Season Opener: Rock the Parkway 2010

The day before my first half-marathon, I can't stop grinning. The legs feel great (JET chiropractic to the rescue on that one). No hesitancy, all calm, just hoping to find no unpleasant surprises. I have little idea what running 13.1 miles will feel like but understand I'm about to find out.

I swim casually to stay loose and manage to post my fastest 550 yard time in the pool (go figure). I wrap an iced towel around my right calf and whisper sweet nothings to it. The house is empty; Nitin's already gone to the neighborhood party; I cook dinner.

When a person stays away from processed foods, refined carbs, and grains, pre-race meals look a lot different: NO PASTA. For breakfast, a piece of salt-and-peppered whitefish and a piece of banana; for dinner, grilled cayenne chicken smothered in a pile of stir-fried cabbage, red bell pepper, and red onion, followed by juicy blackberries.

Oh, and tequila.

Doesn't a salted rim count as an electrolyte boost?

Glen makes his own margarita mixer and brought 3 different kinds of top-end tequila to choose from. I slept well.

My running partner's not thrilled to sit at home.

Zoolander had strongly suggested that the hour before chute lineup is best spent posing. Though familiar with the attitude, I had never before considered it as a pastime. ZL, you were right, that was fun. I strutted slowly around the tent area like I owned the place, then stood up on one of the small boulders in the median, lightly stretched, tapped a heel to the Tom Petty tunes, and inspected the runners passing by as though I were some Greek goddess coolly looking down from Olympus. It is fun when people look at you, not in that "oh, that woman is embarrassing herself" kind of way, but more in that, "huh, wonder if I'm supposed to know who she is" kind of way. It's a good thing to know in life that you don't have to be especially beautiful to pull this off.

Half-marathoners at the one-mile marker.

The rain was amazing. Cold, yes — I was glad to have opted for the outer shell and gloves, because even when they were wet they kept me from freezing — and we were pelted with 45 seconds of hail about 1:45 into the race, which was a lot harder on the volunteers than on the runners.

The wet streets were gray glass and the air smelled like fresh earth and green things rooting. Mostly the rain fell in fine cold filaments or in a draping drizzle. Except for the voices of the runners and volunteers, the streets lay quiet. Houses were dark and sleepy. At mile five, birds suddenly lit up the budding trees with loud songs; the rain cleared out for a while and I passed under the red kite at 6.5 feeling loose, no pain, centered on a pinpoint of consciousness — like I could run forever.

The knotty calf whispered "careful, careful" to me but never got tighter. I walked through the aid stations and sipped water from a paper cup. Chewed on a couple of squares of fruit leather from the stash in my DIY race belt pocket.

Funny, but in one way it was like I never felt my legs the whole time. They just kept doing their thing down there, mile after mile, and I was more aware of hips, mid-spine, and arms. Grateful for the shallow uphills to stretch different muscles, delighted by the flats and downhills. Ecstatic to be running on the crown of the street instead of on the cambered side for once. Couple of times to relieve the running posture did a full flying kiss-the-sky arms-extended-out stretch with head tipped back for the rain on my face.

I think I'm gonna like running the 13-16 mile distances and look forward to better conditioning my legs for them. Certainly can handle the endurance challenge — I was steady but conversational and comfortable until mile 9, when I sped up to pull away from a super-chatty group of social marathoners. Now that I know what my legs will do, I'll let out a few more of the horses along the way next time and push closer to fatigue. (The horses all went out of the gate at mile 11.5. By the time I crossed the finish I couldn't go any faster or give any more.)

For me the most satisfying way to run these distances (maybe any distances) will be on trails or early in the morning before the world wakes up, with air still and birds singing. I like the solitude. I like emptying out the bucket of rules and being the rational wordless animal.

That feeling is even stronger just after a good ride on the bike. Which should give you a clue to what's coming next.

The supported runs are great because they are uninterrupted, and smiling people hand you restorative fluids. And if you are up to it, you can race, as I finally did in the last two miles, where a woman in a blue jacket and I traded places all the way to a 4-second separated finish. Turns out it was Kris, a favorite acquaintance I'd lost touch with, and we had a laughing reunion on the other side of the finish line.

They ran out of mylar blankets just after Kris and I finished, so one less thing accumulated in life, hooray.

Kris and I both had watch times on either side of 2:21:40, but the official chip time is more than a minute slower with the shotgun start. Oh, and those wet shorts feel as heavy as ceramic.

For celebrations, N. treated me and Zip to lunch and recovery beverages at McCoy's in Westport.

Traditional honoring of my running partner with the finisher's medal.


Troy said...

You look very comfy and cozy at McCoy's and your dog looks VERY proud. As if it was he who ran the marathon.


Kelly G. Loeb said...

Applause, applause! One day I want to know what it feels like to run and not feel my legs doing their thing. You inspire me to consider that it could actually happen.

Ann Pai said...

Kelly G! Totally within the realm of your possibility and probably not as far off as you might think.