Monday, December 8, 2008

My first half marathon- the longest 3 hours and 17 minutes of my life UPDATED

Well, after 6 months of training (and 15 pounds), I finished in 6,942nd place in the Las Vegas Half Marathon in less time than I was predicting. That surprised me because I walked miles 11 and 12. Aside from my calf not causing a problem I am most happy that I actually ran the last mile and finished with a relatively strong kick. I must have recalled a first marathon story where the writer said she thought all the people she was passing on the last mile were stupid for not walking the previous mile so they would be fresher for the finish where all the spectators were, because that's exactly what I did.

I set everything up before I went to sleep to make sure I forgot nothing- easy to do when you have ADD.
I am convinced that running slowly, a 14 minute per mile pace, is more painful than running my natural pace of about 10 minutes per mile. I feel each step much more when I am just jogging. It would feel much better if I actually ran the race.

A few minutes before the start.

I was dreading the cold, having seen the erroneous forecast of 38 F. It never got below 43 and there was absolutely no wind, although it was overcast I saw once the sun rose. I had complained for weeks about the marathon being started so early. The New York Marathon started at 10 am which is perfect for a cold winter-like day. I moaned that the Las Vegas Marathon was only doing this so they could do the fireworks thing and castigated it to be mere Las Vegas hype. But running at that temperature wasn't half bad. I did hear, though, that last year it was too cold.

The start was nicer for us Las Vegas Roadrunners because we were given head of the line privileges. They had a ballroom just for us to gather in and 15 minutes before the start they marched down to a corral just behind the elites and, of course, in true Las Vegas style, the Running Elvi.

I was amazed that I ignored the excitement of the start and the million runners passing me by as I jogged my tortoise pace even during the first mile. I jogged from mile 2 to 5 with my young padawan co-worker/running partner, Missy. She also has ADD and was chomping at the bit to go faster than my tortoise jog. I was convinced she needed to stay at my pace because she had never ran farther than 5 miles and she had cheap running shoes. After 4 miles of me chiding her I told her to go ahead but to walk for a minute every mile marker and not run too fast. She did fine though, finishing 17 minutes ahead of me.

The first two miles it seemed everybody was passing me up. But after six miles there were a lot of walkers and I was passing quite a few half marathoners to my great relief. A middle aged man doesn't need constant reminders of his weaknesses. I was taken back by how this one older man was walking almost as fast as I was running. I called out encouragement to him and he promptly picked up his pace and left me behind- not so good for my male ego.

At around 6 miles I also saw a gal who had a horrible pigeon-footed stride and asked her if she had the right running shoes for her overpronation. She said she did but that these were her "comfies." I hoped they didn't hurt her too much by the end of the 13 miles.

I saw a guy about my age who had medicated pain reliever patches on his calves and asked him about his calf problems. He had tightness like I did. A mile later a younger gal overhead me commenting about my calves and indicated she had the same problem and that was why she was walking. I am trying to find a definitive solution to my too tight right calf.

My best friend, Mark, was the only one to come out and support me. He is the one I think about when reflecting on the proverb about a friend who sticks closer than a brother. After a couple of phone calls (yes, I used my smartphone extensively on my run) I told him to forget about trying to see me both halfway in the run and at the finish line. I did make my mom promise after the run was over to come see me if I run the LV full marathon next year.

While I was walking I met a young Canadian gal who was limping. She told me she had IT band problems and it went out on her at mile 10. I asked if she was doing treatment for her and she assured me that her physical therapist who does this fancy metal device therapy on her (she showed me the big bruise on her thigh to prove it) told her she would be just fine. Poor honey....

I had used electrical tape to print TIMAAY on my shirt and got a few shout outs. Well, this pair of girls shouted it out to me and they looked remarkably familiar. I wracked my brain and then recalled they were two very fun customers of mine on the blackjack table the previous Friday night! Such a coincidence! They were there supporting one of their mothers' who had just passed them doing the full marathon. We walked together for a few minutes laughing about their time at my casino and how one of them got kicked out of Harrah's because she resembled a prostitute Security had previously busted.

So, after 30 minutes of doubt-filled walking at miles 11 and 12 about my ability to continue running I took my last of 4 gels and started running again for the last 1.1 miles. I slowly built up my speed closely monitoring how my calf felt and since it was not tight at all at this point I ramped up to a 10 minute mile. That went so well that once I turned the last corner at the rear of Mandalay Bay with the highly motivating Japanese taiko drums doing a hundred BOOMS a minute, I turned it on full bore for a healthy kick.

I high-fived 6 Running Elvi and promptly went way over to the left just next to the drummers, my heart pounding and pace picking up. I searched for where Mark said he would be, about 50 feet after the taiko drummers and it seemed like I searched every face for 200 feet and I wondered if he had turned away from the exact minute that I approached. But then I saw him and high-fived him too with a big grin on my face.

I turned it up even higher as I was about 50 yards from the finish line and stared at the digital clock readout as I crossed that was shining 3:17:05. I crossed myself like I saw the Kenyan runner who won the Beijing Olympic Marathon and slowed down to get my medal.

When I was walking those two miles with aching feet, a sore back and heavy fatigue I sent a twitter update wondering how on earth people did this for over 26 miles. But it was only a few minutes later that my mind was devising a strategy of how I could train to overcome my specific challenges for a full marathon. I truly believe that endurance athletes are a bit unhinged.

That reminds me of one of my favorite parts of The Spirit of the Marathon documentary, that I drove to LA to see, where this lady is standing at about the 25th mile with a big sign reading, YOU ARE ALL CRAZY.

So Mark and I went to have breakfast and then I came home with 2 bags of crushed ice and took a way-too-cold ice bath. I really felt I was crazy as I was preparing the tub for an icy dip. I promptly learned that while 10 lbs of cubed ice is not enough, 20 lbs of crushed ice is far too much. Parts of my anatomy were in physical pain! UPDATE: But let me tell you about the advantage this gives a runner. The next day my legs were only a little stiff, no pain or fatigue at all. Not one bit. I see now that my legs feel better after a 13 mile run with an ice bath than they do after a 5 miler with no ice bath. Apparently the cold not only reduces inflammation but it forces out the lactic acid filled blood and then when the muscles warm up only fresh, clean blood fills them up. A neat trick, I am toying with the idea of an ice bath even after my 5 milers. They felt that good.

So, my running team is gonna meet for another round starting Sunday, January 4th, and I'm thinking about running the full marathon for the San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon on the last day of May.

Here we go again....

UPDATE: Oh, and the man who sold me my awesome running shoes introduced me to the idea of opening up an Athlete's Foot franchised store here in Vegas. He says the valley is crying out for three more stores. Folks, the first job I ever loved, and there are only two, was running a specialty retail store. So, I am dreaming a bit about becoming a Las Vegas merchant of athletic wear. Hmmm....