Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Report of 1:54:10

No sooner had I packed up my second cupcake after the Akron Half Marathon did I come down with the flu (OK, I also went to a birthday party on Saturday and the Browns game on Sunday)!

For years I bragged about never getting sick, but it’s been quite the year for me to be down and out. Everyone seems to think it’s my body’s way of begging for a day off, but I think it’s work germs. I’m going to start wearing rubber gloves and a surgical mask at work now.

But at least I’ve had nearly a week to reflect on the half marathon. And if you’re still interested in getting the full report, here it comes:

By now you know that I did, in fact, find a parking spot! I woke up early on Saturday, ate a Greens Plus bar for breakfast and followed scant early morning traffic into Akron and straight into a University of Akron parking lot. Lucky me! So, I followed a group jogging to the start, picked up some espresso GU and wandered into the starting area.

Never in my life have I seen a race of this size. There were just thousands and thousands of people. And thousands and thousands of good attitudes. I think that’s my favorite thing about running, triathloning, racing, in general: just about everyone involved in these events arrives with a positive attitude. You really have to, don’t you? It’s such a breath of fresh air, a change of pace from the everyday. Did I mention it wasn’t even 7 a.m. yet?

In the pre-dawn darkness I waddled through the crowd in the starting corral and somehow ran into Tom from work. I had twisted his arm about running the Akron Half all summer long, so it was pretty awesome to see him waiting to begin. We talked about our pre-race anxieties (neither of us had ever run a half) and suddenly the race was starting!

We struck out into the dark Akron morning, and, man was it crowded! For the first 2 miles I was stuck in a tight pack and was only able to move maybe 1-2 people ahead when the street gently widened from time to time. I was right behind the 4:00:00 marathon pacer and really wanted to break ahead; we hit mile two at 18:00 and I was really itching to go! My calf was still numb from the BioFreeze, and I wanted to use my early energy and painlessness while I still had it.

Once the sun rose, I had to wiggle out of my hooded sweatshirt and tie it around my waist. To keep it out of my way, I pulled my t-shirt over it (see photos). And then I had someone ask how “far along” I could run a half marathon. Sigh. It’s the third time this year I’ve heard someone assume a non-pregnant woman was with child. So, I thought I would take this moment to remind people that you should never ask a woman whether she’s pregnant unless she’s a) talking about it or b) has a baby coming out of her. That’s my public service announcement!

Finally, around mile three the crowd loosened. We headed back into downtown Akron, whose streets were lined with cheerers—5-6 people deep in some spots. The number of supporters at the race blew my mind almost as much as the number of runners. Absolutely awesome! What was even better: we were able to have our names printed on our bibs, so as I ran by some crowds of people I didn’t know, they would yell, “Go Gina! You look great!” Thank you people I don’t know! You were fantastic! It really made me want to visit more races and cheer on more people I don’t know.

But there’s always a down side: it was right around this downtown section that I was stuck again in a small pack. We were running a good pace at this point, but I was stuck behind a guy who, umm, had a gas problem. Cover your ears if you’re sensitive to flatulence stories. Cruising through downtown, I heard this repeating noise that I thought was coming from the guy’s shoe in front of me. I wasn’t quite so lucky as I soon caught wind of what was actually going on. On the one hand, I felt bad for the guy who was obviously having stomach issues… but then I felt bad for me because I had to hold my breath while running uphill toward mile 4!

I missed the mile-3 marker while trying to escape, but I hit the mile 4 marker at 34:45. At this point I was less concerned with my original goal (8:30/mile) and just aimed to beat 9:00/mile for each marker. Following my training plan’s advice for the race, I reached a comfortable pace and just maintained it throughout the race. I also walked the aid stations to get proper hydration and avoid evil stitches.

Proper hydration and nutrition, however, does not include doubling up on energy gel. For me at least. Before I reached the 10K aid station, I took down the raspberry Hammer gel I brought with me and then grabbed a vanilla GU at the stop. I washed it all down with water and ran on my way. It wasn’t three minutes after I crossed the 10K mark (53:41) that I started getting some serious heart palpitations. Apparently I don’t handle doubled-up caffeine energy as well as I had hoped. I felt like my heart was in my throat, but my limbs were throbbing with get-go! So, I slowed way down to get my HR under control and crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t have a GU-induced heart attack!

With my HR under control, I was pumped when I crossed mile 7 at exactly 1:00:00. I was more than halfway done and I knew I could finish in under 2:00:00 despite all the mishaps to that point. And then I just locked into my stride and focused on finishing strong.

We wound through all of the Akron neighborhoods I’ve never visited and were serenaded by more bands than I could count (several marching bands, a steel drum group, a country band), and somehow I stayed relatively focused. After all, it’s not like I was on my bike! But as we made our way up and down hills, and the area became increasingly urban, I knew were getting closer to the finish!

It was only when the half marathon split off from the rest of the pack at mile 11 that I had some down-on-myself time. We were running up a never-ending incline along a freeway when my energy bottomed out. I guess the GU high spiked too soon! My mind was torn between my excited “I only have two more miles left in a half marathon!” side and my downtrodden “how did I end up running in the berm of the MLK freeway?” side. I was surprised that no one passed me at this point in the race… so maybe we were all feeling the same way!

At 1:45:47 I crossed mile 12 and thought, “Fifteen minutes? I can totally run 1.1 miles in less than fifteen minutes!” I started hoofing along and cheered on a few people who were obviously sputtering out. And then I started looking (desperately) for anything that looked like a ballpark.

While I live 10 miles from Akron, I’m rarely in the city and I’ve never seen Canal Park, which was the site of our finish. Signs on the side of the road bore inspirational sayings, including “See your destination.” But I couldn’t see it! Where was the godforsaken park?

After what seemed like five more miles, a guy on the side of the road cheered for us and yelled “two more right turns and you’re done!” So, I made one right turn… and only saw people running forever! And still nothing looked like a ballpark! Then I saw runners making another right turn and I started picking up my pace. I couldn’t quite hear the cheering that marks most race finish lines, but I could distantly recognize the voice of an announce. And was he announcing finish times?

I took the final right turn, chugged down a brick road hill and then crossed through a threshold… into the ballpark! There had to be thousands of people in the ballpark—and they were all cheering! I felt like a superstar! I crossed into the ballpark and saw the big finish arch 250 yards around the warning track. So, I kicked into super gear and sprinted toward the finish. And as I crossed the finish line at 1:54:10, I yelped with joy! I finished a half marathon! Woo hoo!

I collected my finisher’s medal and aluminum blanket (which I ditched early and then froze off my butt later), and then somehow found Melissa, Jeff and Vincent in the crowd of thousands! We took photos, complained about how badly I smelled and then took off for cupcakes.

A hazelnut cupcake was my celebration dessert of choice, but I took home a You-Must-Be-Chipping-Me cupcake, which is now in my freezer and waiting to be enjoyed. Main Street Cupcakes also has a most-delicious pumpkin spice cupcake right now, which Melissa was nice enough to let me try… and I was dopey enough not to get.

Unfortunately, I won’t be celebrating a 5K this Saturday with that pumpkin spice cupcake. I’ve been out of commission all week with the flu, and unless a super miracle of energy and healing happens between now and Saturday morning, I’ll have to sit this one out. I’m most bummed because it’s the Bowman Cup 5K at Kent State. It was supposed to be my first race ever—when I first tried running in 2006, I thought I would give Bowman a try, but I didn’t think I could run 3.1 miles!

How funny is that? What a difference a year makes! I guess there is always next year. Besides, my calf is still a little achy. It would probably appreciate the extra rest. And I guess the flu is the best way for my body to force me into some calf-healing time.

Now I have to figure out what’s next. I really enjoyed having a focused training plan—something that made sense and helped me work toward a specific goal. So, I’ll have to figure out what races are in my future. And, you know, which cupcakes are best for those celebrations!


miss petite america said...

AWESOME CHICA!!!!!!! you sounded like you ran strong the entire time! EVEN with gassy mcgassers in front of you!

and how is it that every photo of you shows you alone???

you look great! you ran great! many congrats to you, half-marathoner!!!!

JenC said...

Way to execute your plan! Congrats on your first half-marathon!

A pumpkin cupcake sounds absolutely delicious!!

GP said...

Hee hee — it is funny that I blab on and on about how crowded the race was... yet I'm all alone in the photos. The last two were taken in the final stretch, and the first must have been toward the end.

Nevenka said...

It's time for Mama's Magic soup and plum dumplings my little dumpling. Come on over. I love you. You look great (not pregnant at all). Congratulations. You Rock!!!!