Friday, November 20, 2015

Half Marathon? Half Marathon

My darling wife likes to remind me that I'm not very good at hobbies. To be fair, I did tell her this some time ago. Of course, I also told her that only crazy people run farther than 6.2 miles, and that I am not crazy.

Way back in July, when I was running pretty fast 5K's on a business trip in England (because really, 3 weeks abroad is too long, and one can only drink so much beer), I had a conversation with a local Windsor gentleman about good runs in the area. He told me about Dorney Lake, where the Olympic rowing competitions had occurred in 2012. He said it was only about 4 miles from my hotel, which put a round-trip run decidedly into crazy-person range, but I figured it was a nice day, and there was nothing saying I had to run all the way.

So I charged up the iPod and headed out. The run was great for a while. The banks of the Thames river in July make for some fantastic scenery, and the boat traffic made a perfect backdrop to the day. So perfect, in fact, that I completely missed the mile-long lake on my right. By the time I realized my mistake, I had already run 7 miles, including a mile of doubling-back to find a way around a canal lock. That meant I was 6 miles from the hotel with only a river to guide me back home, and with storm clouds closing in, I was not interested in walking that 6 miles. Think of the poor iPod!

So I kept running. And running. And beginning to question my rules about crazy people. At 10 miles I convinced myself to sign up for a half marathon, if only for the humor of it. Let me be perfectly clear: what seems funny after 10 miles of running does not seem funny under normal circumstances. This was not rational thought.

At 11 miles I'd had enough. My legs were screaming, and even though I'd backed way off my usual pace (like way, way off), I knew I was in for some pain if I kept pushing.

But the seed had been planted. I needed to do a half marathon.

And as soon as I got back stateside, I signed up...and quit running.

Bikes had taken over my focus almost completely, and I'd already signed up for 3 races before I even bought my first road bike. Again--hobbies? Not really my strong suit. I bought a road bike in late August and put 500 miles on it over the course of 30 days, including a few rides in the 50 - 75 mile range.

Then I bought a winter bike for commuting and put another 400 miles on that in the next 30 days, all the while thinking that I might want to train for that half marathon at some point.

Once the last bike race was run, I realized I had only 2 weeks before the Richmond Marathon, my chosen event. I hastily rushed to the treadmill and bonked after only 2 miles. Two days later I made it 4.25 miles before begging myself not to puke all over the floor.

With exactly 7 days to the event, I decided to go all-in and do a 10-mile run outside. Once again I backed my pace down and made it 6.22 miles before my legs seized. And I mean seized. I couldn't run at all, and walking looked...interesting. I was 4 miles from home without a phone, so the only real option was to walk. I made it a mile before my legs loosened up enough to run tentatively. I managed to eke out another 5K at a really careful pace, and figured my plan for the half marathon would be:

run 10K
walk 1K
run 5K
walk 1K
run 5K

I didn't run another step for the next 6 days, and only jumped on the bike once for a short ride to test some repairs, so the plan to end with vomit looked really solid.

As did the alternate plan to stay home and play video games, instead.

Half-marathon day came, and with it the first cold weather we'd seen in some time. The temp at the start was in the upper 30's, and it maybe got to 50 that day. I rolled up in my cycling finest (Pearl Izumi's riding jackets are perfectly tailored for running, and with back pockets, I could carry my phone!) with literally seconds to spare. I even had to run about half a mile to get to the start.

And then I started. I set a goal pace of 7:45, which is not a race pace for me by any stretch, but I figured it would give me the best chance of making that first 10K. And one by one the miles melted away. The first 2 miles were occupied with passing. The next 3 were spent finding human metronomes. And once I found a guy who was banging out perfect 7:41's (seriously: 6 in a row!), I glued myself to him and stopped clock-watching.

I had decided prior to the event that I would drink water on the course, something I'd NEVER done before. I find it to be very disruptive to my tummy, but everything I'd read said I would pop at 10 miles if I didn't stay hydrated.

So I drank at every single table, but I didn't stop. Then at 8.5 miles, my metronome sped up and I went back to bad habits of watching my pace religiously.

At 10 miles I realized holy crap I'd run 10 miles. That, of course, called into question the ability to finish.

At 10.5 miles I realized I'd ignored my gel packs, and that it was probably too late.

At 10.6 miles I said "screw it" and had one on the run. Another new experience. The next mile was a mix of excruciating pain, hopelessness, and delirium. The water wouldn't go down at the water stop. My brain kept telling me "just a little over 2 miles" while simultaneously screaming "you'll never make another 2 miles feeling like this".

At 11.5 miles I realized I had it. I *was* going to make it.

At 12.1 miles I wanted to give up and walk. Came really close, too.

At 12.5 miles, when everybody on the sidelines was screaming "it's all downhill from here!", I realized that was really bad news: my legs do not like running downhill, especially after 12.x miles of NOT running downhill.

Then, as if by magic, the 13 mile sign popped up, and the downhill got so steep I just had to fly. Holding back was more painful than letting my feet slap.

And then it was done. Just like that. I heard my name and felt pretty frickin' amazing. It was only after making it through the finishers' corral, getting the hat, the medal, and the blanket, that I thought to check my time.

1:41:24. I'd gotten my pacing almost EXACTLY where I'd wanted @ 7:44, and I'd made it.

So...uh...I signed up for next year's marathon. Which is a distance only crazy people run.

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