The Wild Half Marathon in 2014 didn’t start off well. I awoke to my alarm at 5:30, a comfortable two hours before the start time, made a coffee, used the restroom, ate a banana and peanut butter, and jogged the mile to the start. Where I used the port-a-potty. And then got back in line to use the port-a-potty. And then, for variation, lay down for a few minutes, before getting up to use the port-a-potty.
Coffee and I have a delicate balance, and as little as one cup of coffee can (but not necessarily DOES) make me pee about three liters of liquid.
On the starting line, during the national anthem, two minutes before the race, I considered rushing back to the port-a-potty.
Instead, I talked to a few of the likelier looking guys near the front of the corral. I was looking for someone who wanted to go sub-1:20, so I could latch on to them. I had run a PR of 1:21:02 a few weeks earlier at the (much hillier) Lehigh Valley Half, and thought the flat course of the Wild Half would be favorable to a 1:19:xx attempt.
I talked to a guy who said he was going for a 1:20, and looked like he could do it, then I talked to a guy who said he didn’t know what he could do, this was his first half marathon ever. He hoped to run 6s. “What’s your 5k time like?” I asked him. “14:30” was the answer. “SIXES?” I laughed. “Dude. You’re going to run… maybe a 1:15. SIXES.”
Sure enough, when we took off a few minutes later, under the watchful eye of the quadcopter drone, the kid took off, right behind the guy who would be his best pal on the course, the motorcycle cop. He ended up running a 1:11, so what do I know about predicting times?
I settled into a rhythm, quickly feeling my breathing hitting the every other left, every other right cadence. The weather was fine, mid fifties with a little breeze, partly cloudy, but I wished that it could have been a little bit cloudier – the sun is brutal along the Wildwood course, without any source of shade other than the buildings lining the course, which were useless as the sun rose higher in the sky.
The first mile started south, to Wildwood Crest, and in front of the Fleur de Lis, where Liz and the girls were sleeping, last I had left them. I thought I might see them out cheering, but nothing on the run south. Then I looked again on the run north, about half a mile later, but they still weren’t out. Little did I know that they wouldn’t wake up for another thirty minutes or so.
Nevertheless, the miles ticked off as planned, just slightly faster than the 6:06 pace I needed. Two guys, including the fast kid, took off, and I never saw them again (except at the turnaround at mile 7.5). I was running alone, I felt, in third. I continued to feel alone and untouchable in third, until a guy pulled up on my left shoulder after I almost ran directly onto the beach after the mile five waterstop, instead of turning left as I was supposed to.
“Don’t worry! Don’t speed up!” he gasped. “I’m not in the race! I’m just on a training run!” Nevertheless, he pushed me to maintain pace, after a mile where I had faltered a little (only partly due to almost running into the Atlantic). “Dude, listen to your breathing, and listen to mine!” he said, about a mile later. “You’re doing a lot better than me!”
“How far back is fourth?” I asked him. “About… ten seconds?” I looked back. Fourth and fifth were ten yards back. “More like two.”
At mile six and a bit, fourth and fifth caught me, and collectively we became the chase pack. The non-racer dropped off somewhere in there. Just after mile six the mile marker for nine is visible, as the race does an extended out and back to some northern islands. “Mile nine!” gasped one of the guys. “No, man. That’s for the way back,” said the other.
Well, if someone was hoping for mile nine at mile six, they must be hurting as much as I was, I thought, and that thought was helpful. Also helpful was a sports story that had been scrolling on a billboard along the boardwalk, at mile three. The Saints had signed a Tulane football player on a one day contract – Devon Walker, who had been paralyzed in a college game. “So,” I thought, “Even when this run sucks – and it will suck – it’s amazing that I can be out here doing this. I’m one of the lucky ones.”
At mile seven, the run started to suck. Fourth and fifth pulled ahead of me, and I managed to tag onto them. Shortly thereafter, we hit the turn around, and we dropped fifth. Running back alongside the outward bound racers, I experienced for the first time in my life what it’s like to be one of the top women in local races I always am running near. “You’re three and four!” shouted out about a dozen “helpful” people.
The never did tell us how close we were to second, though. That would have been helpful.
The other guy I was running with and I swapped a few stories, between breaths. They were short stories, but I told him about Jeff’s sit and kick on me during the last summer series 5k, and he told me how his goal was to beat his friend’s daughter, who was a NCAA athlete who had run a 1:25 (coming off an injury).
I looked at my watch. “Dude, I think you’re going to get that 1:25.” If he had slowed down by a minute per mile at that point, he still would have got it.
At mile nine or ten we were caught by a kid with headphones, who lumbered past after sticking to us for a quarter mile. At ten and a half I almost missed getting on the beach path, instead trying to stick to the road, and had to vault a halfwall as a result. Unnerved, the guy I was running with put a few seconds on me, approaching the boardwalk return.
Once we got onto the boardwalk, things went south – literally and figuratively. An 8k had started twenty minutes after the half, so everyone that finished the 8k in an hour or more or so I had to pass, as their turnaround was the end of the boardwalk.
Like the OBX marathon, the people at the end of the 8k were wide, and novice racers, who didn’t know how to get out of the way, or were listening to their music too loud to hear oncoming runners. The one good thing about their being novice racers was that they didn’t take tangents at all, so at some points of the run the best race line was free.
Nevertheless, they made the last two miles of the run… interesting. And slower than they could have been. But I saw the finish line clock as I made the turn onto the street in front of the boardwalk, and it read 1:19:something! So I sprinted – even more than I already was (I had made a deal with myself to run as hard as I could starting at 1:17), and crossed the line at 1:19:35. I accepted my medal, got a bag of food, and jogged/walked back to the Fleur de Lis, where Liz was just getting out of the shower.
We hurried, did breakfast, checked out and rushed down to the finish line ceremony, where awards were supposed to start at 10:30. Well, they didn’t – apparently they’re going to mail age group awards? But, for record purposes, I was fifth overall, first in my age group, with a 1:27 PR. I’ll take it.