Cornfield Meet

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Akron Marathon 2011: Happy to be Sore.

As I’m writing this, it’s been almost 29 hours since I finished running my 6.3-mile relay leg of the Akron Marathon, and my legs are still sore.

And while I may be wincing a little going up and down the stairs today (Hey – this was my first competitive run as a 40 year old: Go me!), inside I’m smiling a bit, because the pain reminds me that I pushed myself yesterday, and since I usually only run one competitive race per year, I hate feeling like I could have done better or that I fell short of my goal.

Our five-man relay – consisting of my brother Adam, his friends Scott and Jeremy, my friend Keith and me – managed a time of 3:21:28, which beat the 3:23:40 that Adam, Scott and I turned in last year with two other runners completing our team. We finished 58th overall in the field of 1,109 relay teams and 20th in the 120-team Men’s Division.

I had set my personal goal at 50 minutes, which meant averaging an 8-minute pace for my 6.3 miles. This was fairly ambitious by my standards: While Adam and I put some work in this summer on a 3.15-mile loop and gotten my average there to a best of about 7:25, I missed my 40-minute goal in a five-mile race back in 2008 and am generally pleased if I can keep things between 8-and-a-half and 9 minutes per mile when I’m going longer than 4 miles.  At my best, I can reach a seven-minute mile, but I really have to work hard to sustain that for more than about a mile and a half.

My plan for Saturday was to go out and run at my limit for as long as I could, and then dial it back to a regular cruising speed, figuring that even as the miles wore on, they wouldn’t slow me to the point where I’d be losing the time I’d built up with a fast start.

Jeremy ran the first leg, so once the race had begun, Keith headed off to make his way to relay point number four while Adam and I walked to the first handoff location. A half-hour later, I watched as Jeremy passed our team’s fluorescent yellow slap bracelet (no baton carrying here) to Adam, and then I turned away to cover the nearly mile-long walk to the second relay point. It was a little past 7:30 at this point, still overcast and breezy enough to be chilly. I knew I’d warm up once I was running, so I had worn shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, but my hands were freezing and wouldn’t lose their purplish-blue color.

Adam handed off to me not long after 8 a.m., and I found myself getting into “The Zone” pretty quickly, although I was distracted somewhat by my running belt and its two small water bottles, which I wear when I’m going more than five miles. I don’t tend to wear it when I’m going for speed, and it shifted and bounced more than I thought it would. Still, the trip through the University of Akron campus went by quickly, and I was very pleasantly surprised at how good I was feeling when my Garmin Forerunner gave me the one-mile alarm and told me I’d done a 7:16 pace.

And I was really looking forward to mile two, which runs north and west of downtown and plunges down a steep quarter-mile hill before the route leaves the streets behind for the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath trail. (If you’re familiar with the area, it’s the giant Howard Street hill that goes near Luigi’s. And yes, running down it is a total blast.) I let myself fly down that hill as much as I dared without losing control or letting my belt shake itself free, and when the Garmin beeped again, I saw that I’d run my first two miles in 14:11 – almost a full minute better than I’d ever run the Pro Football Hall of Fame two-mile race!

Now, of course, the remaining 4.3 miles lay ahead, and while I knew I couldn’t relax too much, I felt really good about where I was. Even as runners I’d passed earlier began to overtake me, I kept in mind that this had been part of my plan, and while I saw my average pace time began to creep up, it seemed like I was in a decent spot.

Still, after mile three, I had to start fighting a bit: My breathing was OK, but my legs were starting to object to the pace. I started doing things like lengthening my stride for a hundred steps at a time, and telling myself I wouldn’t check my pace again until I was around the next bend, or a hundred steps past the next bridge.

At 3.5 miles, I squeezed down a power gel as my overall pace moved into the 7:30-7:45 range, and I knew I really couldn’t let up too much more if I wanted to make my 8-minute goal.

Miles four and five were the toughest, and I kept having to remind myself that this summer, Adam and I had routinely run loops covering seven to ten miles, and while we didn’t push our pace on those, this run was going to be several miles shorter, and I should have the gas to finish.

When my Garmin let me know I had five miles behind me, I realized I was going to be cutting it really close: I was at 39 minutes, 56 seconds – just barely under my goal pace. I had 11 minutes and four seconds to do 1.3 miles, which, even though it should have sounded easy, did not.

With a mile to go, I didn’t even register my total time, and I started to let go of my measured breathing for the final push. A half-mile to go, and I took off the slap bracelet and clutched it like a baton, readying for the final quarter-mile climb that I knew was coming. The final stretch was harder than I remembered from two summers ago, when I ran both the second and third legs in training for that year’s full Towpath Marathon, and once I’d finally handed off to Scott, stopped my watch and doubled over to catch my breath, for a few seconds, I thought I was going to throw up.

The feeling passed quickly, and when I looked at my wrist, I saw my time as 50:17 and I almost whooped out loud because I’ll take it. Figuring in the few seconds from my own handoff before I started the timer, and another few after I’d passed the bracelet off, I was ecstatic. The Garmin measured my distance at 6.26 miles, for a pace of 8:02; the Marathon timers, activated by each runner passing through the checkpoints, had my time at 50:23, but counted me for an even 6.3 miles, marking a pace of ever-so-slightly under eight minutes per mile.

I caught the shuttle back to Canal Park, the baseball stadium where the runners come in across the outfield and charge to the finish line near first base, and met up with my brother and sister-in-law (who had been running with her own relay team). The sun came out and warmed things up, and we drank our Powerade and water and ate our free plain bagels and potato chips while we each talked about our parts of the relay and waited for our finishers to appear in right field.

It was a terrific morning.

And that’s why I’m so freaking happy to say that my legs are sore today.

September 25, 2011 Posted by | Current Affairs, Ohio, running | , | 1 Comment

Turning forty: two photos

A couple days after I wrote this post on turning 40, the result of several months’ worth of conspiracy came to fruition in a surprise party at my mom’s house. (I was expecting a smallish family get-together – turned out to be a hugely awesome gathering of amazing friends old and new and wholly unexpected visitors, from people I’ve known since I wearing plaid pants and watching Sesame Street to others I’ve just come to know in the past few years.)

For my 40th birthday, I received two photos. (Three if you count the baby picture on the birthday cake.)

Here’s one:

Click the photo to embiggen. But don't feel obligated.

This was a gift from my brother & sister-in-law. Ever since my youngest brother and I started running one race a summer, we’ve always been amused by the usually less-than-flattering photo results, from the lower-lip mid-bounce freeze-frame to the eyes-half-closed unintentional pout to the “I’m trying to throw a double-thumbs up and a wink toward the camera but they snapped it too early and I look like an idiot” that my brother has mastered.

I was stunned, then, to find this among the shots of me participating in the relay in this year’s Akron Marathon, because it makes me look, you know, like I’m running, as opposed to simply trying not to keel over.

Just to keep me from feeling almost cool, though, here’s the second picture I got for my 40th birthday:

Is there any way I can avoid this thing without betraying my cool exterior?

September, 1981: I’m 10 years old. Apparently the neighborhood dare-of-the-day was to kiss this tomato worm found in our neighbor’s garden. I’ll pass, thanks. I mean, with my ink-stained stripey shirt and my +2 Plastic Rimmed Glasses of NerdVision, I’m already pushing the boundaries of TOO AWESOME TO CARE, so why risk sucking all of southern Lake Township into a black hole of nonchalance by showing off and smooching a Manduca quinquemaculata?

(Also: Ewww.)

December 4, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Family history, geek, Ohio, photos, running, Sports | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Finishing strong

I hate feeling like I could have run faster, pushed harder, done more.

I know – I know – that it’s easy to sit there, 10 minutes after a race and think, “Hey, I’m feeling better already, and that must mean I could have run harder.” The memory of the struggle fades so quickly once I’m past the finish line that sometimes it eats at me. Yes, in effect, I’m saying that I’d feel better if I felt worse for longer after a race.

So, here’s how my part in the Akron Marathon unfolded on Saturday:

My youngest brother Adam – as he did last year – had put together a five-man relay team and offered me the 7.9-mile anchor spot so I could enjoy the Finish Line run into Canal Park. outfield. Adam (running relay leg No. 3) and his friend Scott (relay spot No. 4) and I hit the road a little later than we probably should have, but we made it into Akron a little after 6:30 a.m. for the 7 o’clock race, and Adam managed to get our lead runner his racing bib at the starting line.

We walked to the first relay point, caught up with Eric, our No. 2 runner, and then Scott and I caught the shuttle buses out to our respective relay points while Adam walked to his.

It was almost 8:30, I think, by the time I got to my relay point, where I caught up with a couple guys I went to high school with, which made the time pass pretty easily – although I was still going through my usual race-day jitters, all keyed up and everything, even though nothing’s ever really at stake except me vs. me.

Shortly after 9 a.m., I decided I’d better get a little bit of warm-up jogging in, so I went down to the runner’s path and did some short back-and-forth along the trail. Around 9:15, as I’m jogging in the opposite direction as the race traffic, I hear the announcer call our team’s number, and suddenly, there’s Scott, right in front of me, so I have to wheel around and basically run alongside him the last few dozen yards back to the relay station. Our team, it seems, is making better time than we had planned, and after a quick handoff of the relay bracelet and my bag of running gear, there I am, back on a race course for the first time since last year’s Towpath Marathon.

It’s been an up-and-down year for me, running-wise. I’ve never stopped completely, but it wasn’t until two months ago that I had myself on a race training schedule again, aiming for the Akron Half Marathon. Then in late August, the same day I reached the 10-mile mark again, I wrecked my back and all but put the Akron run out of my mind until two weeks ago, when Adam encouraged me to join his relay team.

Now, I’d been shooting for an 8-minutes-per-mile half marathon pace, and despite falling out of my speed training, I was still hoping to manage something near that for Saturday’s 7.9-mile run. (For perspective, this was an admittedly ambitious goal for me. I hadn’t hit the toughest part of this summer’s half-marathon training when it was derailed – the longest sub-eight-minute distance I’ve run was a 7:51 five-miler, but that was on a treadmill. All the other times I’ve run below eight minutes per mile have been distances of 4 miles or less.)

So the run started off like all my races do, with me taking a few moments to gather and find my rhythm. And I’m sort of struggling a bit, feeling like I’m working too hard to relax, feeling like 7.9 miles is waaaaay too far – and yes, this is another strange, but thankfully passing feeling, because one benefit of having run a marathon, even once, is that distances of 10 miles or less lose their mystique. Until, of course, Race Day – and so naturally, it’s during this first difficult half-mile or so that the buckle on my my trusty Nathan running belt decides it’s a good time to break.

I was adjusting the belt at the time, so I had a grip on it, and suddenly it goes slack and comes off in my hand, and now I’m jogging along carrying the thing, and hey, I can at least take my mind off the whole “finding my rhythm” trick because I’m too busy wondering what the heck I’m going to do. I can’t toss the belt aside because while the course offers plenty of hydration and power gel stations, it also contains my driver’s license and my asthma inhaler, and I have no pockets in which to stow them. Besides, I really do like this belt – Jenn got it for me one Father’s Day, and it’s been with me for probably a couple hundred miles of running, and it seems silly to ditch the whole thing for a plastic buckle I hope to replace for far less than the cost of a new belt. For a few minutes, I tried just carrying it, but that got old really quick, so I just adjusted the belt to its largest size and then just tied it on. When it didn’t feel like it was going to slip off, I got back to the business of, you know, running.

I still wasn’t feeling settled in, though – hitting “The Zone” eluded me through this entire race, and it never felt like it wasn’t work – but once I passed the sign for Mile 20, I was able to start breaking the rest of the run down into two-mile pieces: two more miles until the halfway point and my scheduled power gel; then two miles to Mile 24; and then just two (point two) more miles to the finish line.

I think the first half of my run took more out of me than I expected because there was more climbing than I’d anticipated, and most of it was the sneaky kind that’s gradual – except for a 100-vertical-feet-in-a-half-mile hill just before the midpoint near Stan Hywet Hall. (The marathon web site calls it “Heart Rate Hill” for a reason.)

After that, things went – at least mentally – pretty quickly. With the boost of my power gel and the knowledge that I had some long downhill stretches ahead, I started feeling better, although even in the final two miles, I still felt like I didn’t have much left in the tank, and I really wanted to be able to finish strong.

I tried to push harder the last half-mile to the stadium, but that half-mile stretched. I even wondered about how well I’d cross the finish line, because honestly, when I’ve been out running here at home, the last few hundred feet up our street can often seem like they go on for-freaking-ever when I’m trying to run them full-tilt.

And then I was turning down the alley/driveway that runs along the outfield of the stadium, and with a left turn through the centerfield fence, there it was.

I had anticipated the finish line seeming distant, the way my mailbox looks when I’m trying to sprint up our road, but it wasn’t- it seemed so close, there across the expanse of sun-brilliant green grass, with the backdrop of the stands and the crowd, and while I had thought about this moment for a year, I’m experiencing those parts of it mostly in memory’s replay because right then, all I saw was the finish line a few hundred feet away, and I got that adrenaline surge out of nowhere, and there was me and the line and one guy about 100 feet ahead of me, and all I wanted to do was pass him and keep barreling on across and finish this thing going as fast as I could.

Which is exactly what I did.

And within 10 minutes, there I was, sitting with Adam and Scott and saying, “Man, I feel like I could have run harder.”

Our team finished in 3:23:40 – good enough for 73rd out of the 1,099-team overall relay field, and 25th in the 125-team men’s division. And even though I finished with a pace of 8:37 per mile – slower, in fact, than I paced my 12-mile run a year ago – and it took me 68 minutes to cover my 7.9 miles, remembering those last couple hundred feet, running and breathing and just pounding forward with everything I had while the sun blazed and my ears filled with wind – has made me feel better than I did when I sat down to start writing all this.

Which makes all the miles worth it.

September 26, 2010 Posted by | Current Affairs, Ohio, running, writing | , , , | 2 Comments

The roads and the words.

Two weeks ago tomorrow, I got up early and did my first double-digit-mileage run since last October.

That afternoon, helping move something really heavy down at my mom’s house, I felt this red-hot-rubberband-lashing sensation kind of whip through the muscles of my lower back from the inside. Like nothing I’d ever felt before – and in an incredibly not good way. After hobbling to a couch, I came awfully close to blacking out: the whole world going dark even though my eyes weren’t shut, that buzz and ringing in the ears that blocks everything out and when it begins to fade makes everyone sound like they’re far away.

Nothing seems to have been permanently damaged, but for several days I was pretty much just shuffling around the house and wincing .

Of course, this screwed up my plans for the Akron Half Marathon.  Maybe I could have resumed jogging a week later, but a big part of what I was shooting for with this run was improving my speed, which is a big challenge for me, and the last four weeks of the training calendar I was following are largely about repetitive speed work. And just like that, >poof!< I felt really out of it.

Perhaps not surprisingly, that Saturday was also the last time I posted anything on the blog. Not that I haven’t been writing over the last two weeks – the week immediately following the injury, I had a major multi-story project to turn in, as well as other regular trade publication assignments, and I also managed a couple GeekDad posts.

I wasn’t doing much writing on my own, though, and in a weird way, that takes a toll on me mentally.

(It also doesn’t help that these are exceedingly difficult times in the Booth household right now – I have a job interview this coming Monday with an awful lot riding on it, and that’s been weighing heavily on my mind as well.)

So yesterday, I made myself focus on something wholly original – a guest post for a friend’s blog – and after finally getting the gears going, I cranked out 1,500 words and had a ball doing it.

Not long afterward, my brother called me and asked if I’d be able to run one of the legs on his Akron Marathon relay team. It’s not likely to be more than eight miles, so it’s something I think I can get back on track to tackle over the two weeks between now and race day.

Before lunch today, I put on the shoes and headed out the door for a run just before lunch. A mix of overcast skies and occasional sun; somewhere just shy of the 60-degree mark – just about a perfect day for it.

Writing and running don’t, by themselves, make things better or easier or magically delicious. But when I’m in that place where I’m doing one or the other, and it’s just me and the words or me and the road ahead, somehow there is a sense of rightness and hope and balance that I only remember how badly I need when I can’t find it for awhile.

September 10, 2010 Posted by | running, writing | , , , , | 2 Comments

Back on the runner’s path

For the first time since last October, I’m running with a plan.

There’s another Hal Higdon training schedule hanging next to my desk and another date circled on the calendar as I aim for the Akron Half-marathon on September 25.

My brother Adam and are making Akron our once-a-summer race for the second straight year, and while I’ve stepped back in terms of distance – unless there’s a truly irresistible race opportunity next year, the next 26.2-miler I run will probably be the inaugural Canton Marathon in 2012 – I’m going to work on increasing my speed a bit.

I’ve set an 8-minute-mile pace goal, which may be ambitious by my own standards, but I want to have a challenge on my hands. Here’s my thinking: My pace in last year’s Towpath Marathon (my first, remember) averaged to 9:01 per mile. At the other end of the spectrum, when Adam and I were doing our short “speed runs” on 3.65-mile Tuesdays, we topped out at a 7:16 pace. I think the only double-digit-distance run where I came close to the goal I’ve set this summer was a 10-miler I ran during my peak week last year, which I finished with an 8:09 average and a 7:11 final mile. When I made my 12-mile contribution to our Akron Marathon Team Relay last September, I managed an 8:20.

The most direct comparison I could offer, of course, would be the 13.35-miler I did last August 1. Unfortunately, I bumped the stopwatch or something during that run, so the best guess I have on record is that I did it in something just under nine minutes.

Given the time frame, I had to jump right into Week Three of the schedule, and I’ve also had to shift it by a day since the Akron race is on a Saturday as opposed to a traditional Sunday run.

The speed training days, where you run repeated quarter-mile stretches at your pace goal, are new to me, and this schedule also calls for 5 days a week of running instead of four.

I’m enjoying the step back into a running schedule – although my legs were really sore yesterday as I rested from my first three consecutive days of running in I don’t know how long. And when I attempted a 3.15-miler at race pace this morning, I clocked in at an 8:02 average and felt pretty beat afterward, so clearly I’ve got work to do.

And that feels good.

July 23, 2010 Posted by | Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Seventeen Saturdays: Episode XVI

Saturday, Sept. 26

I ran in my first marathon today.

Being part of a relay team in the Akron Marathon isn’t the same thing as Running My First Marathon, of course, but still, it was a Race Day, and that meant pre-run adrenaline and excitement, no matter how much I kept telling myself, “This is just your regularly-scheduled 12-mile run; just the normal ‘X’ through today’s box on the calendar; a distance you’ve covered eight times already.”

Even so, I wanted to run well.

Adam and I left for Akron at 5:30 a.m. – an hour-and-a-half prior to the start time – when it was still dark. I’d had a bagel and cream cheese for breakfast, which was more than I usually eat before a race, but pretty much standard for my long run Saturdays.

And I decided to run with my belt, carrying my own water and gels, figuring I’d rather be in total control of when I wanted to “eat” and drink rather than having to plan the consumption around the relief courses on the route. Also, I’ve gotten used to taking the gels and drinking on the run rather than stopping completely, and I’m pretty adamant about sticking to the rituals and patterns that seem to work for me.

We parked the car around 6:15 and met up with our fellow runners about 6:30, hanging out on the fringes of the mass of people at the starting line, pinning our numbers on and talking a little about the logistics of the thing.

After Dean, our leadoff runner for the first 3.5-mile loop, headed toward the starting line, Adam and Angie and I walked to the first relay point, where I’d take over for legs two and three – 5.7 miles and 6.3 miles – and then hand things off to Angie for her 2.8 miles. Adam’s 7.9-mile finish would bring him into Canal Park where we’d meet up.

Waiting with Adam and Angie at the relay – after all, once I took off, they’d have plenty of time to get to their own spots – I really started getting race nerves, especially when the first competitors started passing through: First the wheelchair marathoners, and then a few solo runners. As the relayers arrived, they’d announce the team number over loudspeakers so we could keep our eyes open and get ready.

One minute I was standing there joking with them about the anticipation and letdown of similar numbers being called out, and then we heard “8-6-5-4” blare from the amplifiers, and I was out at the edge of the waiting crowd looking for Dean.
And then, 28 minutes or so into the race, I was taking the bright yellow relay bracelet from him and jogging south and uphill.

Because I’ve only run one race a year, those first few moments of competing feel new to me every time: The sudden change in the surrounding sounds, as the crowd around me is suddenly making noise only with its feet and not its voices; the realization of my commitment to a particular run and passing the point of no return.

Although I considered loading up my MP3 player with songs or podcasts to listen to, I’d simply run out of time last night, and at any rate, I’ve run the vast majority of my mileage without that distraction. I figured that this being a totally new experience, I wanted to really soak it in and see how my mind and body reacted.

For the first mile or so, I regretted the decision: The dozens of racers around me made it extremely difficult for me to get my mind into that “running place” of personal calm and near-detachment, and of course, like trying to fall asleep, thinking about getting to that place only made it impossible to do. That the first two-and-a-half miles were a pretty straight stretch on single street probably didn’t help things, since I couldn’t think ahead to the turns and other landmarks.

Eventually, though, I forced myself to think about maintaining a comfortable-but-not-too-relaxed pace and reminded myself that if I weren’t here, I’d still be out running this same distance on this same cool, cloudy, hovering-on-the-edge-of-rainy morning, only I’d be alone and on familiar roads instead of here in new territory with a couple thousand strangers.

And then the discomfort sort of melted away, and I was just running.

We passed Firestone Stadium, and I thought for a minute or two about when I was a sports writer covered a couple regional high school softball tournament games there, one of them, I’m pretty  sure, with Kelsey in tow on a Saturday afternoon.

And several times I found myself glimpsing parts of Akron through my eyes as a 15-year-old, when I had my first girlfriend, and she lived up here. The course didn’t go near her neighborhood, but it took us past areas I remembered, and the houses and streets and trees had a familiar feel.

All along my first 5.7-mile leg, there were spectators. Not a constant crowd, of course, but there was never a stretch where there weren’t several clusters of people on either side clapping and hollering encouragement to both specific runners and all of us in general. This wasn’t a totally new thing, since parts of the Hall of Fame 2- and 5-mile races attracted a few watchers, but somehow, it felt different. (I was wearing a Lake Track & Field T-shirt my brother gave me, and three times along the way, I heard someone yell out “Go Lake!” to which I flashed thumbs-up.)

I was feeling energized as we got to the second relay point, especially knowing I was going to run right through it, not handing off my bracelet, but keeping it for another leg. I heard my team number called as I entered the hand-off zone, and I admit I was half-hoping a volunteer would ask if I needed help finding my teammate just so I could oh-so-casually say, “Nope: Running two.”

Also, I was a bit surprised to find myself suddenly back on familiar ground: We ran past the new University of Akron football stadium, and then onto the campus itself. “Hey,” I thought, “There’s the building where I met LeBron James -” (It was for about a minute, when I caught him for a brief, shallow interview about his marketing company and advertising deals.) “- and there’s the parking garage; and there’s E.J Thomas Hall…”

And then, with a quick right turn, I saw the starting line ahead and realized I was just a couple hundred feet from where I’d been fidgeting in anticipation just an hour or so ago.

I was on the second leg now, though I had honestly forgotten the specific lengths of each one, focused as I was only on the 12-mile total. I knew the longer part of this one, though, would be on the Towpath Trail, down in the woods along the Cuyahoga River. As I ran my last few city miles, I noticed a few more landmarks: “Hey, that’s where I had lunch a month or so ago! And hey, Luigi’s pizza place is right down there!”

Just past the 11-mile mark, realizing I had less than five miles to go, I got another burst of what I’ve come to think of as “calming energy.” It’s not like a new charge, but a wave of comprehension that I just feel good and maybe I can go a little faster, or at least not slow down. (A huge, steep downhill stretch at this point helped, I’m sure.)

My own toughest stretch was probably the one between Mile Markers 12 and 13. For one thing, I had to go to the bathroom, and, not to be too indelicate, not the kind of going to the bathroom that, say, kids figure they can do unnoticed in a pool. This has happened enough for me to know I can run through it and the urge will go away, but it makes for some discomfort.

We were also on the Towpath now – the same Towpath I’ll be running, further north, in just two weeks – and so frankly, there was less going on around me to take my mind off the run. Yes, it was new territory for me, but it was also fairly repetitive: Trees; glimpses of the river to the right, a near-constant hillside to the left; a few short bridges.

Awhile back, Keith and I were discussing the pros and cons of running part of the Towpath Marathon route ahead of time, and I decided against it, in favor of keeping it an unknown to be experienced. And though I still feel strongly about that, I think I probably will make sure I have my music player stocked for that run. Not that I see myself listening for the entire 26.2 miles, but it would have been nice today to have it ready for this stretch.

I distracted myself by mentally playing songs, recreating movie speeches and generally trying to, you know, Think Inspiring Thoughts.

And around this time, I passed a relief station sponsored and staffed by the Ohio State Association of Nurse Anesthetists, and it reminded me of Dad and put a lump in my throat. Just for a second or two. But it also made me smile, seeing them there in their scrubs and surgical caps, handing out cups of water. I didn’t take a drink, but when I passed them, I felt better.

At this point, withabout three miles to go, I started drawing parallels: “If I were at home, running our usual 10-mile loop, I’d be passing Giant Eagle.” Two-and-a-half: “I’m almost to the traffic light at Applegrove.”

When I reached Mile Marker 14, with a mile-and-a-half to go, I lengthened my strides and started to kick. It’s further out than I usually start at home, but then again, at home there’s usually one big climb in the final mile, and that wasn’t the case here. I started passing runners who had been in front of me awhile, or who had recently passed me, and though I knew it meant little overall – many were full marathoners and still had many miles to go – the burst felt good, like the charge up the hill at the end of the Hall of Fame race.

At Marker 15, with a half-mile remaining, I thought, “I’ve just come down the hill near our house: I’m almost there. Pour it on.” I never went into full-on-barrelling-huffing-and-puffing, but I tried to keep my strides strong, even as my mind went, “Hey – where’s the relay point?” I couldn’t see it like I figured I would have been able to. We climbed briefly from the riverbank to the intersection of several busy roads – blocked off, of course, for the run – and I realized I knew exactly where I was: Last month I drove up here to meet with some editors about work.

But more importantly, Where’s the frakking relay point?I’m going up hill now, in danger of losing steam, and I still don’t see it, and- ”

A quick turn to the right, and I’m there.

I can’t do a dead sprint into the crowded relay corral, but I keep things quick until I’m over the timing bar – I hear the announcer call my number – and then I’m looking for Angie, and then I’m trading the relay bracelet for my car keys, and I’m saying, “All right- Go!” and she’s off, and I have ducked into the crowd and am making my way off the course, hitting my stopwatch button: 1:40, almost on the dot.

For 12 miles, I later figure out, that’s an 8:20 pace. And while I do keep telling myself this was just a part of my training, I’m still proud of having run this far with a Race Day mentality.

The shuttle bus back to the finish line inside the Canal Park baseball stadium took longer than I thought it would, and when I get there and make my way inside, I realize that Adam and Angie and I – Dean had to leave after his leg for a football game – have made no plans for meeting up afterward. I figured it would be easy enough to watch Adam cross the finish line and then catch up with him.

I went to the bathroom, then decided to wait until Adam arrived to get my post-race food. I found a front-row seat on the first-base line, with the Finish Line just a few yards off, and settled in to watch.

It was chilly and starting to mist slightly, but having never been at a marathon, I got wrapped up in the joy of watching runners complete their races. I was a little jealous of Adam, in fact, since, as our final runner, he’d get to do the final hundred yards or so, coming in the center field gate and seeing the stadium rise around him, hearing the crowd. But I was also tremendously excited to be where I was, and every so often I’d get goosebumps watching finishers and thinking of how I was going to holler my fool head off when my baby brother came running into the stadium.

A funny thing, though: I missed it.

Somehow, I had missed his entrance, and as I watched the clock run, I got more and more uncomfortable and cold and hungry, and my seat was hard, and my muscles still wouldn’t relax because at any moment, I figured Adam would come into view and I could stand up and yell and clap.

The numbers on the clock got bigger. I struggled to do the mental math figuring out whether we, as a team of semi-experienced runners, could possibly have taken this long.

By 11:15, I knew I had to have simply missed his finish, and I got up to look for him.

We ran into each other about two minutes later.

He’d come in at the 3:32:49 mark, which baffled me, since I’d been sitting there watching since the three-hours-flat point. Or had I? I’d seen the women’s champion arrive at 2:51, but then I couldn’t remember if I’d been sitting down, or if that was before I’d gone to the bathroom and walked around for a little while. Could I somehow blame the people who insisted on squeezing past me to watch other runners finish? Or maybe those obnoxious few who came and sat on the wall in front of me to see their own friends and family come in?

Not likely: Even if someone had blocked me for a few seconds, it was a long enough run across the outfield that I should have seen Adam, and I was just pissed off at myself that I hadn’t.

So Adam had finished, collected our team medals, gotten his bag of free post-race food – by the time I got mine, the sandwiches were gone – and had been wandering around looking for me for the past 45 minutes or so. Angie had caught her ride home long before.

Walking to the car, my anger dissipated, and on the drive home, we talked about our race and the runners we’d seen and where we’d been.

I ate lunch, and then I took a nap – I still felt chilly and achy, more from having sat in that damn stadium seat shivering for an hour plus – but even after waking up and taking a shower, I still felt drained. Much more so than I figured I would have after a normal 12-mile run. Again, I blamed the post-race situation.

Later, when the marathon results were finalized and posted online, Adam and I learned we’d finished 81st overall in the 970-team relay field, and 40th in our “mixed” division of 682 teams comprised of both men and women. I thought this was pretty cool.

I’m glad I did it, and grateful to Adam for roping me into it.

Two weeks until I do one on my own.

September 27, 2009 Posted by | Current Affairs, Ohio, running, Sports | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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