Said Dr. Peabody to his boy, Sherman, “Set the way-back machine to November 2015, for that’s when this tale begins!”
I ran my first half marathon in November 2015 at the Route 66 Half Marathon in Tulsa. This was monumental in so many ways for me, and something I’ll never forgot. You can read about that race here. As part of the expo, I ran across the table for the Mississippi River Half Marathon. After talking with the folks there, I dropped my name in the proverbial hat for a chance to win a free entry to their race, and didn’t think about it again.
Not until a week or so later, when I heard from the race folks, letting me know I’d won that free entry! I talked with the director for a while, hearing about this great, flat race, all the while getting my excitement up for this event. However, it was very close to Gasparilla, which I’d had teed up for a while. They let me defer to 2017, so done and done.
Now, we return to the present…
I’d been sweating this race all winter. I knew I wasn’t getting the training miles that I should’ve — ice, winter, and injuries all got in the way. I kept telling myself that I could do this anyway. I mean, I didn’t train that hard for my first half, and I got through that one, right?
But, this was gonna be my fourth attempt at my second half marathon. I had blisters in Chattanooga in March. I had a leg that was incredibly messed up in Tulsa in November. And December found me taking care of Becky and her eye, keeping me away from Springfield.
So this race was a long time coming, with a lot of self-inflicted pressure. And the closer the day came to leave for the race, the more nervous I got. Even up to the day before the race, I was still doubting if I could really get through it. I figured that I could just muscle through it though. After all, I’d done this before, right? (Sense a theme yet?)
I drove to Greenville MS on Friday. When I left STL, it was 28°, and by the time I hit the bootheel, it was in the 40s, with tremendous winds. There were times that the dust blown up from the barren fields made “brown out” conditions where I couldn’t see thirty feet in front of the Jeep. And with those winds, my mileage plummeted to about 12.5mpg. That was impressive.
I rolled into Greenville around 5pm, got checked into the hotel, and went to pick up my race packet at the local mall. I think that’s the first time I’ve picked up my packet at a mall, but it worked out well, and being a small race, went pretty quickly.
I laid out Flat Colin, making sure I had everything planned and together for the race. I went through my race strategy, trying to plan for what was to come on Saturday. I’d been visualizing my race plan for a week, putting myself in the best place I could be for my race. All I had to do Saturday morning was get dressed, and get to the start line.
Well, technically, it was the finish line first. This race is a point to point race, with all the runners bussing to their starting points. We were to be carried 13.2 miles from the finish line, with the full marathon folks going 13.2 miles even farther out. The cool thing is that that meant that there would likely be folks on the course while I was finishing. I chit-chatted with a bunch of folks as we awaited the busses to begin boarding. The doors opened, and we started loading up.
This was the first time I’d been on a school bus in a very long time, and I was suddenly struck by the size of things on the bus. It was obviously designed with smaller persons in mind, and folding all of us runners into these little seats was pretty comical. And then the doors closed.
No more comical notions about long legs in little seats. It suddenly got very, very real.
We were dropped off at a little steak house just across the border in Arkansas, milling around for just about an hour awaiting time for the race to start. The race folks announced a ten minute warning, and asked us to start collecting up on the bridge deck. I really thought we’d be running across the whole bridge span, but we ended up starting about a quarter way across, which meant that the first part of the race wasn’t entirely uphill. 🙂
While I stood on the bridge deck, awaiting the start, someone walked up to me, and said hello. It was Lynn Nelson, who was on the bloggers panel with me at Route 66 in November. I was stunned to find someone I knew at this race! We chatted like old friends, and that really helped cut the pre-race jitters for me.
We all stood, sang The Star Spangled Banner, and just like that — we were underway.
The thing that struck me right away was how long that bridge over the Mississippi River was… and how beautiful the land so very far below was. The sun was poking through the heavy clouds every now and then, lighting up parts of the river as I crossed the bridge. And as I expected, inside fifteen minutes, I’d lost the pack, and was left to my thoughts.
The Greenville Bridge is pretty impressive, and is billed as the longest cable-stayed bridge span on the Mississippi River. I couldn’t say if that’s true, but it’s very cool to run across. The only thing that was weird for me was ensuring I didn’t step wrong on the expansion joints. They were huge, and looked like you could break an ankle by stepping on them wrong.
Having lost the pack, I was the very last person running the half. As a result of that, and running on a pretty significant highway, I had an escort. 🙂 That’s one thing I noted throughout the race — the support from the LEO community was amazing! I never felt unsafe crossing any intersection, and I made sure I thanked every one of ’em. They kept all of us safe, and I loved being the target of the world’s slowest high-speed pursuit!
I chugged through the first quarter (5k), and had a time pretty comparable to the first quarter of Route 66 — within a minute. I felt like I was on track for another long day, but a successful one. I even posted some Facebook Live material from the race course.
I continued on up Highway 82, with a nice tailwind, and kinda thought my times would be benefitting from the little extra push. However, at the halfway point, I was seven minutes behind my time from Tulsa, and was starting to feel a blister form on the bottom of my left foot. I’ve been there before (remember Gasparilla last year?), and that could’ve set me up for some real misery. As it ends up, that blister was the least of my worries.
Halfway was kinda a big point in this race. I put another (and my last) Facebook Live video up. The first of the marathoners passed me — remember, he was at the 19 mile point in his race, while I was sitting at six miles in mine. He was flying! And it was around halfway that I met Liz, Brenden, and Ashley.
These kids were probably half my age, and were walking at the same pace I was, plus or minus. Oh, and Liz was 30-weeks pregnant. 🙂 We’d been passing each other for much of the first half, and then hooked up as we reached the end of the highway part of the race. We talked for miles, stopping at some of the neighborhood rest stops, picking up doughnuts, citrus and other goodies. Eventually, they got ahead of me for good, although every now and then, they’d look back to make sure I was still in the game.
Somewhere around nine miles, I really began to struggle. I started taking breaks, sitting on the culverts and leaning against walls. I had so many folks passing me by, asking if I was ok. And I was, I was just exhausted. I hydrated well along the way (a little Gatorade every mile), so I know that wasn’t the problem. But for some reason, I was just barely getting from point to point. It was like some crazy Walking Dead imitation, only without the constant mumbling for brains.
And every time I’d get moving again — slowly and sloppily — I had runners passing me, encouraging me as they went by. And every now and then, someone would slow to my pace, talk with me for a few minutes before moving on. And being in the South, there were more than a few “You’ve got this, sir” flung at me as those faster folks passed me. Sir? Really? 🙂
I don’t quit, and I finish what I start. But, this… this was really brutal. There were at least a couple of times where I wanted to pull the plug, and catch an ATV to the finish. Every time I thought of that, I knew I’d be crushed, and I’d have to live with that. I could see that I was so close to the finish, and that I only needed to find ways to rest, recharge, and keep moving. That was my strategy over the last couple of miles, and I just kept counting down the kilometers.
And then it was over. I finished, and had my medal around my neck. (Put a tack in that; we’ll come back to it later.)
I waddled to the finisher’s tent, and found that they had a feast of pizza and other goodies. The lady behind table asked what I wanted, and I muttered something about just wanting to sit down, eat some pizza and have the coldest Coke I could find. She said there weren’t any chairs in the tent, but walked off for a minute, and came back with a folding chair from somewhere. I sat right at the serving table, hunkered over my pizza and Coke like they were my precious, and began to recharge my batteries a bit.
The tent also had some massage chairs set up, so I signed up for my first ever massage. My shoulders were awful — they always are after a long race — and I figured I wouldn’t hurt anything by getting them worked on a bit. As it ends up, that was the best move I coulda made. The masseuse just pummeled my back and shoulders, and it made all the difference in the world.
And while I had my face in the doughnut, someone came up and grabbed my hand. I asked who that was, and it was Liz, coming by to congratulate me on finishing. I felt like George Bailey at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, suddenly having something wonderful happen. It absolutely made my race.
When my massage was finished, I wandered back over to the table, and asked for the quickest path to where I’d parked my Jeep. The folks started trying to figure that out, when a twenty-something girl said she’d just take me to the Jeep. Wow. I’ve never had anything like that happen at a race!
I drove back to the hotel, and that’s where I discovered that I had a medal for the full marathon, rather than the half. I’m sure that as long as it took for me to come across the line, the volunteers weren’t expecting that grizzled old dude to be a half finisher!
I’ve thought about why this race ended up being so tough. I thought the flat course, especially with a tail wind, would make for a fast time for me. However, I really think that having some hills to help break up my pace, and to give me a “restful boost” on the back of those hills, could’ve been helpful. I also think the weather toward the end of the race got to me. It was 75° when I finished, and I felt every degree of it. All that conspired to keep me on the course an hour longer than I’d planned for.
I am thrilled to have my second half marathon behind me! But there’s no resting on my laurels. I’m supposed to be in Gasparilla in two weeks for a 15k and 8k. I’m definitely encouraged by how this race went, despite how very tough it was. I learned a lot about myself, and that I really can push through some pretty tough racing in order to finish. I know folks finished much, much faster than me, but for me, this was a solid win!
This race benefitted Teach for America.