Somewhere around mile 8:
What the Hell am I doing?
Why am I running this?
This is so pointless.
Maybe I’ll take the summer off from running.
God, I wish I could stop.
Maybe I should just quit running altogether.
I have been struggling with this race recap, in large part I think because this race was a struggle for me. I haven’t had the mental lethargy I had in this race ever before. Even at Manchester when my quads froze up at mile 20 and I had to hobble like Frankenstein’s Monster for the last 6.2 miles I at least had the mental drive to finish. In this last race on Sunday, it was my body NOT my head that carried me through to the end.
As I headed downtown early Sunday morning to the Run To Remember Half-Marathon with my friend Liz, I kept thinking about 2 things. My awful training runs during the week and the weather. After taking two weeks off from running to let my right knee mend, I had run on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Each run was physically miserable. Despite being happy to be running again, by Friday it was starting to get to me mentally.
The temperature at start time was supposed to be 68° in the shade, but was predicted to rise rapidly over the following 2 hours. I kept thinking, “if that’s not incentive to hurry my ass up, I don’t know what is.” My worries about the weather heightened when I ran into my friend Yigal (one of the people who first encouraged me to run long distances). He looked at me and smiled, “It’s gonna be a hot one today…and there’s no place to hide.”
After stretching and warming up, I found my way to the 7:30 pace section. I kept trying to tell myself, “it’s only a half marathon. It’s only a half-marathon”, but there was another part of me that was screaming back, “it’s a half-marathon! It’s a half-frakking-marathon!!!” Mentally I was going in two different directions. Even as the starter said “ready” I had no idea what kind of race I was going to run.
I moved forward on the gun, broke into a small jog but then had to stop as the crowd couldn’t figure out what it was doing. Finally, as I approached the starting line I was able to break into stride. The moment I saw daylight the feet went. It was a gut move, not based at all on how I was feeling physically (which was tired). Without thinking I almost immediately kicked it into race speed. That first mile involved an incredible amount of weaving. I looked at my watch. 6:54. Whoa! I thought about slowing down but didn’t. The first four miles would all be under 7 minutes, but for that I would pay later in the race.
As we made our way through downtown Boston I scanned the crowd, looking for any pod to latch onto. I tried this group and that one, but unlike the Eastern States 20 where I found my group early, nobody was running at a pace that I was comfortable with. I felt like Goldilocks looking for that perfect bowl of porridge. Everybody’s bowl was either too hot or too cold. I continued to work my way through the crowd. As we left downtown and headed over the Charles River, the crowd thinned. As we crested the bridge, a long-legged blond started to slowly pass me. She pulled ahead just slowly enough for me to latch on. Perfect! Over the next few miles we ran in silence until we saw the lead runner on his way back from the turnaround. We both cheered him on and then continued in silence.
It was about this time that I really started to feel the heat. The strange thing is that it never really got that hot on Sunday. I don’t think the thermometer reached 80°, but the combination of my fast start, the humidity and my general malaise towards the race added up to just knock me on my butt. My pacing dropped 30 – 40 second per mile. Long-legged blond left me in the dust. Suddenly I wasn’t passing people anymore, they were passing me. And they weren’t passing me in a trickle, they were passing me in droves. I kept trying to pick up the pace, eying runners here and there to slide in behind, but every time I’d watch as they pulled away.
Doubt began to set in. I seriously questioned why I was doing this.
Mentally I was just not in the race and mile 9 showed it. 8:13. Over a minute slower than each of my first 4 miles. The moment I saw that number however, something kicked in. I was NOT finishing this race mentally defeated. I told myself, “4 miles to go”, leaned in and picked up the pace. I would cover the last 4.1 miles in a respectable 30:46, about a 7:30 pace. As we came back into the city, another young woman pulled up next to me. I looked at her.
“I’m gonna try to hang with you as long as I can,” I said.
“Let’s go!” she said.
As we made our way toward the Commons I felt a surge of energy. The crowd thickened, their cheers grew louder. I picked up speed and I was again passing people and not being passed. We weaved our way through downtown Boston and headed for the final bridge to the finish line at the Boston World Trade Center. I looked at my watch – 1:33 with 0.62 miles to go. A PR was out of the question, but I could still put in a good showing.
I drew on what I thought was every last bit of energy and went for it. This was going to be ugly.
My father ran track when he was in junior high school. His specialty was the half-mile, for which he set a long-standing county record for back in the late 50′s. He used to tell me that as good as he was at the half-mile, he absolutely hated it because it was too long to be a sprint, but too short not to be. He would tell me how in the last 100 yards of his races he would feel like his butt was going to fall off and it would be all he could do to finish.
I broke into the best sprint I could muster. Over the bridge the young woman and I went. She was desperately trying to hang on. Down the other side we came.
0.42 miles to go. I didn’t bother looking at my watch. My legs and arms were pumping away. THIS is what I was missing midway through this race. The young woman had fallen behind.
0.25 miles to go and I suddenly realized I was running on empty. There was nothing but fumes in the tank. I could feel my legs fighting me. I distinctly remember thinking, “Uh Oh!”
Out of the crowd came a “LUAU!!!” I turned to look. It was my buddy Mike (of The Battle With the Cat in the Hat fame). I shot him a wave and bore down with renewed energy, but I seriously thought I was going to have to ride momentum to get across the finish line.
With 50 – 60 yards to go, a guy in a bright orange shirt with his name (Cooper) written on the back blew past me.
Now, I generally don’t run angry. I find it counter-productive, but at that moment I found my inner Hulk. I had passed this guy in the first 200 yards of the race and now he was passing me?
I channeled Usain Bolt and discovered something I hadn’t seen in a long time. A kick. A real, honest to goodness kick. I blew by him with just yards to go, finishing ahead of him by 1 second. I stumbled to a guard rail to hold myself up. Cooper came over and high-fived me. The young woman came over and did the same. We exchanged pleasantries and I wobbled off to cheer on the friends who were behind me.
I looked at my watch. 1:37:00. Not a PR, but I had to admit, considering the way I felt going into and mid-way through the race, I was pretty happy with the result. I had covered that last 0.62 miles at a 6:27/mile pace. Not bad after 12.5 miles. The final official stats would finally read 1:37:00, 212th out of 4955 finishers, 35th out of 426 men in my age group. I was even more elated with my time when I heard the winner had run 4 minutes slower than his usual time. It seems that everybody in this race that I knew came in 5 – 15 minutes slower than they had hoped or expected. So to be almost 4 minutes over my own PR made me feel pretty good about my performance.
So, you may be wondering about the title. I started running in November of 2008 because my crazy wife had decided in a moment of insanity to sign up for the Hyannis Half Marathon, which takes place on the Cape in the middle of February. I wasn’t a runner. I started doing it because I didn’t want this crazy woman running in the dead of winter all by herself.
All I could think of last Sunday as the sun beat down on my shoulders and sweat poured from every pore of my body was “So maybe the Wife isn’t so crazy after all.” I’ve determined that I am definitely NOT a warm weather runner. That said, I think I’m running Boston 13.1 at the end of the month. Who’s the crazy one now, huh?