the first race since august's 5k in the park. i have tried to find a half marathon to race in this marathon training cycle for two reasons. first, to feel what my target pace will feel like in an actual race environment. second, to hit 1:15 or under so that i can register as an elite at the eugene marathon. it is now three weeks until the marathon and this was the only half that my busy schedule could afford. so it is cutting it close.
i slept well the night before because i knew that the result was out of my hands. i knew that i was more than fit enough to hit the time. the big factor for this race would be my right inner thigh. this annoying injury that has been plaguing my running for the past two weeks. it has caused me to shorten my stride, especially downhill. this forces me to work harder for slower times.
half the week last week, i stuck to the bicycle. on thursday i ran for three miles at a slow face. friday four. saturday three, but this time at my actual easy pace. if i had a few more days, i would be more confident. it's a variable, a question. will it keep together? will it loosen up? or will tighten up causing me to slow down, or stop completely, and bring about an even greater injury that will prevent me from running the eugene marathon?
but since, as i said, this was out of my control, i fell promptly asleep.
the alarm woke me up at 4:00am. first thought that hits my head. why am i doing this? who is making me? every now and again in the midst of my training, these questions and doubts surround me. attempting to bring me down and cloud my resolve. i push them along with my covers away and begin the pre race morning routine.
i start the water boiling for my espresso. bread is placed in the toaster oven. i viciously stab my red potato and cook it in the microwave. the toast is done, almond butter, fruit only blueberry jelly. potato is done, cut into small bite size pieces and sprinkled with garlic salt. water is boiling, i pull my shot of espresso.
next to the bathroom. toilet, shower, dressed.
i'm in the living room stretching out my leg. it feels good, loose, flexible. i'm packed and ready. the clock in the hall reads 5:05 when mr. box drives up in his honda hybrid as silent as the morning.
we're on the road, making great time. trying to calm each others nerves with talks of past races, future glories, and strategies. we are absentmindedly talking and only half way listening. our minds our on the upcoming pain, wondering if we have what it takes.
we're in the parking garage looking for the elevators. one hour until race time. finding the elevators, walking through the building, towards exhibit hall A, taking escalators whenever possible.
we're picking up our race packets. one more stop to the bathroom. a warm up in my pants and long sleeves. a few sprints, a few stretches, a few high knees, a few butt kicks. i would look foolish anywhere else but here. a large box of a room crowded with nearly 5,000 spandex-ed runners twisted in pretzel shapes, shaking away anxieties, pinning numbers, packing gels.
over the speakers a voice blares: 20 minutes until the half marathon begins. i'm shedding clothing, stripping down to the very bear minimum packing the rest into a plastic bag with my number on it, handing it to a volunteer, exiting the building. 12 minutes left.
i'm outside in the cold trying to stay warm in my skimpy singlet and short shorts and 99 cent wall-mart gloves that i will throw away mid course. a perfect day for a race. a little cloud cover, no wind, no rain, just slightly chilly. i continue to stretch, wondering what this leg will do when the race starts.
i look around at those who have stepped beyond the 7:00 minute mile pace sign. this is my competition. these are the ones that will pull me along as things get tough.
and now the countdown from the announcer. from ten . . . just enough time to take a deep breath, focus, relax, before i push the start on my garmin. and we are off.
instantly the lead pack is formed. six to eight of us. we turn a corner and there is a slight but steep hill that spits us out on the broadway bridge. i take a quick peek at the garmin to mark my pace. 5:20's. we went out too fast as is the common mistake in most races. i start to back off a bit, four people pass me as i settle into a 5:42 pace. this is where i want to be regardless of the competition especially for the first six miles.
as we cross the bridge those four people slow down considerably, i pass them easily maintaining my pace and speeding up slightly on downhill after the bridge. and from this early point, right around the first mile marker (which i didn't see) the places are settled for the next 11 miles. in first place a man from arizona who completely defeats the rest of us. in second place a man who will later become disqualified for turning around at the 5k and cuts the course short by a mile. in third place a porltand fellow sporting a red and black racing outfit declaring himself as a member of team red lizard. i am behind this guy at fourth. his singlet becomes my focus. i use him just as much as my garmin for pace imagining a great cable spanning the 30 seconds or so that separate us.
now we are hitting our second hill. at the base of the hill, i am still comfortably at my 5:42 pace, leg feels great. we start the climb. it's a long hill that continually steepens until the end. one of those hills that is completely laid out before you, the kind that would defeat you if it were at the end of the race. i attack it conservatively. not worrying about pace so much as effort. at the top, my garmin reads a 5:49 average. i have some time to make up.
but here is the problem. i can't fully extend my right leg. i can't make up that time as quickly as i would like, as quickly as i could do in perfect health. i try to relax, to glide down the hill, to make it smooth, to speed up without effort but the seconds come off so slowly.
and now we are in the body of the race, twisting and turning through downtown portland. team red lizard nearly misses a rogue bicyclist through a tricky maneuver. every time we turn left, we go uphill, every time we turn right we go downhill. it's too hilly, my leg is still too stiff, i can't make up my time. this is a point of great despair as doubt enters my mind. at mile 6, i shed my gloves. at 6.5 i take my first and only gel. i'm just trying to relax through this section, to focus, to stay with team red lizard, to keep hope.
and now we are on the last section. two turn arounds, all on flat road. this is where i have to return to my 5:42 pace. surprisingly, i get there quicker than when going downhill. after the first turn around, i draw encouragement from how spaced out i am from 5th place and 6th place. this is when i start to focus my mind, to prepare for the final 3.1 miles, when the real race begins.
it's mile 9 and i began the first of my four images. i push lap on my garmin for the first time. i speed up slightly. i am slowly gaining on team red lizard. this continues through mile 9 and 10 as we are weaving through a crowd of 5k walkers.
then we come to the final turn around with just a little over a mile to go. red lizard takes it wide, i go on the inside. for a second we are side by side. then the last mile comes. the final image and i am pushing hard. 10k and 5k walkers converge taking over the lanes, laughing, walking, enjoying the beautiful day. i continue to push, forgetting about red lizard, forgetting about the pain, just the push.
and then the steel bridge. the final, shortest, and steepest ascent on the course. the hill and the walkers crowding the inside turn slow me down. the course narrows. i am pushing through them, bobbing, weaving, breaking stride, but still pushing.
down the last little hill we go and turn the corner for the final straight away, the announcer, the crowds, the final mat, and the digital display clock over the finish. i look up at it. it reads . . .
this is madness. i have to make it. i have to get under 1:15. i break into a mighty sprint of desperate death through a sea of walkers. i run into one hard, i push into another one. it's almost as though they are holding me back, keeping me from my goal.
and then i cross the mat, it's over, i'm smiling, laughing.
official time . . .
first in my age group
according to the eugene marathon, i am an elite runner.