That was part of one of the many sayings I can remember my father repeating when I was young: Some days, you get the bull. Some days, the bull gets you.
This weekend the bull got me.
I left for Olathe on Friday, feeling good, and expecting nothing but a good result at the Garmin Half Marathon. And while I knew I wasn’t gonna set any land-speed records, I just ran two half in February, and got through them. The weather was shaping up to my in my sweet spot — cool, and possibly some rain.
What could go wrong?
As I often do, I put a little gastrotourism on the docket for my travels, and Friday’s event was Taco John’s in Odessa. I remember Taco John’s from my time in Nebraska, and when someone at work reminded me that there was one along my path, I knew I needed to stop.
I ordered a simple meal — a couple of tacos and refried beans — and once I had my tray at the table, I dug in. I’d forgotten that TJ’s meat was a little more like a chili, with a mushy consistency. It was really tasty, but the first TJ’s I’d had in at least twenty years reminded me why I prefer Taco Bell in the “fast food gut bomb taco” category.
While I sat and ate, “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry came over the speakers, and as it always does, I was taken back to when I was first diagnosed with cancer. That song was big at the time, and it was so very meaningful to me. At the time, we didn’t know the details of what I had, and what the future would hold. Y’all already know that story, and how it ended, but this was an unusually poignant moment in what was supposed to be a big, positive weekend.
I eventually got checked into the hotel, picked up my packet from the expo, and played the part of a hermit in my room, relaxing, and getting things ready for Saturday.
Early in the morning, the alarm went off, and I began to get ready for the race. Looking at the weather, we were gonna miss the rain, and temps were up just a bit to the high 40s, making this a “shorts” day, instead of running pants. This was shaping up to be a nice morning.
Walking from the hotel to the start/finish line, I chatted with a bunch of folks, and discovered that the race start was delayed by at least fifteen minutes. Apparently, there were a lot of folks still trying to get to the site, and the race committee wanted to let them get in for the race start.
After some nervous waiting, we grouped up, sang the Star Spangled Banner, and with a cannon’s blast, we were off!
I felt really good. The opening of the race was slightly downhill, and I was keeping a nice pace as I started out from near the back of the pack. I was trying to keep on a Galloway-like interval, and for the first mile or so, that went reasonably well. The rolling hills began to get the better of me, and I slowed down, but to consistent, comfortable pace, and expected to be there for the rest of the race.
When I run, I play with the math of my run in my head. Since I’m usually near the back, there’s not too many people with which to chat, so math is my running buddy. At the first water stop (a little over two miles in), I took a look at my watch, and saw that my kilometer splits were off by quite a bit.
I didn’t panic, but I knew that this was shaping up to be another long day — like those in February’s halfs. I trudged on, finding another another water stop around five miles in, and by now, I began to realize I was in trouble. My splits were slowing, and I was feeling some wear and tear.
The aid station at mile five was at the top of a small hill. After a quick break, and a chat with my police escort, I started down the hill, and I could feel something painful in my right knee. I’ve been nursemaiding my left knee for months, but this was new. I tried to keep putting one foot in front of the other, but it was now painfully obvious that this day was not going my way.
My first 5km was pretty average for me; by the time I got to the six mile point, that second 5k was shaping up to be nearly half-again longer than the first. I’d gone just shy of 10km, and was already thirty minutes slower than my worst 10k.
I cried uncle.
I’d been trying to actively compensate for my right knee since that stop at mile five, which was causing pain in my left knee and hips. Given the way my times dropped off so badly after 5km, I was likely already developing a problem then. I don’t know if I could’ve finished, but had I tried that, I’m highly convinced I would’ve injured myself even more, and it just wasn’t worth the risk.
I took a ride in a volunteer vehicle back to the hotel. As it ends up, that was just what I needed. I was really beaten, and the couple inside and I had a lot in common: hams, berners and hockey. It was a nice “keep my mind off it” ride…
Until I handed my bib over to the folks in my rescue ride, sealing my DNF. That was tough.
I went straight to my room, thought over what had just happened, and showered, trying to put it all behind me. As part of this trip, and another leg of my gastrotourism, I’d planned to go to Runza. I wasn’t gonna let this struggle on-course take that away from me!
Runza is based in Nebraska, and the nearest ones are just across the border in western Kansas. Whenever I’m out that direction, I try to stop in, and get one. I had a cheese Runza, and an order of onion rings. I was in heaven. I probably could’ve eaten two, but that would’ve been pushing it, and I didn’t want to add gastronomical distress to my list of maladies on the day.
Back at the hotel, I dozed off and on, watching some TV, and finally went to bed, knowing I’d have an early start today. After an early rise, I zipped across the state — it’s about four hours from Olathe to Da Lou — and am home, and happy to be here.
So were there lessons from the weekend?
Firstly, a big tip of the hat to the folks at Fleet Feet. If you remember my halfs in February, I blistered on the bottom of my left foot quite badly. I talked with them, and they suggested RunGuard, which is basically a beeswax-feeling substance that you smear all over the bottom of your feet. I was skeptical, but it really worked. I had no blistering at all, which is a huge improvement!
I also learned that it’s ok to listen to your body, and stop when it makes sense. A medal is simply not worth doing longer term damage.
I also thought long and hard about the longer distance work I’ve been trying lately. While I had two extraordinary days in February, it’s become pretty obvious that I’m not really quite ready to tackle 20+km with any expectation of success. Not yet, anyway. On any given day, I might make it, or I might not, and I’m not a fan of that. Typically, when I run, I’m racing against me, not against finishing.
And frankly, that’s taking the fun out of it for me. I’ve been so focused on finishing these long races, I’ve forgotten what made this sport so much fun. It’s time to return to my roots, and focus on 5k and 10k distances for a while. I’m hopeful this will help me work out my mechanics, perhaps get a little faster, and begin to enjoy this great sport again.
It’s also been suggested that I should take my bike out. I think this is great advice, and something different for cross-training. The bridge crossing from the Chesterfield Valley to the Katy Trail has been open for over a year, and I haven’t yet taken my Kona across it. With the warmer weather being here, it’s time to return to the Katy, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than to ride there from the Valley.
Needless to say, this will put some big ol’ dents in my running plans for this year. I have three half marathons (one in two weeks) and a triathlon scheduled for this year. At this point, I’d put all that in the “maybe” category.
Normally, I’d guess someone could get pretty down about that change. These were big race events, after all! I prefer to look at it this way. I did some monster things in 2016 and early 2017, and I will again, but it’s time to put the fun back in my running, focus on getting healthy, and work my way back to those kinds of races, with knowledge that I will finish those races when I’m ready to tackle them again, and not have the question of “finishing” in my head.
Last February, something possessed me to drive to Tampa for a long weekend, and run the Gasparilla Distance Classic, taking on the Lime Challenge (15k on Saturday, and 8k on Sunday). I have no idea why I did that, but I had a tough weekend, with big blisters coming up during the 15k, causing me to hobble my way through the 8k.
Despite the painful feet, I had so much fun that I signed up again for the 2017 Lime Challenge as soon as registration opened. I’ve had this on my calendar for months.
And then I ran the Mississippi River Half Marathon, and a lightbulb went off… if I could change my registration for Gasparilla to the half, I could qualify for the Half Fanatics by completing two half marathons in sixteen days.
Most years I’ve run, I’ve set some kind of goal. In 2014, it was to run a race a month. 2015 saw me run my first half marathon, and in 2016, I competed in my first triathlon. This year, I wanted to become part of the Half Fanatics. To do that, I needed to complete either three half marathons in ninety days, or two in sixteen days. Converting my Gasparilla registration would hit that target.
After a week of frantic communication right before the registration cutoff, I finally got the nod for the modified registration, and I was set!
The Road to Tampa
I set out from Da Lou bright and early on Thursday, planning to get to Dothan AL before the day was done. That’d leave a shortish drive on Friday, and give me plenty of time to get settled in once I got to Tampa.
I decided to take a different route this year, avoiding Nashville, Chattanooga, and Atlanta, and traveling kinda diagonal across west Tennessee and northern Mississippi, before hanging a big right, going south through Alabama.
I passed through farm lands, and crossed the very river I’d run across just two weeks ago. The clouds and fog hung in all morning, keeping the temperatures cooler, which was fine by me.
Along the Rockabilly Highway, I stopped for some gas in Henderson TN. I got out of the rental car, and noticed a note on the pump, indicating that the card reader wasn’t working. I walked inside, and waited for the clerk to show up. Once she did, I asked what she needed in order to turn on the pump. That’s when it got weird.
She asked if I was filling up, and of course, I said “yes”. Then she asked me how much I thought it would take to fill it up. Eh? I had no idea. It’s a rental car! She told me that it was only that pump that had a problem, so I figured I’d just move to another one. And then the wisdom came. She began to tell me how much safer it was to pay inside the store, because there were so many folks out there putting skimmers on the pumps.
I thanked her, told her I’d move to another pump, and then went about filling up. If my card gets nabbed, I have a pretty good idea where it might’ve happened! 🙂
The rest of the drive to Dothan was pretty uneventful, making for a long, twelve-hour day, full of Sirius XM glory, and my torturing the animals I passed by with my singing.
I saw signs for lodging as I was pulling into Dothan, and picked the Best Western from the lot. Basically, I just needed somewhere to lay my head for the night. I got checked in, and frankly, it was an old, tired motel, with a bed that was a little uncomfortable, doors that didn’t shut well, but an air conditioner that rocked.
Upon getting checked into my hotel for the night, it was time to find some dinner. I’d read about a place in Dothan called Rock N Roll Sushi, and wanted to give it a try. They had some very unusual rolls on their menu, and I knew that’s what I needed for dinner. I hit their website, and put my iPhone in control, guiding me to some grub.
Except that the address on their website was wrong.
I ended up in a really grungy part of town — I knew that because one house had “No Trespassing” spray painted across a front door and jamb — and couldn’t find the restaurant. I called, and they told me I was all the way across town from them. After some directions, I headed back across town, and finally found it.
And while the restaurant wasn’t amazing to look at, the food was stunning! I had smoked salmon nigiri and tobbiko nigiri, along with a couple of rolls. Knowing that I needed lobster to survive, I started with the ZZ Top roll, which had tempura lobster inside, crabmeat atop, along with crunchy crab, spicy mayo and eel sauce. It was huge, and was, by far, the best thing I ordered. I also had the Velcro Pygmies Roll. This smaller roll had spicy tuna, avocado, crunch flakes and topped with Pop Rocks… yes, real candy Pop Rocks atop! The sweet from the Pop Rocks countered the wasabi and soy really well, and the slight popping in my mouth was just plain fun. The food was awesome, and was definitely different from any sushi place I’d ever visited.
By driving as far as Dothan on Thursday, I set myself up for a relatively short drive into Tampa on Friday. I grabbed a little OJ and a pastry before heading out, and hit the road at sunrise. Along the way, I found a Lowe’s that was open, and ran in for some duct tape (more on that later!) before heading south to Florida.
Highway 231 out of Dothan is apparently a big run down toward Panama City. And with it being a pathway to Florida, there was a rest area just beyond the Florida state line. The welcome centers in Florida are renown for serving up fresh OJ as a little treat for entering the state. Unfortunately, since this one was a little off the beaten path, it would be closed for another hour, and I missed my chance for a little slurp of nectar from the Sunshine State.
By now, I was starting to think about my endgame for Tampa — where to stop for lunch, and when to stop for fuel so I wouldn’t have to worry about that first off on Monday as I began my return to the Midwest. I finally landed in Gainesville, mostly driven by an advertisement for Krystal’s. If you’ve read my race reports before, you know that I’ll go out of my way to go to Krystal or Runza. I stopped in, and sat down for a quick lunch, before heading across the street for some gas. After filling up, I picked up some Gatorade (I’d also forgotten that at home, still chilling in the fridge), and resumed my southerly charge.
Along the way, I’d noticed some differences in how the Apple Maps app and my Garmin were leading me. Most of it was semantics. The Garmin was intent on ensuring I didn’t accidentally take an exit I shouldn’t, while my iPhone showed me what I would eventually be doing as my next maneuver. The thing that made the Garmin stand out, however, was that it showed me which lane I needed to be in for my entrance into Tampa. I kept ’em both on as I hit the city, and felt like I had consensus on everything I was doing. 🙂
This year, I stayed in the Hilton Downtown, which is on the other side of the Convention Center from where I stayed last year. I didn’t have to fight any of the crazy traffic at the Convention Center, and pulled right up to the Hilton. I dropped off the car with the valet, and headed in to check in. I knew I was early (about 2pm), and hoped for best. If you remember, last year, there were many of us who waited several hours for our rooms to be available, with me finally getting mine at 4pm after a lot of squawking. The Hilton, however, had a room immediately available, and after thanking me profusely for our repeated business, I was heading upstairs to my room.
And it was a nice room. Big, comfy king bed, a couch, a real desk, and all the power outlets you could possible want. That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.
I walked down to pick up my packet at the Convention Center. I got turned around a little (of course!), and it turned into a little longer walk than I’d expected, and by the time I’d trodden into the Center from the 90° heat, I was sweaty and stinky. Like last year, the organizers had done a great job to ensure there weren’t long lines to pick up your bib and shirt. I was a little fearful that there could be some drama around my bib and shirt, since I was a late conversion to the half. But my bib was there (without my name printed on it — not a surprise, given the timing), and awaiting me was a “good ol’ boy” sized race shirt for the half. Woot!
I wandered around the expo, looking for anything cool and interesting, and frankly, I didn’t really see anything much that I hadn’t seen before. Of course, there were a lot of races being promoted from this region, along with local organizations and companies, none of which were things that would be helpful for me.
And then I ran across the folks from Krave Jerky. I’ve really started enjoying having jerky in the car for these road trips, and on a lark, I tried some Jack Link’s Tender Bites for the Mississippi River half two weeks ago. It was awesome on the course, sat well with me, and I really felt like I got a boost out of it. I get pretty bored with the sweet treats like Sports Beans, and other chewy sweet things. They’re nice, but I just can’t make a race of them. The guys from Krave seem to have figured that out too, and had samples there to try. I really liked the flavors and tenderness, and think I’ll need to get some in the house for future runs (never try anything new on race day!).
As I was leaving the Expo, there was a creepy little guy hauling a backpack half his size, asking folks if they had bibs that weren’t gonna be used. I’ve never encountered that before. For every race I’ve ever seen, having someone else run with your bib would get you blacklisted from running in that race again. And I can’t imagine what this guy’s deal was. Maybe he was too late to get registered. Maybe there’s a market for those just before race day (like scalped tickets for a concert). Regardless, it was slimy, and I just walked on by.
I walked back to the hotel, and called it night, staying in, watching TV, and just relaxing, knowing that in about 36 hours, I’d be taking on my next real test, and hopefully sealing the deal for my joining Half Fanatics.
With the change in my race plans, Saturday was a down day for me, and a chance to just relax before my big run.
Last year, after the 15k, I met some friends –Shauna and Clyde — for a late lunch. They relocated from STL to Tampa a few years ago, and Gasparilla is a great chance to catch up with them. I’d made the same plan with them for Saturday on this trip, and once again, we went to the Columbia Restaurant. This place is legendary, and has been around for over a century, sporting amazing Cuban-inspired food.
These guys make great sangria table side, so Shauna and I decided to split a pitcher… neither of us was driving, and I needed hydration for Sunday’s race. 🙂 Continuing my lobster theme from October’s cruise, I ordered Croquetas de Langosta, which was absolutely amazing, and light enough not to weigh me down to the point where I couldn’t have desert. And since I was in Florida, that meant key lime pie, and Cafe con Leche to top things off. With all that goodness, and a couple of hours of great conversation, I was able to take my mind off the upcoming race, and simply relax.
The half marathon started at 6am, and I knew I had to walk about four blocks, and build-in time for finding the tail end of line. I woke up ahead of the alarm after a fitful night of sleep, and started getting ready. Socks and braces and compression sleeves and bib… I felt like a gladiator getting ready for competition.
And, truthfully, it’s probably not that far off!
I walked down to the start line, and found that it was already very crowded. I think there were to be about 6500+ folks running the half, and every single one of them appeared to be milling around in front of me. I found a couple of guys that were also turtles like me, and we chit-chatted for a bit, which helped keeper my nerves down. Really quickly, the time came for the National Anthem.
Now, many races this size have someone actually perform the anthem, but in this case, it was a recording. However, the sound folks couldn’t quite get the sound system switched from the “pump you up” music to the Anthem, so after a few attempts to announce the Anthem, the DJ gave up… and then suddenly, the last three or four lines of the Anthem came through. Yeah, that was kinda messed up. 🙂
And then we were off!
The race course first wound through the neighborhoods on Davis Island. Even at that early pre-dawn hour, there were folks on the sidewalks cheering us on. I really love races where the neighborhoods are engaged and rooting the runners along!
And since the route on the island was a loop, I got to pass by a fire juggler twice. That was crazy awesome, and worth watching for a little bit. If I had any kind of skills, I’d be out there doing something like that for these long races. Maybe I should learn to play my ukulele while I’m running. 🙂
Finishing the island course meant that almost five miles were behind me as the sun was starting to rise. With the nice breeze from the bay, this was feeling like it was gonna be a great day.
The rest of the race was along Bayshore Boulevard — the same course as the 8k and 15k I ran last year. This is a beautiful route, with the bay on one side, and wonderful deco-inspired homes on the other. I really like the look and feel of this neighborhood… and the sea breeze off the bay!
The first several miles along Bayshore went along pretty well, but I could tell I was starting to weaken, feeling some soreness in my hips and feeling my crazy left-foot blister starting to rear it’s head. I’d duct taped it, trying to keep friction to a minimum, but as I’d find out later at the hotel, my tape tore, and started floating around in my sock.
The turnaround was about 15km in, and by then, I knew I was in trouble. I was walking slowly — but methodically! — up Bayshore, and that’s when the last of the pack finally passed me. I was officially the back of the pack, and had a police escort for the next couple of miles.
Behind the half marathon, an 8k was slated to go, and the course organizers helped ensure I was out of their way as they kicked off. The elite runners began passing me about ten or eleven miles in, with the competitive runners not far behind.
But here’s the cool thing. Even with all these speedy folks passing me by, many of them patted me on the shoulder as they went by, encouraging me to continue on. I’m sure they realized that I was out there as the last of the half marathoners, and was trudging forward by sheer force of will. I’ll never forget all those kind words as I worked slowly toward the finish line.
With about a half kilometer to go, there were three ladies at the end of an entrance ramp cheering folks on. They’d finished the half, and when they saw me, and recognized that I had a half marathon bib on, asked me if I’d like them to make me a mimosa. I’d been on the course for over four hours by this time, and that sounded like the best idea I’d ever heard. They reached into a cooler, began mixing, and I started drinking the best drink I think I’ve ever had. We toasted my impending finish line appearance, and they congratulated me on my determination. They were angels in disguise, and after a few minutes, I got my feet under me, said my goodbyes, and was on my way again.
Only a few minutes later, I crossed the finish line, and wandered toward the folks handing out medals. Just like in Mississippi two weeks earlier, someone tried to hand me the wrong medal (an 8k medal, in this case), and I explained as best I could that I was the last of the half marathoners to finish. They walked to the medal racks, grabbed a medal, and hung it around me. I was thrilled.
I continued through the finishers’ chute, grabbing only a water. I knew I was done, and needed to be heading back to the hotel to relax my poor feet. I had my photo taken with a pirate lass, and at the apex of the footbridge, I leaned my head against the top of the handrail, saying some small thanks, and becoming very overwhelmed at what I’d just accomplished.
Not only had I completed my second marathon in two weeks, but I’d qualified for Half Fanatics.
In pain, limping from my blistered left foot and painful hips, I walked the few blocks back to the Hilton, reveling in this personal victory. Back in my room, I fell across my bed, and slept for a couple of hours, finally showering, and finding some food. I was done for the night, and just sat back, letting my body complain and recharge.
Back to the Midwest!
Just like a race day, the night before a long drive isn’t usually my best sleep. I woke up before my alarm, got into my driving duds, and headed downstairs to checkout. The Hilton had been good to me, but it was time to head home.
I checked out around 5am, and started my drive northward, knowing that I wouldn’t be home for two days. Frankly, the drive on Monday was pretty uneventful. I put about two-thirds of the miles to Da Lou behind me, and settled in to a hotel in Tupelo for the night.
And once again, it was a fitful sleep. This time, however, my sleeplessness was not of my own making. About 3am, the heavens opened up, and a small thunderstorm cell rocked and rolled across Tupelo, awakening me. It wasn’t too long until my alarm was gonna go off, so I decided to pack up everything, and get checked out of the hotel, putting myself on the road for the last push for home.
I kept Darla apprised of where I was, and just kept pushing north. I was counting down the minutes and miles, playing all the crazy distance/times games that I do when I run, inching ever-closer to being home.
Just before lunch, I pulled into the driveway, and saw a banner on the front porch:
You could’ve knocked me over with a feather. I’d never expected any kind of recognition like that for these silly little adventures of mine over the last five years. To have someone recognize completion of this crazy goal was incredibly humbling.
I’ve recovered pretty quickly from this race, as compared to the Mississippi River Half two weeks ago. I still have my blister, and I definitely have enhanced the likelihood that I’m gonna lose a toenail that began blackening from that first race. My body has recovered nicely though, with very little residual pain, and that’s something I’m very thankful for.
I reached out to the Half Fanatics after I got home, and am officially a member now, #15914. I couldn’t be happier about adopting that number!
There’s been a lot of congrats from folks at work and Facebook. Many of them knew I was striving for this in 2017, and I’m of the opinion that it takes a community to run a half marathon. Whether they’re close by family or friends, friends from the internet, passers-by in a race who cheered me on, or angels with a cooler on a street corner who can tell when a man needs a drink… they all have their place, and make up part of the story of me achieving a pretty dang significant goal, and proving, despite having had a third of my colon removed five years ago, that I’ve got a lot of guts. 🙂
This race benefits a boatload of charities. In 2016, this race gave $360,902 to dozens of charities. You can read more about those donations here.
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!
“Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at it’s zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters decend upon us.” – from A Christmas Story
And so it was this weekend.
I mentioned yesterday that I had apparently injured my right calf muscle sometime during my races. Truth is, I haven’t hurt that bad since completing the Route 66 half marathon last year. After that race, anytime I sat down, it was very hard to get up, and it took everything I could do to get moving once I got on my feet.
Yesterday was just like that, except only in my right leg. I have no idea what I could’ve done before, during or after the races. I didn’t do anything goofy — I wore clothes I’ve worn before, shoes I wear regularly for running, and I stretched the same way I always do. I don’t remember having any close calls where I had to avoid a collision, or any kind of potential ankle rolling that could’ve caused this. I am totally lost about the root cause of this injury.
So after a painful, restless night of little sleep, I got up this morning, and was still in a fair amount of pain in my calf, but I was also feeling some pain across the outside of my right ankle, and noticed it was swollen. I got dressed, and hobbled downstairs for a little coffee and poppyseed bread for breakfast. By the time I was back at the room, it was obvious to me that four (or more) hours of beating up that already injured leg wouldn’t be the smartest idea.
Could I have finished? Perhaps, but who know what kind of damage I would’ve done, and how much future racing it might cost me to recover from that.
I talked to Darla, told her what I was seeing and feeling, and she agreed that it was probably best for me not to put 13.1 miles of stress on my already-injured body. Begrudgingly, I began to pack my bags, checked out of the hotel, and headed for Da Lou.
I’m disappointed. I mean, really disappointed. I had such high hopes, and was in such a great state of mind going into yesterday’s races. Midway through the 5k yesterday, if you’d told me I be writing about a DNS for the half, I woulda told you you were nuts. I knew I had these races covered.
I talked at the Blogger’s Forum Friday night about trying to keep a positive outlook, and that I really just wanted to run and write about my journey, and hopefully inspire someone else along the way. Well, kids, this is part of the story too. It’s not just easy every race. Some races will challenge you like you’ve never been challenged. Some will come easy. Some will kick you to the curb like last week’s trash.
This weekend, I had both ends of that — the heights of revelry, and an unthinkable disaster.
But here’s the cool thing… I was smart enough NOT to push through this injury, and that probably means I’ll be out there running again sooner. It’s one thing to be smart about running a race — working on pace, stride, breathing, and all the other things that make up a racer’s profile — but it’s just as important to be smart about an injury, and not make things worse.
Of course I’m bummed, and I’m one medal short of where I wanted to be by this time in the weekend. However, there are always more medals to chase, more races to run, and more challenges to come. Even if I’m sidelined for a few weeks, I’m still the same dude I was before the injury this weekend, and I’m still jonesing to get out there for my next race, and show this old body what it can still do.
In the mid-50’s, Frederic Brown wrote a novel titled What Mad Universe. In it, our protagonist, a science fiction editor, becomes the victim of a shift left logical event that lands him in a familiar, but not altogether sane alternate reality. Our editor eventually saves the world, which is not an unexpected result.
In my mad universe, I’m running.
The non-alternate-reality me would say Really? You’re running? Well, yeah, I am… and at times, it’s overwhelming.
It’s just over two weeks away from the Route 66 Half Marathon in Tulsa — my second half marathon, and a race I said I’d never run again, and a distance I said I’d never do again. I was “one on done” with half marathons. In fact, if you look at the finish photo of me crossing the finish line in Tulsa last year, it’s like some photo for the loneliest runner. I was spent, and walking slowly across the line, ready for the day to be over.
And yet, here I sit, listening to the eighteen hours of music on my running playlist, overwhelmed by the thought that in just about two weeks, I will finish this race and distance once again, with high hopes to clobber my time from last year. (We’ll see how that goes!)
In Star Trek IV, Kirk quips, “May fortune favor the foolish.” Who, other than a fool, would not only chase a half marathon they said they wouldn’t ever do again, but use that one as an excuse to sign up for more of ’em?
Enter this fool.
Last year, at the Route 66 event, I won an entry into the Mississippi River Half Marathon in February. And after doing the math, I realized that the MS River event and Route 66 were less than 90 days apart. That’s significant.
Why? Well, there’s this running group out there called the Half Fanatics, who celebrate running half marathons all over the place. But, it’s not just a running group for which you sign up… you have to earn your way in. There are loads of ways to do that, and they range from the just plain crazy to the man, you should be locked away somewhere. For me, my path of lunacy was three half marathons inside 90 days.
So, you see the problem, right? A challenge, a calendar, and bookend races for completing this big challenge.
That put me on a quest for a half marathon that was close to Da Lou, and somewhere in between those two races. I found that race — the Run For The Ranch in Springfield MO on New Year’s Eve. It’s definitely close, but this isn’t going to be an optimal race for me… it’s laps.
I loathe laps, but this race only has four, so it’s not too traumatic, and frankly, feeds pretty well into my mindset around the half marathon distance. I try to think of a half marathon as four 5K races, with a little bonus kilometer at the end. That keeps it sane, and keeps me from thinking just how far that distance is. This maps pretty well to that view, so I think that’ll be a good thing. And, they have a six hour cutoff. That’s well within my ability, even if I have to loaf.
And you’d think I’d be done, right? Well, not so fast…
I’ve given a lot of props to the Moon Joggers virtual running outfit over the last couple of years, and have run a ton of their events. The people are fun, and I’ve had a hoot getting to know them virtually. Earlier this year, they talked about setting up an “in person” gathering of the group at some event somewhere. Well they did, so…
This is supposed to be a beautiful race, with loads of support, a cutoff time that oughta be right in my wheelhouse, and a chance to run some really fast miles since the course is essentially all downhill. How downhill is it, you might ask. Well, it looks like this:
I’ll admit that I gasp just a little every time I think about this race, and what I’m setting out to do. But I’ll tell ya, half the battle is actually clicking “submit” on the race entry web page, and that’s the harder half to me. Now that I’m committed, it’s just a thing, and like so many “things” over the last five years, I’ll nail this one, too.
This was the big one — the race I’d been chasing most of the year.
After the nice races on Saturday, I tried to just relax in the hotel, awaiting time for the half on Sunday. I laid out “Flat Colin,” trying to make sure I had everything I could think of ready to go.
After a quick peanut butter and honey sandwich Sunday morning, I got dressed, and walked downstairs to the hotel lobby. The start line was only about two blocks from the hotel, although starting corral “D” — mine — was about four blocks away from there.
The weather didn’t feel nearly as cold as Saturday. While the temperature was a little colder, there wasn’t much wind, which helped make for a nicer morning. I walked up the street to my corral, and waited.
I’d made a sign — “My First Half Marathon” — for the back of my running jacket, and that ended up being the best thing I coulda done. It was a license for folks to pat me on the back, congratulate me on doing this race, and to remind me that I had this under control. Best mobile cheerleading section I coulda asked for!
Slowly but surely, my corral moved forward as the race officials spaced each group out. After fifteen minutes or so, we were up to the start line, and after a countdown, the confetti cannon went off, and we were on our way!
I jogged along for the first couple of kilometers, which was my plan. I wanted to get warmed up at a pace that was familiar, and cement a solid first five kilometers. And frankly, that was how I approached this race — four 5k races.
In that first quarter of the race, I started to see the neighborhood involvement in the race. There were folks with snacks like pretzels and bananas, and others with stronger things like beer and shots. About two miles in, I took a shot of vanilla rum from some friendly folks. Warmed me up from the inside! My first 5k went along at a pretty normal pace for me — about 51 minutes — which kept me at a conservative pace, knowing that I had three more 5k distances to go.
The second 5k wound through more neighborhoods, more block parties, and started to open up into a business district. The wide road had a good chunk of it blocked off for us, and the businesses were fully engaged — loud music, free beer and lots of cheerleading. This was probably the most enjoyable part of the course. My 2nd 5k took about 53 minutes, and with that, I had 10k in the books, and about seven minutes faster than my 10k at Hospital Hill in June.
My third 5k became more of a struggle. I was starting to lose my pace, and around the 10th mile, I could tell I’d hit a wall. I was exhausted — fortunately, I didn’t have any real pain — and was really just on autopilot by the time I finished this chunk of the course. My 3rd 5k was about 57 minutes.
The last 5k was brutal. It was a real mental struggle to get through this part of the race. I met some wonderful people along the way, who chatted with me as I walked, and helped keep my mind off what I was doing, and how much further there was to go. This is where I really found some goodness in habing my Garmin set to alert on half kilometers. With my arm buzzing every so often, I got a frequent reminder that I was making progress. This last 5k took 66 minutes.
And after that was done, there was only a little over a kilometer to go. I had grandiose plans about how I was gonna run through the finish line, maybe striking a pose or doing something silly. The honest truth was that I was tired, I just walked across, smiling to the photographers.
I had done it, tackling one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and also one of the coolest. It ranks right up there with driving my Jeep at Talladega, riding my bike at the Indy Speedway, and cycling a 75 mile course in Columbia MO. This was big.
I got my medal, had my finishing photo taken, and wandered through the finishing line. I gathered up a bowl of spaghetti, some water, and found a place to sit down and rest. Once I’d finished my grub, I gingerly got up, and wandered over to the Route 66 tent. They’d sent an email Saturday night that they had something special for the “doublers” — folks doing the 5k and one of the marathon courses. It was a very nice pint glass, commemorating the 10th anniversary of the race.
I had planned to ride the start line shuttles to get me back to the hotel. However, with all the roads closed for the marathon, the busses couldn’t navigate very well, and they’d stopped shuttling folks back. The person at the busses said the start line was “only” seven blocks “thataway”. For someone who’d just left their blood, sweat and tears on the course, this was awful to hear, especially in a town I didn’t know. As it ends up, it was about ten blocks to the hotel. I made it back, but I had to make several stops along the way to get a little rested.
So… what’d I learn? Well, I forgot my sunglasses, so that’s a thing. My gloves were not very warm at all, so I’ll need to replace those. I had one too many layers on under my coat, and was pretty hot by the time I got into the race. And lastly, having a big jar of dill pickles in the room fridge woulda been nice. The pickles and juice really help with recovery, and I think that would’ve been good. I also think that I shoulda been drinking Gatorade occassionally, instead of only drinking water. I’m not a Gatorade fan, but I did have some at the last rest stop, and it seemed to help. I was well hydrated, but it was just water, and no electrolytes.
The most frequent question I had was whether I’d do another half marathon. On Sunday, my answer would’ve been an emphatic “NO!” I had a bunch of folks on the course tell me I’d picked a tough course for my first half, which made me feel a little better about my misery. After some reflection, I think I’ll probably do another one. I’m already signed up for on in Chattanooga in March, and I learned last night that I’d won a free entry into the Mississippi River Marathon for February 2017.