Sunday, June 22, 2014

So brave ...

At 4:20 a.m. I remind myself that I don't have to do this. It was a free entry. 
I've not even invested time. My last run was a 5K in like April. My entire house is breathing in unison. It's yuck outside -- 40-something degrees, mist, fog. Standard "Scooby Doo" fare. Perfect for running; not the kind of weather that makes it easy to hit the eject button on a pillow. 

But I'm up. The clothes are laid out. Here I am in the shower; here I am starting the coffee before I can stop my own trigger finger. 

So I guess I'm doing this. 

The melons must be emptied. That's paramount. My number one excuse for not running regularly is along the lines of: "But oh these cans are lousy with liquid." Running with boobs is an entirely different sport than just plain old running. It's painful, like walloping yourself in the chest with a sock full of Jello-O over and over and over. After they're fully juiced, I "Boys Don't Cry" them with twice the usual number of sports bras. 

Per usual, I find myself sprinting a decent distance before the race has even begun -- from my car to the shuttle -- and I wonder if maybe the starting line can be nudged ahead a few blocks, just for me, to make up for the work I've already done on this day. Excuse me, Sir. But I've put in, oh, say, 3/4 of a mile and I'd like to be justly compensated. 


"I'm not going to stand for a half hour," a runner in front of me says as one of the city buses, among a fleet that will talk us to the starting line, fills to standing-room only. 

A handful of us nod, all hell-no-we-won't-go, and the doors close with a whatever shrug. The fleet leaves. A girl behind me asks, finally, "but more buses are coming, right?" A volunteer says yes, but every 30 seconds she wonders aloud again until she finally laughs nervously and says "Seems like I'm the only one who is worried about this."  

Me? I don't care. If it comes, it comes. If it doesn't, I'll have something to be fake angry about as I crawl back into bed. I'll be part of an elite team of People Who Were Left Behind. We'll be this year's Big Story. They'll have us all meet up again for a reunion on the "Today Show" just before the 2024 race. 

"I've never forgiven myself for not, just, agreeing to stand for a half hour," a quiet voice will admit from the pack of surviving Left Behinds. 
"We had to jog in place to stay warm. I was going to have them subtract that distance from the route. They still owe me," I'll tell Kathie Lee Gifford's drunk skeleton. 

Of course, the bus comes. 

I share a seat with a friendly woman with a drawl who claims to be a below average competitor, yet tours the country participating in races. She will do 15 this summer. This seems silly to me. Why fly to an entirely different state just to be below average? You can do that for free at home. I should know. 

I stare out the window as we're taken further and further from the city limits to, finally, deer tick breeding zone. This could be the beginning of a terrific horror film. 

"I can't believe we have to run all the way back," I tell my new friend. 

We turn onto a side road and rumble through what counts for a neighborhood in the country. 

"What if you lived out here?" I say to my seat partner. "And you just woke up on race day and you were at the starting line?" 
"A lot of people would pee in your yard," she tells me. "It's a real problem." 


I tuck into a tight pack of people, just a little too close to Porta-Potty Camp. The countdown to start-time smells like All-You-Can-Eat-Pasta after it's been rung through a digestive system. And then the race just ripples to a start. I plod along and think about how this feels pretty good. Lake Superior looks gorg and the temperature is exactly right. 

I finally get cell reception, so I plug into Depeche Mode's "101."  I want this to be the most chill run of my life. I want long strides and a fugue state. And it's really starting to go that way. I watch for blue balloons, which indicate another mile has bitten the proverbial dust. 

There are townies with coffee mugs sitting in lawn chairs on the curb. Some sociopath dressed like a lion does an interpretive dance. All sorts of people hold signs that say "Beer! 9 Miles!" and some kid has one that says "Smile if you peed your pants." 

I run up on an acquaintance, who is eardrum deep in a podcast. 
"You train for this?" he asks. 
"Mostly I just drank a lot of water," I say, before drifting off backward. 

There is a problem of a sloshing bladder, and I tell myself I'll stop -- but only after Mile 4. Right at the balloons I ditch to the shoulder of the road and become the 12th person in line for the Porta Potty. It's a detour that even hand sanitizer can't fix. By the time I get in and out, 20 minutes have passed -- as has the pack. 

Now it's Stragglersville. People take selfies with spectators. A girl stands pensively reading the information at a scenic overlook. A guy chugs from a beer bong provided by college aged spectators. "I just want a Big Mac," someone, (me?), says to no one in particular. 

When people clap for us, they do it with a little pout, frowned brows and a stage whispered "So brave!" 

Some people fly halfway across the country for this, I remind myself. 


I never really caught my stride after that. My foot hurt so I retied my shoe and then it hurt more. My knee hurt, so I started imagining a rapid erosion of my meniscus. 

I drank as much PowerAde as I could -- not just for the hydration, but because it was free. Someone passed me a tube of some kind of gel -- which had a raspberry Clif bar meat flavor. 

A man on the side of the road held a slice of watermelon and I angled toward him and whispered "Really?" 
He nodded. 
It was the best food I'd ever eaten. 

By the time I hit downtown I'd quit running. Sometimes I'd say to myself: "TO THE STOPLIGHTS!" and then I'd almost make it to the stoplights. I chugged past my friend Greener and Farmtown, just to show off, and kept it up until I'd rounded out the corner out of their sight. 

I walked behind the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, past the William A. Irvin. And when the fifth person of the day yelled to me "YOU GOT THIS" I vowed that I would never say "YOU GOT THIS" to anyone ever again. Forever. Never. 

I ran the last 600 or so meters. By then I'd already been passed by the top 4 finishers in the wheelchair marathon that started an hour after the start of the half marathon. 

"The elite runners are coming," another straggler warned me. 
I figured as much. An elite runner might run a full marathon in 2 hours, 10 minutes. I was easing my way toward a 3 hour half marathon.  My headstart was about to be a hilarious footnote. 
I laughed. 
"Seriously," he said, and plodded on. 

I cruised across the finish line and thought of raising my hands in victory but didn't. I bypassed the foil wraps and then doubled back. 

"I've always wanted one of these," I said to the volunteer, a kid who wrapped it around my shoulders like I was his elderly grandmother. 

I finished with the worst time I've ever run in a half-marathon and one of my toenails fileted the neighboring digit. I'm thinking that I might start not-training for 5Ks instead. So says me. 

1 comment:

Kym said...

This story made me laugh out loud!