- Would you believe me if I said I wasn't that nervous? On Saturday (the day before the race), my stomach was all jacked up. I didn't do a whole lot, lazed around watching Netflix on Xbox (love! btw), and not eating anything that might jack it up--sugar, greens, beans or cruciferous vegetables. I had mac and cheese from the blue box for dinner. I set out my race clothes (pink hat, pink shirt), and crawled into bed. And except for 15 minutes of blinking at 4:00 am, I slept pretty well. Sunday morning I had a banana and peanut butter on toast, and some sips of water. The stomach storm seemed to have passed. And on the drive up to Boulder I was actually mellow enough to doze off in the car. I had a headache, but I figured once I got running that would go away.
- We got there about an hour before race time, and just early enough to see the marathoners take off at 8:00. Ah, the wash of near naked humanity! We wandered around a bit, grabbed a water, used the Porta-Pottie for the pre-race nervous pee (already at ew at 8:30 in the morning--I shudder to think about the 3:00 pm Porta-Pottie). Mom and Dad showed up to see me off, which was lovely and nice for Mr. Bump to have someone to hang around with while they waited. All was good. All was as expected. Except for one thing. The weather was already around 65 degrees at 8:30. I knew where this was headed. It was going to be hot.
- Thankfully for me, I had run this exact route on Labor Day, in exactly these same conditions--bright hot sun. I wore a short sleeve shirt, and if I had known it was going to be that hot, I might have worn a tank top, but the fact that I burn so easily probably would have talked me out of that anyway.
- So at about 8:55 I say goodbye to my peeps and wander over to the back of the pack at the start line. The headache hasn't gone away, but I just repeat to myself that it will once I start running. I told myself this time that I didn't want everyone passing me, so I stuck to the back. Finally they started (although I never heard a pistol or an airhorn) and we began to shuffle to toward the start line. For those of you who don't know racing (this included me until 4 months ago), these days they put a new fangled chip thingy on your shoe, or in the case of this race a velcro strap that goes around your ankle. At the start line are a series of blue mats which start the timer for your chip, so your time is mat to mat rather than from starting pistol to tape at the finish line (which there isn't one). This is your "net" or chip time, as opposed to your "gun" or official time.
- Anyway we get to the starting line, I make sure that I step down hard on it (don't want that chip to miss recording that start time) and off I go. There were so many people bunched together at the start that you really couldn't go very fast--there was no room to pass anyone. But starting slow is important, or so they tell you, so it was a good way to force me to start slow. You begin up in the parking lot at the Boulder Reservoir, and you run on the asphalt for a tenth of a mile or so before you hit the road. By the time I hit the road you could see the runners all the way up to the first hill, which is about a mile away (note: this hill will become important later on my way back). There was some stringing out, but it was a crazy mass of people. I think there were 983 finishers of the half-marathon, so I'd say a good 700 people strung out before me for a mile. I can't imagine what something like the New York or Boston marathon with all those 30,000 people pushing forward.
- A bit about the course at this juncture. This race is called the Boulder Backroads Marathon, because, well, it takes place on the backroads behind the reservoir. All except for about a one mile piece in the middle is on gravel or hard packed dirt roads. This is both easier and harder to run on than asphalt. It is more forgiving on your joints than asphalt or concrete, but your traction (particularly on the less hard packed portions) is very different, and the way your foot slides out from under you is very different than say asphalt. Also there are lots of little rocks that my running shoes didn't protect me from. All of this I learned on my Labor Day run of the same course, so I knew what to expect.
- We start out on the top of a hill, so downhill, small uphill, large downhill, then curve and large uphill. I'm furiously trying to file this away for the return trip, but there is this thing I like to call "Runner's Brain," which is in fact the way in which
youok I, become stupid when running. Let's just say if someone asked, I couldn't remember my eye color by the end of the race.
- After that series of elevation gains and losses, we level out for a while, then we have another turn with a hill. Somewhere along this stretch I discover we're already to mile 2, just at an aid station. I take some water, wave off the banana, and think "Hey--mile 2! This is easy! Let's just pick up the pace!" (see Runner's Brain above).
- Then I run, and run, and run some more. Then I walk, then I run again. Occasionally I check my heart rate to make sure I'm not pushing too hard, and my time. I'm shooting for a 12 minute mile pace, and I'm ahead of that at mile 2 (20 minutes in at mile 2). This road is forever long and I keep going, passing this person, being passed by that one. People are starting to look familiar, like we've become a pack. People chat, slow down, get in my way. I'm trying to run in the hard packed rut as the rest of the road is washboarded, but of course so is everyone else. There is a woman wearing a hat that is some kind of cross between a rainbow colored mohawk and court-jester stuffed spike hat. It looks very hot. I've got my music on, I'm grooving, I am the lone wolf. I pick my own pace.
- Finally we reach Niwot Road, the first turn, which is paved (Hallelujah!). There are people in lawn chairs with cow bells, clapping and shouting encouragements. Someone has a giant white board with "GO MELISSA" on it. I wonder briefly if they plan on erasing her name after she passes and inserting someone else's. We turn and run along the road, some in the dirt beside it. They've set up cones on the road, however, and I'm running on the road. The paved road is my friend. I know the asphalt, I love the asphalt.
- Sadly, the asphalt ends when we get to the next intersection, where we take a hard right. The next section is hard packed dirt, not bad. I walk a little, I eat a shot block, I take some gatorade at the aid station. I surge on. We hit 4 miles, we turn again more dirt. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Somewhere in here I get stupid (see Runner's Brain) and think the next turn is the last one. It is not. Somewhere in here I begin to see runners doubling back toward us. It starts out as one, maybe 10, then suddenly a pack and then another. I am convinced I am the turtle at the back of the pack. Every once in a while I have to turn around and check to make sure there is someone behind me. The wind whips up--first a headwind, then a cross-wind, then a tailwind. Whatever it is, it feels amazing. It keeps me going. As I approach each turn, I can see the runner's ahead of me turning, and it keeps me going. I promise myself a little walk after each turn. Sometimes I let myself when the turn comes, sometimes I crack the whip.
- We hit 5 miles (hey--5 miles! I say, but not "let's pick up the pace," you notice), we turn, I realize we still have a left and a right (it was another mile--let's just pretend I was able to calculate that) before the turnaround point. Somewhere on this part a gentleman who appeared to be its original owner has his Chevelle parked in his driveway with a big "For Sale" sign on it. Because during a marathon is the best time to try and sell your car.
- Finally a turn, then another swift one. I can see the turnaround, the big blue Porta-Pottie like a beacon in the (almost) mid-day sun. I grab 1/3 of a banana, some gatorade. I do the weird jog past the water table and around the gatorade coolers that apparently delineate the course turn around. It feels like musical chairs with coolers and no sitting down. Everyone does it though, this odd little up and back.
- At the turn around I begin to notice the incredible amount of gatorade cups and half-empty water bottles. We're at 1:20 minutes into the half marathon, 2:20 minutes into the full marathon. Almost everyone has already been here, I think. But as I go on, a miracle happens. I see all the of the people who were behind me as I double back. There are plenty of them. I begin to feel like I'm doing ok, and that this is going to be good. I crank the music--Queen is singing "We Will Rock You," Genesis has that "Invisible Touch." Avril Lavigne shows up with my new favorite run song "Girlfriend" and I'm feeling so good I have to fight not to start punching the air as I run. I wag my head in time to the music. I run over a perfectly flat snake whose paper thin belly shines in the sun. We pass the guy leaning against his Chevelle, watching us all pass him this way and that.
- For a long time, maybe 3 miles after the turnaround, there are still people coming the opposite way. I am amazed. I feel for them. I cheer them on. I can't believe I'm not the last one left. Somewhere in here I realize I've passed that woman in the purple tank top three times, and she's passed me the same amount. I remember her from the pack way back at mile 3, but the guy she was running with has fallen back. It goes on like this, her, then me, then her. It doesn't feel like we're competing, it isn't adversarial, it feels good. I see her pass me, I pick it up again. Back on Oxford Road there is a sandwich board sign that says Mile 6. Someone has taken a sharpie to it and made it into an 8, with "(really)" above it. I laugh.
- I'm feeling good. I conjure up the word bulletproof. I can feel the endorphins surging, that mini-Larabar I swiped stuck in my throat and I had to wash it down, but it seems to be working. I am rocking. I'm on pace (I think--see Runner's Brain above--multiples of 12 are not my strong suit, apparently). I pass the Mile 10 sign...and my mp3 player dies. Dies dead. The screen is fogged up so apparently it got sweated on too much. I'm running, furiously pressing buttons. Nothing. I try to turn it off, turn it back on. Nothing. I take a deep breath (or at least as much of one as you can take while running) and suck it up. The last three will be silent. Silent but deadly, I tell myself.
- Last aid station, Mile 12 (previously seen as Mile 2). There is no gatorade, only water. No gatorade? No! No! Let me tell you, if there is an option, always take the gatorade. Always. But alas, no gatorade, but hey! only two more miles to go! This is great! (I can hear what's left of my short term memory softly calling out "Remember the hills, Lana! Remember the hills!"
- As you crest that last hill, I can see the reservoir shining in the sun. I can see the road snaking down and rolling up toward the parking lot. I can see all the runners a mile ahead of me, slowing down as they push up that last hill. I throw myself down the hill, using gravity for momentum. At the bottom, I walk, I eat two shot blocks, I measure out distances between no parking signs, I try and figure out where to run, where to walk. Purple tank top girl passes me, and as she does she says, "You're doing great!" I don't know what gave me away, what made her know to say that to me, but it helped. I said "So are you!" but then wasn't sure that she needed my encouragement. I hope it helped her. I come abreast of a No Parking sign. I run. People with medals around their necks are trickling back towards us. I don't understand what they're doing--have they decided to do another half-marathon just to round out their day? I hit the next no parking sign, I walk. Repeat. I rest, I run up the small hill, I run down (momentum, how I love thee!), I push up the next, last fucking hill (or so I think). Someone at the top says "This is your last long hill!" She didn't, however, put the emphasis on the right word. It should have been on long. Not last.
- As we turned off into the grass on the artificially created final leg, delineated by orange fences, I begin to hear the same thing being chanted, over and over. I wanted to believe them. I wanted to believe I was almost there, like they said, but I couldn't see the finish line. I couldn't see it. We run uphill, on uneven tufted grass, up and up and up. Finally I see my mom's pink shirt (she was representing for Team Pink, which in this case was me) and I know I must be almost there. My fan club roars to life, cheering. Everyone is there but Mr. Bump. I don't see his blue shirt but I hope he is nearer the finish line. Someone not of my fan club says, like 10 people before her, "You're almost there!" I want to punch her in the face but instead I shout back "Jesus!" I round to the right, and there's the finish line, another 90 degree uphill turn. I see Purple Tank Top crossing the finish line and I think, "Damn, I was going to sprint." But it's too late. I've crossed it. The time on the clock says 2:41 yada yada but my watch is a minute below that. I forget at this juncture to stop my watch (see above Runner's Brain) however, so that exact number is lost to history. They shove a medal around my neck, someone gently removes the timing chip from my ankle, and they suggest I get some juice. The options are Dragonfruit or Peach Mango. I wave them off.
- And finally, after what seems like a lifetime since I've seen him last, there is Mr. Bump. I'm grinning like a stupid idiot, and for about 1/10th of a second I want to cry. But I'm too tired, too dehydrated, and to happy to bother. I hug my mom, I rip my shoes off my feet, I look for water (there is none--no water at the finish line. You've got to be kidding me. Now I understand the offer of crappy juice), I briefly lie down on the grass and pant. Someone tells me that I finished a lot stronger than the lady who barfed just a few feet from the finish line. Later I will remember that this woman still crossed the finish line before me, even with barfing, and I'll ramp back on my pride in not vomiting. But I'm done! and I've Done It! I've finished!
- Every part of me is crusty with salt. I pour some water from my water bottle on my face, and taste salt. I'm not hungry, but I'd kill for some ice water. There is none. We decide without water to tempt me, I'm done with this. I want out.
- After a lengthy exit from the parking lot, we head out to The Gondolier in Boulder for a huge pasta lunch. I'm tired. My legs hurt. I'm happy. I did it.
My words of inspiration after this are those that are attributed to that great sports philosopher extraordinare, Nike. If you want to do something, there is no substitute. Just do it. At some point I had to set aside the fact that I had a headache throughout the entire race(realized I should have had a pre-race coffee at about mile 8) and that there was a rock in one of my shoes from about mile 6, and that the music gave out at mile 10. I just had to lift those things away and just keep going.
And I did. And now I get to rest. In Africa! I can't wait, I'll keep you posted...