Hi! As the Denver Rock N’ Roll Half Marathon drifts away on time’s river, its effects remain. Here’s the story of running the Half Marathon as if you were me. Here goes:
You awaken to that I-phone alarm ring that sounds like sonar pings, as if you lived in a submarine of old. It’s 4:30 in the morning. You feel a scratchy feeling in your throat. You could not sleep easily but finally dropped off around 11:00 last night.
You fall back into bed, head to the side, contemplating the still-dark morning ahead of you.
When you finally arise, you start gathering what you’ll need. Steps are slow. There’s a heavy feeling in your head and body, and you wonder if it was meant to be. Superstition’s siren calls, and butterflies flap around in your thoughts. You disregard them.
Once you’ve identified all that you’ll carry and wear, you warm up with a shower. It helps. You still feel the mild cold symptoms coming on. But you disregard those too, and categorize them with the routine discomforts that may have marked some past training day – i.e. fatigue.
You dress, put computerized time tracking tags on your shoes, prepare your bib, and pack your energy goop, in my case Espresso Love Gu and Strawberry Banana Gu.
When you finally leave, you’ve let time get away and have a thin margin of time. You comfort yourself: it’s Saturday morning. All will be well. Meanwhile, your beloved and tolerant spouse and child are dragging themselves out of bed on race day to come down and support you but you’re not thinking of them, you’re thinking of your race butterflies. Then you realize two miles into the 21 mile trip that your spouse’s car is out of gasoline. At first you think, how can this happen? Then you think, hey, just stop at Valero and put some gas in it. You do, working together with your wonderful spouse, and its done. Fast.
Back on the road, you apologize for being on edge, then realize that the planners of a North Metro city have decided to do major bridge construction three exits away. Traffic is at a standstill, bumpers inching along. You start to succumb to frustration, but then you realize that you must believe. Just believe that no matter what happens, it’ll be just as it should. And so you believe. After a few minutes, the traffic frees up and you make it to the drop off zone with plenty of time.
Dropped off you join a couple of runners from the breadbasket of the nation visiting Denver. They’re in your corral of estimated time to run a Half. They’re fun to banter with. Things like, do we get time credit for doing air guitar at each mile’s bandstand? Cause air guitar takes a knee drop to do right…
Finally, nervous trip to the port-a-potty all done, you walk up to the starting line where corrals 1-17 are marked by signs receding from there along a drive into distant numbered signs in front of the State Capitol. There is a throng and you move with it toward your distant corral number. It’s your first Half Marathon and you don’t want to be in too fast a corral, being passed by faster runners or left by your peers. You don’t want to get in the way and would rather do the passing if passing is to be done.
You get bumped into a couple of times and say “It’s all good,” because now you’re where you’re supposed to be. You’re grateful you’re here at all. Besides which, there is rock n’ roll music playing over the crowd, giving it a sort of mellow block party feel.
You arrive at your corral and merge with the long line. The MC / starter at the front is chattering over the sound system and says, “If you get lost, just look ahead at the 10,000 people in front of you and follow them.” Everyone laughs. It’s going to be fun. Good music is playing as you wait and move forward. They’re starting each corral in waves according to the time that they estimated they would finish the course. This spaces everyone out enough to avoid a major cluster.
When you reach the line, you are the last corral, so you’re launched. Off you go, and you’re pretty closely spaced. You begin to understand a second symbolic meaning for the StarKist Tuna rep handing you a free tuna package at the Expo the day before. You feel like you are in a school of tuna, except these don’t have that cool, automatic group navigation skill you see in schools of fish that move as one.
You think, I don’t want to spend too much time running laterally to get around people, but it’s kind of inevitable at first. Then you randomly remember your brother’s advice from years ago on how to drive on rural roads with long curves. “Pick a line,” he would say, and later he said there is something called a “hole-shot” that sport bike riders use to seize a gap in traffic. You start picking lines and finding hole-shots. Still, it’s slow going. Here is the cost for selecting the last corral.
You wore some running shorts that had small, velcro pouches on each side where you’d put your energy gels. After about two miles into the run you realize the energy gels are gone. They just fell out.
At first you think “Oh no,” I’m going to crump later on. Then you realize this is like the gasoline and the traffic jam. It’s a false obstacle you can get around. There are aid stations along the route. Water, electrolytes and even one Gu energy gel booth. You think, instead of believe in those things, believe in what is in you rising to the occasion.
As you run, you feel the coolness of the morning from your 7:34-ish AM start and the shadows of downtown buildings and trees helping you manage the heat factor. You decide that this will be the time you use to make some good time because it is cool. Later, you’ll likely be running in more sun, and carrying some mileage. So you steadily move forward through the crowd, passing people gently and listening to the wonderful cheerleaders by the course side, then bands at each mile. You concentrate on running efficiently, as you trained for in your minimalist shoes.
But you needed more cushion with the minimalist wideness and flatness inside the shoe, and you loved the feel of something called the Altra Zero-Drop shoe and bought it. Now you’re wearing it and it’s an improvement without a doubt. Another thing to be grateful for.
You’ve brought a watch that uses GPS to track your time, pace and distance. You forgot to link it while standing at the start. You do it after. The satellite takes a while to get a fix on you, so you didn’t know your pace for the first 1.5 miles. It finally kicks in and when it does, you’ve left the close quarters and have just begun enjoying your space. You see that you’re moving at an 8:35 minute / mile pace. You’re surprised because it feels easy to sustain. Believing is good. What happened to that drainage in your throat this morning? The energy drain feeling? Gone for now.
You were also worried about being able to drink from open cups while running, especially with your energy gels gone, drinking is really important. That too is a false worry. You gulp gracefully and move on.
You see lots of people with kids and dogs alongside the course, calling out for their Moms, Dads, brothers, sisters, friends and sweethearts. Dogs whine and bark in excitement picked up from the human excitement all around them. At first, it feels as if you’re alone in a crowd. Haven’t seen your personal cheerleaders yet.
But then you start getting something from OPC (Other People’s Cheers). You are happy for them that they are happy and getting cheers. It’s amazing, but being happy for them generates cheer between them and yourself.
Eventually you spot your two cheerleaders and you run to the side and exchange your kisses and love-yas then run on elevated by a few feet or a few miles, happy about this ethereal day you’re allowed to be alive and happy. The present is an ever present gift.
You keep watching your pace and realize you’ve been keeping in the 9 minute per mile pace for some time. That’s good for you 4-5 miles into the race. You’re relieved. You worry that you might be pacing too quickly for you. Then you say, “Believe.” There is part of us we’ve been holding back and a race teaches us about that part. We think in our daily routines that we must save this part of ourselves for the decisive watershed moments of our lives. And yet you now believe that races train us to converse with this part of ourselves.
A friend of your spouse recently ran the Disneyland Half Marathon. She calls and relays to you that she’d been tipped to break the 13.1 miles into quarters of four roughly 3.34 mile runs. That sounded pretty rational. She says she was told to hold on to a 10 minute pace 3/4’s or 8 to 9 miles into the race, then pick up the pace into the finishing line. You have done the opposite, you rode your energy, the coolness of the morning and gratitude for being there at a sub-10 minute pace for the first 6 miles or so.
You broke it up into four segments, but you made them a geographic, visual acronym. In Denver, you realized destination 1 was the University of Colorado’s Auraria campus downtown. Two was City Park. Three was Cheeseman Park. And four was the State Capitol finish. So you assigned ACCC as an acronym for progress. You visualized the campus as you ran to it. You visualized City Park as you ran to it. You visualized Cheeseman Park before arriving. You visualized the Capitol on the way there. You wanted to be at each place, looked forward to the sights and familiarity of each place. This helped.
In this race, you had rock and roll bands playing every mile. This drew your feet and arms into some fun rhythms during the race. You recognized nearly every song and liked most of those you had never heard. Some wise planner made them upbeat songs with enthusiastic lyrics.
And then it happens. You’re at mile 8-9 after City Park, enjoying the sense of accomplishing over half the race, but you start slowing. The calves are getting tight. Believe, believe. And at this point, in addition to believing, you act. You pull out a trick from Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks. You engage the Silly Run arsenal to break up the constant shock and stasis of your running method. You want a reset, and you engage it. You run pigeon toed, saddle legged, and high stepped to un-glue your lower body some. It helps you reset. Slowly, you bring the pace down again, negotiating some small hills in the park and more sun stretches.
You enjoy some flat land, but are beginning to feel the fatigue building. Then the Gu energy gel table comes along and you grab two of them, using only one, and drink some water. Whew. You are grateful for this racing volunteer and organizational staff. They rock, indeed, you think. You’re kind of falsely giddy now, so you think of some jokes to tell when you see two Jamba Juice sponsored runners dressed as bananas running ahead of you. So you run up to them, these people who look like they’re burning up in their suits, and you say, “Hey you want to hear a joke?” And they say “Sure.” So you say, “Po and Tassium were walking down the street. Po fell in a hole, who was left?”
One of the bananas says, “I didn’t hear that.” You apologize and peel out, leaving them in their hot yellow banana suits.
You reach the third C. Cheeseman Park. It has some subtle hills. They are not subtle to you. But you believe and engage them. Your feet hurt, but someone has a sign that says, “Your feet hurt ’cause you’re kicking butt.” Someone else has a sign that says, “Run Sexy,” and you can’t imagine what they’re talking about. You’re calves are cramping but you’re running on them, trying to shake them out here and there while trying to pick up the pace. You hit the 12 mile point. You’ve slowed down. You don’t know it, but you’ve insured a 10:26 minute average mile pace with that segment.
This is where you decide that you’re going to drop the pace lower and pick it up. It does not seem so easy, but then you hit a downhill area and come back down. How long had you been in the 11 to 12 minute pace with your seizing calves? Well, the Gu has kicked in and they’re not cramping anymore.
Time to make up for those slow, painful two miles. So you go from 9, to 8, and you’re bouncing between the two when you hit the final downhill mile. You don’t know why you can’t just start flying at 7 minute mile pace. You watch yourself take most of the mile at an 8 to 9 minute pace. When you hit 2/10’s, you see your spouse and child, cheering you again!
Boom: you run a sustained 8 minute plus pace downhill. When you see the finish line and the loudspeaker blares “Only 200 yards to go!” and everyone’s cheering you on, you find a 6 minutes pace in you and run across. It’s over.
Except the photos. The medal hung around your neck. The reunion with that wonderful family. The relief. And a desire to lie down under a tree on the cool grass by the Capitol and stare into the sky, no weight on your feet. You do. Until your four year old starts high fiving your head with a great big orange foam hand she got from a vendor, and more vendors are handing you free food, smoothies, drinks, tuna, and water. They are doing this for free in a sort of premium marketing effort that you take as kindness.
You happen to have asthma. As you sit with your family a tent nearby uses a generator. The exhaust messes with your breathing, or, its exercise induced, or both. After first getting coffee, which seems more important than breathing, you drop by the medical tent and a woman physician comes up and quickly assesses you, gets you an Albuterol inhaler once determining it is OK for you, and you take a couple of puffs. You get a pulse-ox reading of 97% and you’re thanking these wonderful people. You’d forgotten my inhaler, and didn’t think you’d need it. The volunteers are great. They love being there.
You walk home with your family and realize, gee, you guess you do have a cold. So does your four year old. You go home, and you’re happy.