. Post-race, absolutely everyone I saw and heard and most of the Facebook posts too, say “it was the hardest race I’ve ever run” or something to that effect. I am not a person who runs for a medal, but that huge medal felt so great after that.
One more disclaimer, lest anyone think I am too serious, I don't really think people are liars, but I do sort of question where the RD got it in his head that the second half was downhill.  

EDIT: Results came out. The first place marathoner finished in 3:10. That's the first time I have ever run a half where the winning marathoner didn't pass me. This race was no joke.

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