13.1 Miles, for Those Who Don't Want to Go All the Way
Checking one's pride at the door (starting line) is recommended before participating in a half-marathon. Falling face-first in the street and getting passed by a guy in Jesus sandals stand out as two of my more memorable race-day indignities.
Those of you who have faithfully read Patch for a while might recall my past column on training for a half-marathon, which I wrote in late July, when my training program had just begun. Well, fast forward to Oct. 15, 2011, when I officially became (veiled brag alert) a newly christened member of the 13.1 Mile Club via the Baltimore Half-Marathon.
All of my previously stated objectives—cross the finish line upright and without the aid of a defibrillator, don’t soil my pants and run the entire distance—were achieved too. The only goal I came up short on was the aesthetic quality of my finish line photo. Let’s just say it’s tough to have a good hair day once your head turns into a salt lick and you’ve endured 20 mph sustained wind gusts for over two hours.
When Game Day finally arrived, I felt surprisingly ready and fairly relaxed. (Although leaving my Alexandria house for Baltimore at 4:30 AM for a race that started at 9:45 AM probably isn’t the best example to convince you of that.) I had fervently pursued my training (followed Hal Higdon’s novice half-marathoner protocol), and I really wasn’t concerned about my time; I just wanted to enjoy the experience and finish the race. The prevailing mantra that played in my head throughout my 13.1 miles wasn’t, “Win your age group” or, “Aim for a personal best”. It was simply, “Cold beer ahead,” as I knew it was awaiting me in Celebration Village.
Yes, the beckoning of beer was what kept my feet pounding the pavement. Well, that, and along the course, there was a woman holding a sign that read, “You can’t quit now. People are watching!” More than likely, this stark reality contributed significantly to my determination too.
Arriving to the staging area, I noticed all of the “elite runners” (euphemism for Kenyans) corralled in the first wave. Not to boast (again), but I’m pretty sure I saw fear in their eyes when they caught sight of me. As nothing screams intimidation quite like a middle-aged mom, with a jiggly muffin top above her spandex, in squeaky running shoes (my orthotics), sporting a fanny pack. So, to ease their minds, I approached them and said, “Don’t worry fellas. I plan to take it easy on you. Bless your hearts, you boys never win these things. Plus, I’ve already qualified for Boston, and I have no use for the $25K prize money so I’m just going to let you own it today.” And to further get into their heads, I decided to keep up with them, stride for stride, for the first ten miles, er, I mean meters. As if.
One thing’s for sure, I hadn’t fully anticipated the lessons in humility that this race would offer. There were people of all shapes, sizes, colors and ages…and most left me firmly in their dust. I was particularly demoralized by the guy who blew past me with nothing on his feet but Jesus sandals. Seriously! And I’m not talking the barefoot running shoes that are all the rage. This dude literally was wearing sandals that one generally sees only on pictures of the Lord, but sans any back straps. Twine flip-flops, if you will. And he beat me, bad.
The woman whose shirt back (which, sadly, was fronting me) read, “I’m not slow, I’m just pregnant”, took the wind out of my sails a bit too, especially when I saw her sideways at a water station and noted that she was roughly, oh I don’t know, one day away from delivering. And then there was the guy who juggled five balls in the air and another who carried the American flag—all the while, running. They both smoked me too. I did find some solace in my finish line photo, however, when I noted a bare-chested, hard-bodied younger man directly BEHIND me. Conversely, I am pretty sure the photo did not provide the same morale lift for him.
On the subject of chagrin, I have to disclose that my confidence was a bit eroded at Mile 4. At that marker, I unceremoniously tripped on a manhole cover, and fell face-first into the streets of Baltimore. Two fellow participants—total strangers—immediately stopped running to come to my aid and pulled me back to my feet, which was quite heartening. The other positive that came of that mortifying incident was that it propelled me to clock my fastest mile. It’s amazing how fast one can run away from indignity. I’m telling you, if the Kenyans had seen me on that mile, they would have been legitimately scared. I was fierce on Mile 4—once I scraped myself up from the asphalt, that is.
But all-in-all, my first half-marathon was a most positive experience, and I've been officially brainwashed by running and am considering training for another race—albeit, one that doesn’t have as many hills. My race day was optimal and showcased the best that fall had to offer in that the weather was beautiful, sunny and crisp. There was a great energy in the air too; it was contagious and intoxicating. Or possibly that feeling came later, courtesy of the beer trucks.
Major props too, to the good citizens of Baltimore who were wonderfully supportive and enthusiastic. Charm City, indeed. Even the questionable guys in trench coats (kidding on the attire, but not on the skeeviness) standing outside the adult movie theater we had to run by (not kidding) shouted catcalls, I mean, affirmation—primarily towards the more youthful, nubile runners, who actually rocked their spandex. But encouragement is encouragement.
Personally, I felt a particular affinity towards the many children who joyfully lined the route, jumping up and down, with their hands outstretched, delivering high-five’s. I also liked the lady at Mile 8 who was serving up a huge bowl of M&M’s along with her, “You can do it.” And I loved the woman who was handing out free Dixie cups of (premium) beer at Mile 12 as she assured us, “You got this,”…while one of Baltimore’s finest stood right beside her turning a blind eye. And to the guy whose house sat at the top of the most grueling hill on the course who had a speaker on his porch cranking Kanye West’s, “Stronger” (…work it harder, make it better, do it faster, makes us stronger…) over and over again…THANK you. That totally pumped me up, got me up that hill and kept me going when I needed a boost the most.
There were many entertaining signs, t-shirts and costumed spectators (for instance, the three people around the lake, dressed like Zombies, with the sign saying “Zombies for Slow Runners”) offering encouragement and good humor. A lot of runners sported crab hats and many women had vibrant tutu’s covering their spandex leggings. I saw a shirt that said, “13.1…Because I don’t go all the way.” And I saw two young mothers wearing matching tees that read on the front, “Half-Marathon Mommies,” and on the back, “13.1 miles of peace and quiet.” My favorite sign was held by a woman between Miles 12 and 13.1. Hers simply read, “The End is Near…Peter 4:7-11.” And, mercifully, it was.
I’m curious to know if any other Patch readers took part in the Baltimore Running Festival/Under-Armour Marathon. It would be great to hear feedback/comments/memories from those who participated in this race or any other marathon event.