Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Keep swimming, runners!

The morning was perfect. Nervous chatting as folks adjusted bib numbers, the "serious" runners logging warm-up miles. "Are you pumped?" asked a random guy, approaching Tiffany and I. He rubbed our shoulders, and I was relieved to discover he was a pacer -- and we just so happened to be standing where his pace group intended to line up. Everyone was all-smiles. And it was raining.

Race day is like a portal to another world. There is a recognition that we have all arrived for the same purpose, and the brother/sisterhood takes over. Someone need only make eye contact and the banter begins.

Fifteen THOUSAND people lined up — in the rain — to run either the half or full marathon in St. Louis.

T and I crossed the starting line 15 minutes after the race began and marveled at the mass of people spread out in front of us. We were somewhere between the back of the mid-pack and the front of the back-pack, but the folks in front of us seemed to go on for miles -- and given that the elites started 15 minutes before we reached the starting line, I suppose we literally DID stretch on for miles.

Garmin was off almost immediately. Seven minutes after we crossed the start, it beeped at me that we'd completed a mile. While we'd surged in front of the pace group we were lined up with, we knew it was impossible that we'd run that fast.

The course passes by a lot of fun things in the downtown area -- the stadium, Union Station, the brewery. The brewery is at one of the first loops, and we circled around it to the parallel road, where a Clydesdale was waiting to cheer us on (or stand there proudly as we all oohed and aahed).

I was impressed that I actually recognized a lot of the course from last year. Familiar buildings and intersections... and even remembered enough to know some of the changes. "Didn't we continue on that street last year?"

All along the route were spectators. This was especially impressive due to the rain. Favorite signs along the route: "You are nowhere near 'almost done'" (just after mile 1), and "Keep Swimming, Runners!" (somewhere around mile 6, I think). There was also a group of guys -- one playing guitar, another with a tambourine. No umbrellas.

We runners were insane for being out there, but the spectators were certifiable. I spoke to a few as we ran by, to thank them for cheering us on -- "we're the die-hards," I was told. And they were. And certainly appreciated as the miles ticked by, and I found myself daydreaming about dry socks... and a towel.

By the time the course split and the marathoners and half marathoners went their separate ways (just after mile 9), the rain got harder. While my wicking fabrics had done a good job of making me feel as if I wasn't drenched (even though I was), there was no fooling me now. And with the wind, it was no longer just wet -- it was COLD. And I was losing steam.

I took one of Tiffany's gels (granted, a bit late in the game) and grabbed a gatorade at the fuel station and began feeling a little bit better... but by mile 10 I was ready for the end. If folks in deserts see mirages of water; in the midst of all the water, I could practically see dry socks! But I still had a lot of up hills to conquer to reach the finish.

When I saw the 26 mile marker (the half and full courses came back together and finished at the same spot), I began picking up the pace. Passed the 13 mile marker and spent the last .1 mile trying to figure out if my running skirt was falling off. It wasn't, but apparently the faster pace made me realize just how drenched it was and gave me the illusion. So as I crossed the finish line, I was busy holding up my skirt!

Got the medal and stumbled over to the post-race area, which was essentially a giant mud puddle. Lots of folks were joking around "well, if you didn't twist an ankle during the race, you will now!"

We waddled back to the metro station and rejoiced at the chance to FINALLY sit down.

Overall, it was a good day. My finish time wasn't too far behind my time last year, which was amazing since I walked more this year (and encountered more hills.... in the rain!). I'm pleased with the result.

My shoes, which are STILL drying, may be forever mud covered. I'm just hoping they lose the mildew scent they were starting to develop yesterday.... hmmm, they may go into early retirement!

Any suggestions for my next half?