A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 8; 7th Edition
1 mile skied, 5 miles biked and 93.5 miles run in 2013 races
Race: Salt Lake City Half Marathon
Place: Salt Lake City, UT
Miles from home: 763 miles
Weather: 40s; Oodles of chilly rain and wind
When I originally scheduled this race I was going to use it as a barometer of where my racing was at this point in 2013. I thought I was in line for a 1:23 or so, which would be putting me back where I wanted to be after nearly a year of being, well, off.
Then, like an alpaca out of nowhere: staph infection! Don't try this at home, folks.
So, not only did I have to cancel an appearance at the Peterson Ridge Rumble last week (when the foot originally flared up and I thought it was a stress fracture) but I knew this race in Salt Lake would be nothing but a "run". This bummed me very much beyond the obvious reasons.
Taking over the race from the much-maligned Devine Racing last year, US Road Sports was putting their own stamp on the race which included changing the course a bit. Most importantly, instead of climbing up the gradual incline of State Street for the final mile plus and then ending on cobblestones near the
Gateway Shopping Plaza, it was ending in my beloved Liberty Park. So to not even be able to slightly race was disappointing. Then again, 48 hours before the race I didn’t even think I would be on the starting line so I guess it is all about perspective.
This was the first marathon of any particular size since the horrible tragedies of Boston just five days earlier. The thought of not running because of a safety issue didn’t cross my mind once. Not because I am such a bad ass that nothing deters me- rather I simply knew the chances of anything happening that would endanger me were infinitesimally small. Nevertheless, the race and the city were taking plenty of precautions, with police beefed up in certain areas, along with bomb sniffing dogs and detection equipment placed in what I am guessing where strategic locations. These don’t bother me per se. I like being safe and as far as I felt, none of my liberties were put into lockdown. However, I felt they were basically unnecessary and if they were necessary, when do we stop thinking about them? It is impossible to police the vast majority of a marathon course. But this is all food for thought for other blogs.
At the expo prior to the race the mood was apprehensive. The suspects were still at large on Thursday and for most of the day Friday. Then, about ten minutes before I was scheduled to give a speech, cell phones began dinging, people began murmuring and the news spread. The second suspect was in custody! I knew the idea of any sort of speech would be thrown completely out of the window so I instead simply sat down with a large group of runners and we talked. It was beyond cathartic. I had planned on using my speech to get a release for myself and let others blow off steam. Virtually everyone was using the race for the same purpose. But now, with seemingly all of the bad guys in either a morgue or handcuffs, the healing could officially begin.
There were a lot of sighs of relief that evening.
Even though the morning broke cold (but perfect for me) and a little bit of rain wet the brows of runners, the air was quite jubilant. It was rather palpable. As I ventured toward the start, I saw one of the higher-ups for US Road Sports standing out in the rain, handing out the blue bands for runners to show their support for Boston. That is one of the thing I really love about this company is how even those involved with the race from a corporate standpoint are willing to do work anonymously to make it all come together. I am sure I was probably the only one there who knew who he was with the company. So I slid up next to him, grabbed a bag of bracelets and started handing them out as well. With about 5 minutes to go until the start, I had to leave to find a place in the masses. But the joy on people's faces was so wonderful to see.
As the race clock counted down to the start, my friend and announcer Jeremy Pate led us into song. Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” was sung by the runners as our own personal tribute to Boston. Away we went. (Side note: knowing that Caroline Kennedy, aged 11 at the time, was the inspiration for a 28-year old Diamond's song is a little bit icky. Try not to think about that, though.)
First 5 miles:
If the weather had simply stayed the way it was, it would have been rather ideal. However, while the cool temps remained where I loved them, the rain (described by some as “icy buckets of ouchiness”) would come and go. Mostly it would come.
I had virtually no idea what to expect of my foot and tried to feel it out as I went. As the vast majority of this first 5 miles is rather forgiving with flats and downhills, I felt I might as well see what I could do. Averaging
right around a 6:30 mile astounded me. I was pumped full of antibiotics, had a swollen foot, was running at elevation for the first time in months and hadn’t run in two weeks at all. These miles felt great. Well, moderately good, at least. Yeah, let’s go with “they didn’t suck” as the actual metaphor.
Next 5 miles:
Leaving Sugar House Park and beginning to run onto streets I had run numerous miles upon, I lamented the fact I was not well. This course really suited my strengths and desires. But as it was tough for me to maintain a 7:00 minute pace for this portion of the course, I knew that I was not close to being back just yet. My Karhu Flow Lights were soaked but performing excellent under the conditions. I had a few friends and acquaintances pass me here including top triathlete Malaika Marie who I met at the Mountatin Tropic Tri 70.3 in 2011. I watched as she ran and another female hung right in her wake for quite some time down the long stretch of road ahead.
With the only major climb to speak of (outside the short uphill jaunts in Sugar House Park) at mile 7, I geared down a little bit and tried to see if my legs would respond over the next few miles. I rebounded after a pair of 7:20 miles with another in the 6:xx as we left the marathoners and headed home. There are few feelings better than when you are tired and hurting and realizing you have 5, not 18, miles left to run. It is always amazing what you can convince yourself you can do when that is what you are starting out. Think you are running 50 miles that day? Well, 40 doesn't sound too bad. Only doing a measly 13.1? You can be ready to quit at 8. Psychology, people.
As we pushed it down the last long steady downhill I thought I might be able to get under 1:30. Minutes before the race I thought I would be lucky to run a 1:45, or my slowest half marathon ever. To be at this point here, where I was angry to not be running much faster, was very uplifting. Happy to be angry. That's running for you.
When I get tired in races I convert everything to Liberty Parks. (Liberty Park is 1.5 miles around. If I have two miles left in a race I tell myself it is barely over 1 LPs. One of these days very soon I will compute how many miles I have run around Liberty Park. I have the spreadsheets. I just have to do it. I am making a guess I have run no less than 1500 miles around that 1.5 mile loop.) Here, not only were there just two LPs left, part of it was in actual Liberty Park! Libertyinception!
But I was done. A nice, quick and abrupt downhill, one I had run hundreds of times in training runs, gave nothing to my legs. I needed to run a 6:45 or so and ran right around 7:00 minutes for that mile. I knew it was all over but the shouting. So I turned onto 600 East and got ready for the 2 mile straight run up the street to Liberty Park. My friend and fellow SLC Track Club member Neal Gassman was out in the rain cheering on runners. I had seen him at Sugar House Park as well and his cheers were a welcome sight. In fact, in some of the worst spectating conditions, under the specter of potential danger, this might have been the most crowded SLC streets have ever been for this marathon. Kudos to all those who came out to support us. It did not go unappreciated.
I spent this last 14 minutes thinking about Boston and the events which transpired. It made me think about 9/11 and the other major life-turning events which have happened in my consciousness as an adult. I keep thinking THIS is the event which will finally make people change. I know I am wrong every time and especially in the nanosecond attention span of today’s news cycle that within a few days the Boston atrocity would be behind us. Most of that stems from the fact that we had the suspects in custody, which is obviously a good thing. However, this need for the "new" is also because we are often looking too far ahead.
I crossed the finish line in 1:31 and change. This was a major personal victory.
I have said this on many occasions but it rings true again: I have seen far too many runners get caught in the “What’s Next?”mentality. In fact, a friend who just finished their first marathon ever at Salt Lake was already making plans for the next event the same afternoon that they had finished their race! I tried to instill in them the thoughts of enjoying the moment. Relish what you have just accomplished. Sure there will be the inevitable marathon blues which follow such a huge achievement. That doesn't mean you should discredit your hard work, furious effort and how far you have come, both literally and figuratively.
Then it hit me that I was doing the same thing. Four days prior I was thhhhhhiiiis close to going to the hospital to see if they had to lop off my foot. I had no idea when I would run again. I certainly did not think Iwould be doing 13.1 miles on Saturday. Then it got slightly better and my goals changed. Then I hit the start line and they changed again. Just a few minutes later, turning the loop through Liberty Park, I was disappointed I wasn’t going under 1:30. As I shuffled back to my hotel, in the freezing rain, I changed my mindset. I was ecstatic to be running anywhere close to 1:30. My times would drop. I would heal. I would come back and run much, much faster.
Even as the freezing rain drenched my Boston Marathon 2008 shirt, I had a nice warm glow inside. Those in the Bay State and all those who had run at the marathon would recover.
I would too.