Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mercdes Half-Marathon Race Recap

2+ mile w/u + strides
Target: 13.1 miles @1:16:xx-1:18:xx
Actual: 1:17:54 (1:17:56 gun time); 1st place female
2.5 mile c/d
Total: 17-18 miles

When my plane touched down in Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon, it was gorgeous and sunny and 62 degrees. Before going to bed on Saturday night before the race, I noted on Facebook that when I toed the line the following morning in Birmingham--which, let's be clear, is located a mere 150 miles away from Atlanta--it would be a frigid 24 degrees with a wind chill of 18. If anything, reality was slightly colder than I feared when I woke up on Sunday morning. I didn't even want to crawl out from underneath the hotel covers, much less run a full-fledged race.

Fortunately, I had plenty of incentives. For one, there was no small sum of prize money on the line. I was also looking forward to retracing my steps and reliving some nostalgia on the same course where I qualified for the Trials exactly one year ago. And, in the immediate future, my friend and soon-to-be racing buddy Meggan was planning to meet me in the hotel lobby to warm up exactly 45 minutes from the sounding of my alarm clock. I would be lying if I said it didn't cross my mind to forego the outdoor warmup and trot along for a few minutes on the hotel treadmill instead, but I knew that would only postpone the inevitable. And so we begrudgingly set out, Meggan and I and a few of her training buddies who were also running, everyone putting on a brave front of good spirits in spite of the conditions. A short half hour later, it was time to shed our protective layers and hit the starting line. Even after removing several garments, I was still wearing much more than usual for a race of this distance: compression socks, gloves, a wind resistant headband, a long-sleeve base layer and another shirt on top. It was a far cry from the boy shorts and sports bra top I'd packed for the occasion. Instead, I looked like a hobo--albeit an expensively dressed, very sporty hobo--and even at that, I was still freezing! Finally, mercifully, the starter counted down the final 30 seconds and we were off.

Within minutes, Meggan and I had not only distanced ourselves from the next female competitor, but we'd also assembled quite the male entourage. Our primary companion, a very tall (and even thinner) Trak Shak employee named Jake Kidd (nicknamed "The Karhu Kidd" thanks to his affinity for the brand, as evidenced by the bright green Racers on his feet), had expressly stated before the race that he was game for coasting along and blocking the wind for us since he "wasn't in shape" enough to run his own race. Hey, I wasn't complaining. With our spirits high and our blood finally flowing, the first mile came and went in 5:50--a bit faster than the 6:00-6:05 pace we'd planned, but it felt like a breeze. The next mile followed in similar fashion, then the next. Before we knew it, and unbeknownst to us at the time, we passed through 10k in a brisk 36:03. This is only 25 seconds off my 10k road PR, which might have been a little ambitious given the weather and my nonexistent training over the past month, but with the wind at our backs and positive group energy it felt downright easy. I barely even noticed the gently rolling hills up to this point, though in my mind I knew a long, gradual incline was waiting for us within the next few miles. Surely that would sap some of our strength, but until then we had nothing to lose by riding the positive vibe until it ran its course (pun intended).

That party train came screeching to a halt, as predicted, when we reached the dreaded hill. Though it wasn't necessarily steep, it was cruelly deceptive. Every few hundred meters brought a crest or a bend in the road, and with it our hope that we'd reached the top, only to find that there was still more climbing to come. By the time I finally did make it up and over, all that remained of our group was myself, Jake and a first-time marathoner whose name I didn't catch. (The marathon essentially runs the half course twice, which meant he was nearing the end of the first of two loops.) I glanced behind for Meggan and saw she was about 10 meters back, but fortunately there were no other women in sight. From this moment on I had no course of action other than to push as hard as I could into the wind for the remaining few miles on increasingly fatigued--and still surprisingly cold--legs. From that point forward, Jake's presence and words of encouragement were invaluable. I'm not sure how much he was physically able to block the wind for me--though tall, I doubt his frame is any wider than mine--but I was able to zone out and simply focus on the backs of his bright green Karhu shoes, just as I've done countless times with Jordan. My eyes were smarting from the bitingly cold air and bright morning sunshine, and everything beyond the green shoes everything seemed to blur together.

With a mile to go, as we turned back toward the now-familiar downtown streets, I couldn't help remembering the wave of emotions I'd felt tracing this exact route a year earlier. In many ways it feels like a lifetime ago, yet the details and imagery of those final few minutes came back as though they'd happened only yesterday. In the midst of this reflection, as I dug deep into my mental and physical reserves, straining to find enough strength in my legs to power my way to the finish, I found myself drawn toward one revelatory, all-encompassing thought:

"Shit, it's cold out here."

I broke through the finishing tape, arms raised high, dipping just under 1:18 and clocking a two-minute PR. A few seconds later I was approached by a female reporter and a man with a video camera, evidently representing a local news station. I don't remember a single question she asked me, but I do remember realizing with horror as I opened my mouth to respond that my lips were literally frozen. Have you ever undergone major reconstructive dental surgery? Maybe taken a couple hundred cc's of Botox straight to the upper lip? I haven't, but I can't imagine that either of those scenarios would have resulted in speech more slurred and or lips more incapacitated than mine were at that moment. Total, utter humiliation. As I walked away, I said to a nearby volunteer, "I thure hope thass not on the newths tonight." "Oh don't worry," he replied cheerfully. "It's live."

A few seconds later, Meggan crossed the line in second place with a nice PR for herself. After thanking Jake for his help, the two of us immediately scurried off in search of warmer clothes to begin our cooldown. Meggan is racing the New Orleans Rock 'n Roll full in three weeks, and I'm confident she'll more than surpass her own expectations. As for me, I surprised myself today with how comfortable I felt for the majority of the race in light of my past month's "training." And while admittedly my previous PR was softer than, well, a lip full of Botox, today showed me that I have the potential to run much faster at the half-marathon distance later this year. Today's race was a fantastic way to round out my marathon recovery and bring the entire Trials experience full circle to the place where it all began a year ago.


Jason B said...

Great post, and nice work on the PR!

mfranks said...

Did you get to see your interview?

mrn said...

no! please tell me you didn't find it online...