Plants First, Fish Next

The original intent of this journal was to chronicle the trials and tribulations of the struggling twenty-something, as I searched for love and happiness in the small city-burb of ManchVegas, NH. Now, I'm thirty-something, I've found love in many forms, happiness in even more, and now the struggle is just... well... life. And finding time to do the million and one things I want to do- including writing.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Dolphin Challenge, Part 2

Shamrock Half-Marathon, 3/21, Virginia Beach, VA
Net time: 20:30:34

We were at my parent's house with a group of people.  I had to get to rehearsal, but I hadn't brought any clean clothes with me, so I was searching through my mom's closet looking for something that would a) fit and b) not look like "mom" clothes.  I was hoping My Runner might bring me to rehearsal since he drove, but he was looking more than a little cozy with some other chick that was there...  Of course I was mad, but I was late.  Mom let me borrow her car, which was parked at the other end of the parking lot, in front of some sort of meeting place.  Folks were heading in to the meeting to learn about a pyramid scheme and kept urging me to come into the meeting.  When I told them I was running late to rehearsal, they closed ranks and blocked me from the car!!  What the heck!  I finally made it to the car and was trying to decide if I should run them down when-

Shit- I'm supposed to be getting ready to run 13.1 miles!  I flew awake, saw that it's later than I meant to wake up, jumped out of bed and ran to the bathroom.  My poor Runner was startled awake by my actions as well, looking around dazed and only able to ask, "What?" and "Why?"  After a few panicked moments, I realized I'm not running TOO late, just later than I wanted.  I took a few deep breaths, crawled back into bed for a quick restorative snuggle, and congratulated myself on having the fore site to lay everything out the night before.  (ok, My Runner's idea, but I had the fore site to see it was a good idea....)  The adrenaline got my system going, and I shoved food down my throat hoping that I won't cause a stomach ache.

The race started at 7am: earlier than I have to be to work on a normal day.  Before official sunrise.  So early, in fact, that I barely had time to contemplate the ridiculous task ahead of me before we arrived at the start line with 13,000 participants.  I looked around at the huge crowd, My Runner streaming words of pride and encouragement, and I started to feel more than a little anxious.  The start "gun" was fired, My Runner kisses me and wishes me luck, and I start to cry.  I'm not sad, or afraid, exactly, just... overwhelmed.  I dashed the tears away, trying to refocus on the task at hand and tune into the excitement and joy around me.

Pocket had been texting me since about 6:30am.  K's house was RIGHT on the route less than a mile into the course, so they'd be watching for me outside, with a little "pick me up" gift: a Gin Bloody Mary.  See, the day before we had gone to lunch at Mahi Mahi's right on the beach, where K introduced me to Bloody Mary's made with gin.  I love gin, and I love Bloody Marys, and this one was made with yum-yum spiciness that was JUST up my alley.  I loved it so much she promised me one for the race, which seemed like a GREAT idea at the time.  Cutting across the broad crowd of people to get to Pocket and K I wasn't sure how well my stomach was going to handle gin, tomato juice, and spice this morning.

The start of the race was rough.  I wasn't hitting a stride, I was struggling.  I started looking around me at the other people running along side me.  Not only does this help get me out of my head, it helps me appreciate the SPECTACLE that I am a part of.  There were several couples running together.  One wife joined another couple complaining that her husband just won't slow down enough for her, and I eavesdropped on their friendly chat.  Two girls in CRAZY costumes ran by (I couldn't get a good picture).  They were both wearing green brocade dresses, tiaras, green fairy wings, dangling bells from everywhere.

The beer tent appeared.  My Runner spoke of the mystical beer tent, but alas it was VERY early in the race for beer, plus I had barely indulged in my Bloody Mary.  I fervently hoped they would still be there when I was coming back around and passed without partaking.  My mood lightened.  My Runner always comes back from a run with stories of people he talked with while on the trail (or road, as it were).  I decided to try a conversation.  An older gentleman was wearing a shirt with this on the back:

Figuring it was a good place to start, I asked him about it.  Did it mean he's not 55?  He says, you're too young to know the song.  But it's from a song.  Oh, I said, what's the song?  You're too young, he says, you wouldn't know it.  Oh.. OK then.  Well, good luck!  Hrmph.  Completely unsuccessful.  Feeling rebuffed, I looked around for something else interesting, and found it in some poor girl's unfortunate sweat pattern:

I mean, she had no control over it, but watching that "kissey face" on the back of her shirt made me giggle.  And that's what I desperately needed.

That and to take off some clothes.  It was a little before 8 and getting quite warm.  I took a break by the side of the road and removed the mobian sleeves and my long sleeved shirt from under my Team Robert shirt and instantly felt better.  One discomfort delt with, another one coming on... I had to pee.  There were port-a-potties every half-mile or so, with relatively short lines, but I wasn't sure I was ready to stop yet.  I had just started getting into a rhythm, and I didn't want to break out of it.  At this point in the course we were running in "nature"- still on a paved two-lane road that ran through a park.  The sun dappled through the trees, and we were surrounded by what would soon be lush and verdant Spanish moss forest (though still dormant in March).

I was starting to enjoy myself.  We passed a DJ playing YMCA and yes, all the runners did the YMCA.  I hugged the right hand side of the road for a while, though this forced me to run on the rumble strip or in the gumball strewn road shoulder.  My legs are still tired even though my mood is good, and I realize I might need to put something in my body.  Hey, I have stuff!!  I take some Advil, eat a cliff shot (not worth trying if you never need to eat this stuff... ugh), drink some of the Gatorade-like stuff in my water bottle, and stop to pee.  Ten minutes later, I feel like a frickin' champ.  Who knew monitoring one's blood sugar would be so important.  I'm a little less than half-way, and quickly approaching mile 6 where the "large" aid station is and where I've given myself permission to walk if I need it.

It's warmed up to the high 60's at this point.  Perfect for short sleeves and shorts, cool enough that I'm not feeling dehydrated.  I hear music ahead of me again and expect another DJ but no, it's a live band!!  They're asking for requests and while I don't hear the shoutout, the response is "We've played Freebird three times already this morning, man!"  I laugh with all my non-mp3 wearing compatriots and the band strikes up "500 Miles" by the Proclaimers.  Such a great toon and I am in a GREAT mood!  Singing along with the lyrics, running to the rhythm, loving where I am and who I am.

We took the turn off of Shore Drive into Fort Story and approach the mile 6 aid station.  It's HUGE.  There's probably 30 volunteers handing out water, Gatorade, and energy gels.  I grab a few free gels for my stash (won't need them on the race), and some water, and thank the volunteers I see.  I had "allowed" myself to walk at this point, but I was feeling great and getting really excited to see mile marker 7, where I would officially break my distance Personal Record.

The Fort was open, we were in direct sun now, but the breeze kept me cool.  We were approaching the "hill" on the course: a man-made mound of about 5% grade.  If you're from New England, you would call it flat.  Advice from My Runner to "give words of encouragement when you see it's needed, it'll pay back," came to my mind as I was feeling great and others were dropping around me.  Not being used to offering encouragement (that's a whole therapy session that I won't get into) I felt a little lame with my "Halfway there"s and "You're doing great"s.  I was often ignored, or at least not acknowledged, but those who did sent me a quick smile.

Race volunteers direct us to the opposite side of the road.  It's hard to tell what's going on, until we hear sirens behind us.  A fire truck comes through.  Shortly after, an ambulance.  All around me is fearful speculation, with some light banter to break the tension.  I'm behind a few runners about my age pondering what's going on.  I quip that the ambulance is getting ready for me at the end of the race.  We all laugh, exchange a few pleasantries, and then we come upon the ambulance and fire truck parked.  No one quips.  No one says anything.  Some people close their eyes in silent prayer or well wishing.  Some give the whole scene the stink eye, hoping it won't happen to them.  Rubber necking happens.  Most people just feel bad for those who won't be finishing today.  I'm not sure what the nature of the injury was, but I could see the disappointment on the runner's face.

Coming out of the Fort I see the Lighthouses, which I know are major landmarks because everyone talks about them.  They're pretty cool, don't get me wrong, but I've never really had a thing for lighthouses (except maybe the one from Pete's Dragon).  There's an official photographer, so I strike a pose (not being able to strike MY double horns pose due to the full hands) and as I raise my arms in celebration I hear "Hey, hey!"  No need to look around, that's my phone with a text.  Pocket's asking me if I've passed her at 42nd st. yet.  I text back, "88th St.  Think I run THAT fast?"  "Just don't want to miss your sweet ass," comes the reply.  It's good to be loved.  :-)

I'm on the "final stretch" now, which is still about three and a half miles.  I've been warned it feels REALLY slow, and I can see why, as I slowly pass 78th St., then 77th St., knowing that the finish line is south of 37th St....  Pocket and I keep in touch and this helps pass the time.  The first Marathon runners are booking it up Atlantic Ave, and I marvel at their strength and we cheer them on.  People are still on the street, cheering, playing music.  I keep hearing "Good job, Leah!  Keep up the good work, Leah!  Come on, Leah!"  I finally realize why they print names on bibs... Even though I don't know these people and they don't know me, hearing my name with the cheer makes me know they care, if only for that one moment, that I'm out there.  That feeling is awesome.

I let Pocket know I'm about 10 streets away and have saved some Bloody Mary for a toast.  A spectator jokingly chides me for "Distracted Running," and I shout back that it's not illegal yet and we "toast."  My feet hurt with a few blisters, and I can tell my knees are tired, but nothing's broken so I don't linger on those feelings long.  I'm excited to get to Pocket and K for a restorative toast and picture break.

Pocket's taking some video as I approach.  I "pull over," uncap my Bloody Mary, cheers with K (who I assume has hers in her travel mug), and take a long pull.  At 42nd St, I have almost exactly a mile to go.  Pocket starts taking off her jacket and putting down her stuff.  Before I can ask she says, "I'm coming with you."

I feel a big smile on my face.  I have a pacer!  Pocket's jumping in to finish what is a pretty epic feat, and I'm happy that she's there for me to share it with.  I leave my Bloody Mary with K and we rejoin the crowd headed for the boardwalk.  The finish line is in the same place as the 8K finish, in the shadow of Neptune.

We turn the corner onto the boardwalk and I feel elated.  I can't believe I've run this far.  I can see the pride in Pocket's face, and I'm ecstatic to share this moment.  Aaand that's when the fun police come up to us and pull Pocket off the course.  LAME.  Still, I gave her a hug and kiss and thanked her.  She wished me luck and I turned towards Neptune.  The big Finish Line is stretched across the boardwalk, and I take these final moments to take in what I've just accomplished.  13.1 miles.  I RAN 13.1 miles.  And I felt pretty darn good.  Crossed that finish line I sounded my Barbaric Yawp!

I can't believe I finished.  I felt so energized.  Walking through the "gauntlet,"I  realized it would be hours before My Runner was done.  Not sure where Pocket got to after the Fun Police came, I went to text her when I saw My Runner left a message.  He called from mile 8.5, checking in to see if I'm done, how well I did.  Looking at the time he left the message, about 10 minutes before, I ran out to Atlantic Ave and saw the mile 12 marker.  Some quick math told me even if he's trucking I should be able to catch him here.  Sure enough, a few minutes later, there he was coming down the road.  I jumped up and down, cheering and waving my arms.  He saw me, smiled, and headed over for a high-five.  I let Pocket know he was heading their way, and I gathered up my stuff and headed back to the hotel for a shower.

The feeling of euphoria lasted.  I showered, changed, changed again, stretched, decided on a third outfit, headed out the door, realized I should have my bib for the beer tent, changed a fourth time (euphoria is obviously not a contributor to good decision making), packed a long sleeved shirt, my medal, and sandals for My Runner, and headed out to watch him finish.  I have to commend the race organizers here- they really knew how to arrange traffic flow.  Our hotel was on 21st St, the finish line was at 30th St, plus the "gauntlet" stretching a block or two.  The Beer Tent area took up several city block lengths of the beach.  Still, I made it to the finish line and a little further at a good walking clip, and was able to find a prime watching and cheering spot.  I do love cheering runners on, and I followed the convention of using the name on the bib.  I watched several runners finish strong, many finish totally spent.  One guy cramped up right in front of me and had to walk it in.  A man in a hand-pedaled bike finished strong.  A few of the half-marathon walkers were coming in to the finish, and let me tell you I was totally impressed.  These were people who looked like walking ONE mile would be a challenge.  How brave of them to take this journey.  It reinforced my belief that every one has their own potential to explore and fulfill, and I was inspired by these strangers who were working hard to fulfill theirs.

After what felt like ages, but was probably 15 minutes, I saw My Runner, looking good, heading down the boardwalk.  I tried to snap a picture with my phone, but he's still so far away it doesn't come out.  I can't help but jump up and down and shout his name!  Another high five and through the finish line he goes.  Later he tells me I nearly killed him 'cause he got all choked up....  awwwwww....  I hustled my butt to the beer tent area for real congratulations to each other.  We grabbed our tasty brews, picked a spot on the beach, and enjoyed.

I felt great the rest of the day.  A little stiff, sore, but no major issues.  Did I get a big head from that?  Maybe.  (Yes.)  We dined at Murphy's that night, sitting next to the indoor fireplace and listening to the same band that played "500 Miles" on the course.  It's still light out when we get back to the hotel, but I'm a little sleepy.  I just needed a little rest before the rest of the night so I put my head down on the bed and.... SLEPT FOR SIXTEEN HOURS.  Jeeze, guess the race DID take the mickey out of me.

What's next?  I've been training and worrying and looking forward to this race for so long, I feel a bit lost at sea.  Running with my Dad for the first time after VA Beach last weekend I almost died.  Running on trails in Fox Forrest yesterday, I'm getting my legs back.  I registered for the 4 mile Muddy Moose, and am *considering* a 25K trail race on Memorial Day weekend.  Can I pull off another "in over my head" run?

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