Thursday, April 5, 2012

My First Half


Dragged the crapradoodle around for 3.4-mile loop (34:56) – I don’t know if she’s really all that interested in running anymore – I think she’d rather sit at home and watch tv. On the other hand, she still does enjoy a good healthy bm.


3.4-mile loop (29:05). Slow and short, mostly just staying loose for tomorrow’s half-marathon, my first.


Pretty scary, running a half marathon . . . I didn’t know what to expect. On the other hand, I have been reading Runner’s World for years, so I made the following list of goals that would hopefully build on each other.

Goal 1: finish the race.
Goal 2: don’t crap pants.
Goal 3: finish in under 2 hours (9-minute pace).
Goal 4: finish in under 1:50.00 (arbitrary number that I thought sounded nice).
Goal 5: finish in under 1:45.00 (8-minute pace) – this was my best-case pace.
Goal 6: finish in under 59:43 (American record for the half marathon, set by Ryan Hall in 2007.

My plan for today’s race went like this: eight-minute miles, no matter what happens, just stick to eight minute miles. If I fell off pace a little, I figured I could still hit my first two or three goals. That would be fine. Eight-minute miles, that’s my motto.

I woke up this morning with an hour and a half to get to the registration. PB & J sandwich and a cup of Kefir – this felt like a smooth, easy, bowel-friendly breakfast – for the duration of the run, I didn’t get hungry at all. I felt strong and energized. For the walk uptown, I poured some coffee into a blue plastic SOLO cup, so I could ditch the cup when finished, and in order to better blend with any college students who might be wandering home from their beer pong games.

The registration was a little over a mile from my house. I started my mantra en route: eight-minute miles, eight minute miles, eight minute miles . . .

The first thing that I noticed when I got close to the registration table for my first marathon / half-marathon was how many people in the world are in much better shape than I’m in. Everybody there had legs you could use to study very particular branches of anatomy. Most of the folks were slim, lithe. I asked one Olympic-looking guy what his goal time was; he said, “Oh, I don’t run; I’m just here to watch my spouse” – even the spectators were fitter than I.

But that’s all fine, I told myself. I’m not here to beat the spectators or their wives. I’m just running for my eight-minute pace. I’m not going to win the race or even my age group, and everybody who finishes gets a little medal.

I got my registration sack and walked to my office on campus, about another mile. I had to walk through the growing crowd of runners, and the closer I got to the starting line, the more fit the people became. We had forty minutes till the race, and already hundreds of folks were running, stretching, plyometricing. The idea that today’s 13.1 was just another run fell away very quickly, and I started thinking, what if someone passes me with a mile to go (or after the first mile) – do I push hard, maybe through in a three-minute half-mile? No, I told myself, that’s not what we’re doing today; today is for eight-minute miles; call me the eight-minute-mile man. But what if I feel really good at the turn, should I add in some kicks, and start picking people off? I had to sit myself down in my office building and have a little chat with me:

“Look,” I said, “just run an eight-minute pace – nobody can fault you for that. 1:45.00 is a respectable time, and if you don’t quite get it, at least finish the race, and we’ll work on strategies next time.” Okay, I thought, I’m right. I just got a little nervous. Eight-minute miles, eight-minute miles.

I continued to run around in little circles, so as to fit in, and saw that some of my ROTC students had brought a cannon to the race. I thought it was very nice of them to show support for the runners, but I also worried about who they were thinking about shooting. It reminded me of the play my Uncle Dewey was in during his fourth-grade year: his first encounter with the stage, though certainly not his last. He was cast as a knight-errant, who, upon hearing a cannon blast, turns to the king and announces, “Hark! I hear a cannon.” For weeks, he practiced his line – at home, in the car, at baseball practice – “Hark! I hear a cannon. Hark! I hear a cannon. Hark! I hear a cannon.” Each afternoon at play practice, the gym coach would haul out the starter’s pistol for Dewey’s scene and fire off a cap: “Hark!” Dewey would announce, “I hear a cannon.” The day of the play, the school brought out the cannon proper – Mr. Effenauer put the capgun away – and, at just the right moment, Dewey took the stage. The cannon fired – KaBOOOM! – Dewey covered his head and yelled out, “What the hell was that?”

His first marathon was a totally different story.

I got bored with warming up – so I made my way to the start and got to listen to all the last minute advice from runners talking to other runners. The more experienced folks spoke of getting to the center of the road, so as not to get tripped and getting to the side of the road, so as not to get boxed in. They spoke of diet and pacing and prs and bowel movements and water stations and how to hold a water cup and what to do for cramping. Eight-minute miles, eight-minute miles. They spoke with great precision, almost obsession about splits and Gatorade and peeing in the woods – I felt a great kinship; these are my people. I turned to talk to one group – an older man and two teenage girls – about a recent bowel movement I’d had, but the loud speaker kicked on and introduced the “Star Spangled Banner.”

After the song, the loud speaker came back on, but it sounded like the Harvey Keitel SNL skit about the NYC subway PA – you know the one: “Mfmfmrrrfmmmrmrmrmr furmmr mhrmmmrm Athens mrmfrhm mmmmmrmh urrmrh rmmrh . . .” so I thought eight-minute miles, eight-minute miles KaBOOOM! What the hell was that?

The crowd started moving; we were off and running; all my best laid plans went to shit. My watch said 6:30 at the mile marker and 13:03 at two, but I was close enough to some folks with GPS watches to quickly learn that each of the first two mile markers were off by a tenth of a mile and that our actual pace had only been 7:15.

Two slim folks were running beside me, talking about bowel movements during some of their best marathons, so I introduced myself, said I was running the half marathon. They were both running the full, but, boy, did they have advice for me. We clipped along at a 7:15 pace for the rest of the first half of my first half-marathon where I made the turn, and they both kept going. During our chat, the more experienced of the pair had said, “The best bit of advice I can give a half marathoner is turn off your brain at about the nine-mile marker.” Little did he know, I had turned mine off when ROTC had fired off the cannon. The rest should be smooth sailing.

The crowd sure did thin out at the turn. I felt pretty good, despite the fact that I had blown my eight-minute mile goal. If I had a single thought it was maintain, at this point, just maintain this pace, but I found myself in a delicate situation. There were three runners about fifty paces ahead of me, and a whole group about twenty paces back. I’m awful at maintaining a race pace – I know this about myself from half a lifetime ago, so I knew I would soon get swallowed up by the group behind me whose pace I trusted more than my own. But then I thought, Why don’t I just catch those three up there and maintain their pace? It was a new kind of running for the middle, where I had to make the decision to fall back or to forge ahead, despite the fact that my plan was to just hang out. So I pushed hard for a few minutes, excited to catch these three runners and maintain their pace – what fun! But when I got to them, they were going slower than the pace I wanted. Luckily, another fifty paces ahead was another group of runners whose pace I thought I would like even better. So that’s how I ran the next six miles: brain off, testing other folks’ paces, like Goldylocks, to see whose I liked best. I got passed by two other people on that home stretch who were both apparently looking for someone else whose pace they liked better, and I hope they found it.

Though the mile markers were not verifiable, I’m gonna guess my body was starting to give out at about the eleven-mile marker. My body encouraged me to fall back a bit, look for that first group I’d seen behind me back at the turn, maybe give their pace a try again. But my mind told my body to stow it, and just maintain. My body said, “Wasn’t somebody supposed to turn you off?” And while my mind and body went back and forth about all that, the rest of me just loped around the final lap at local Pruitt Field. My time was 1:33.52. Met my first five goals. I guess all that’s left is to beat Ryan Hall. There’s always next year.

Monday: off.

Tuesday: off.

Wednesday: Cable Lane Loop – still very sore – 1:12.48.

Thursday: 3.4-mile loop (27.35). It’s no joke recovering from my first half.

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