I ran the Salt Lake City half-marathon on Saturday, marking my 11th organized race in the last three years. In all ten of those previous races, not once has the weather played a factor. As a matter of fact, I've had the extreme fortune of running every single race under perfectly clear and sunny skies.
Saturday, my luck ran out.
Any chance of attaining that coveted sub two hour mark pretty much blew right past me-- figuratively and literally. It was just as well, though, as this race really wasn't intended to be a PB breaker for me, but rather one to just break me in, period. And although I had sneakily crafted a mental strategy to try to come in under two hours, it was based on the assumption every single extenuating factor-- within my control or not-- would be in my favor. Alas, that just wasn't the way it turned out. But in the end, I came away with a strong, solid half-marathon finish I could be proud of and the hope it would lend to an easy recovery in time for next month's marathon.
After arriving in Salt Lake on Friday, my kid sister (I'll call her Kim because that's her name) and I made the trek to the Expo to pick up all our race swag. This ritual is beginning to become a little mundane for me, but I was excited for my sister to experience all the pre-race hype and hullabaloo. When we walked in the doors to the Expo, the first thing we saw were three people lying back in dental chairs having their teeth whitened. I wasn't aware teeth whitening before a race was all the rage. After exchanging bewildered glances at each other and verifying we were indeed in the correct convention hall, we made our way through the crowds, got our goodies and went about our perusing.
When we finally made it back to Kim's place at 11:00, I was exhausted and just a tad delirious from all the driving, perusing, gorging and hot-tubbing. I managed to get my gear all pulled out and ready to go come insane-o'-clock the next morning. Since my sister lives right in downtown SLC, we decided to walk the two miles to the starting line and call it our warm-up. It was a good idea in theory, except for the fact I didn't realize the two miles were all UPHILL. As we trudged along, the wind was already picking up a little, but not nearly as blustery as it would eventually become.
The pre-race routine at the start went smooth as silk. Lines to the port-a-potties were 15 minutes long, but there were no cross-legged near misses to report. While standing in line for the bathroom, a woman with a news camera came up to us both and asked if we were here to run the marathon. For a second, my inherent sarcastic nature reared its ugly head and I almost said, "No, lady, we're here to save the whales", but I suppressed the urge and just nodded at her. She asked if she could interview us on camera, to which I promptly pointed to my sister, said "you can interview her", and graciously stepped out the way. Kim flashed me a dirty look but then went about giving a fascinating interview, which I assume was replayed that night on the evening news. Once done with all the pre-race routines, we lined up at the start, several hundred runners back and waited for the gun. Above us on the bridge was a small gospel choir exuberantly urging us through song to "Come to Jesus", among other things. Finally, the gun sounded and we were off! Well... we were off to a standing jog for almost six minutes until finally the crowd cleared enough to allow us to actually start running forward. And then we were off!
Thanks to our two mile uphill warm-up walk, I was feeling strong and raring to go. My strategy to keep a slow pace for the first three miles just wasn't working, though, as I found it difficult enough just to maneuver around all the runners, let alone do it slowly. Within just a few minutes, I was already running faster than I had planned and couldn't seem to slow myself down. For me, it was fine and I just settled in to what felt comfortable. But for my sister, it was too fast and by mile three she was already feeling fatigued. We tried taking more walking breaks, but at that point we were not only running uphill but also directly into the wind, which was becoming increasingly stronger. She hung in there with me for another 2 1/2 miles and I did everything I could to slow down enough for her, but almost halfway through the race she told me-- pleaded, practically-- to go on ahead. At first, I told her I'd stick with her 'til mile 10, but when she fell behind again and I looked back and couldn't spot her anymore, I knew it was time to run my race and let her run hers.
At the point we separated, I was convinced a finish under two hours wasn't feasible anymore. Although I still felt good, I would really have had to make up some time and I wasn't feeling that good. I knew, too, it would be foolish of me to even try to race that hard the last half of the race if I wanted to have an easy recovery afterward. So, I just settled in again with what felt comfortable and found myself pleased that what felt comfortable was actually a fairly speedy pace for me. I hit the cruise control button and just enjoyed the ride.The wind started becoming a real factor around mile eight. Fortunately, there weren't too many stretches that we had to run directly against the wind. But at 31 mph, even running with the wind at my side took a toll on me. There were times when I couldn't decide which direction the wind was blowing as it seemed to be swirling in all directions. Thousands of empty paper cups were scattered across the road and while I attempted to dodge them at first, it soon became a useless effort. The most taxing effect of the wind, though, was breathing it into my mouth. I knew I was very well hydrated and had decided not to wear my fuel belt but rely only on the water stations. For a half-marathon, it wasn't a foolish decision but because of the wind, it was an inexperienced one. The temperature was in the mid-sixties (a good 15 degrees warmer than I've run in yet this year) and breathing in all that warm air made me feel like I was running with a mouthful of cotton. The water stations seemed desperately far apart and when I finally reached them, just the half-full cup of water available barely offered relief. I would have been in some serious trouble had this been a full marathon, but as it was, it was almost over and I did the best I could with what I had and just kept moving, albeit painfully slowly at times.
Mile 12 and I was almost done. My mouth was dry, my calves were cramping, but I was almost done. I could see a lot of people struggling around me with the wind and I as continued to forge ahead, passing many runners in my wake, I actually felt grateful for all that miserable weather I'd trained in at home. It was paying off now and I knew it.
Kim finished in 2:21 and admitted once she didn't have to try to keep up with me, she did just fine. She's already admitted to being bitten by the bug, deciding runners are all just a bunch of vampires.
I told her welcome to the club.