Sunday, October 02, 2005

Meet Laura. She's part Kenyan.

You all know me by now. No big suprises. A happy, healthy, mid- to back-of-the-pack runner.

You don't know Laura, though. Laura is the woman whose number I used in the Army 10-miler this morning.

The real Laura and I run at about the same pace. However, when she registered for the race, she wasn't paying attention, and she wrote her anticipated finish time for a 10K, not a 10 MILE. She put down somewhere around 60 minutes. Which in this race, you'll note, would mean 6 minute miles. And last year's overall female winner? 57:32.

There were more than 20,000 runners registered this year. In races like this, they assign numbers based on expected finish time. My number in the VA Beach Half Marathon was 18 thousand something. The lower the number, the faster they expect you to be. In this race, my number was 189.

That number? Was making big promises that my legs would not be keeping.

I was a little intimidated to even wear the number. But I wasn't going to let the little matter of a race number psych me out of the race. So, okay, Naomi is no 189. But Laura? Let's talk about Laura.

Laura, I decided, contrary to her ghost-like pallor and stocky East-European build (describing me, not the real Laura), is part-Kenyan. She is a world class runner, who is using this race as a training run. Plus, she's running with a friend. She could totally smoke you, yes, you, Mr. 8794, so don't be all cocky that you're outpacing little miss 189, okay?

The story got more involved as I metro-ed over to the Pentagon for the race start. In order to get there, I had to switch from the Red Line to the Blue Line. But both Blue and Orange Line trains stopped on the platform where I was waiting, and, not paying attention at 6:45 in the morning, I stepped onto an Orange Line train. While all the other runners on the platform just stood there. And then started calling to me that I was on the wrong train, and I'd better get back off if I ever wanted to get to the race.

Okay, so Naomi has lived in DC for more than two years. She knows better than to get on an Orange LIne train when she needs the Blue Line. But Laura isn't from around here. I glanced at the tote bag I was carrying--something my mother had gotten from some conference--which read "University of Michigan, School of Social Work." Clearly Laura was in town from Ann Arbor. She came in to stay with family for Rosh Hashana (on Tuesday), and decided to register for a race while she was here.

I glanced at my shoe, where I didn't have a timing chip, since my friend didn't want to be responsible if I lost it or if anything happened. But that's not why Laura didn't have a timing chip. She wasn't wearing one because she owns her own chip, but she forgot it back in Ann Arbor. Of course, she wasn't taking this race seriously, so she didn't mind not having a net time.

And Naomi always gets to races ridiculously early, and stands around for ages waiting for the race to begin. But Laura, not being from around here, assumed that, since the race that was encouraging all local runners to take the metro, the city would be running trains frequently. Naomi knows better—such an arrangement would imply forethought and organization on the part of the city. Naomi would not have been surprised to have to wait almost ten minutes for the first train, and then more than 15 minutes for the second train.

Laura was meant to meet her friend at the First Aid tent at 7:50. She walked off the metro at 7:40. She still had to check a bag and use the toilet. She joined the toilet line at 7:45. There were still 15 people in front of her when the gun went off to start the race at 8 am. But since she wasn't planning to run with her usual elite-runner cohort, she knew she had plenty of time while the first 15,000 runners crossed the start line. She waited (forEVER) and finally made it across the start line at about 8:10. She never managed to find her friend.

But Laura, experienced Kenyan runner that she is, knows not to start too fast. So, unlike Naomi, Laura kept the first mile at a comfortable pace (9:59), and maintained it (9:52; 9:46; 9:50; 9:47) for the next several miles. Laura carries her own gatorade, and doesn't slow down for refreshment. In fact, she ate a gel during the next mile, and still managed to run it faster than any previous (9:20). She made up that time on the following mile (9:54), but when she passed the 7th mile marker feeling strong, she knew she could start to push the pace for the last three miles. She missed the next mile marker, but she hit the following one at 17:40, which meant that the two miles averaged about 8:50.

With one mile to go, Laura poured it on. She watched her watch, knowing that she only had 8 minutes to go, then 5, then 3. She couldn't see the finish line, but the course turned up ahead, and she knew that the finish line must be right around that turn, because it had been more than 8 minutes since the last mile.

She got to the turn, and there was no balloon arch. In fact, all she could see, somewhat further ahead, was a mile marker, reading "1". Could the 9-mile marker have been misplaced? Her watch passed 10 minutes, and she was running harder than she'd been the whole race. How could she be going so slowly?

She turned to another runner and asked if the race was really 10 miles. He scoffed (his eyes quickly noting the yellow 189) and said, of course.

But now her watch read 15 minutes, and she still couldn't even see a finish line. She was frustrated and confused, still running hard, but unsure how long she could maintain the pace, and unsure how long she'd have to. There were some runners who had already finished walking back along the side of the course, shouting encouragement. "Almost there!" "Just another six minutes." "Half a mile to go!" "Just keep it up. You'll be done in a minute and a half."

Her total time had long passed 1:40, which would have been a 10-minute pace for the 10-miles. But every mile she had clocked had come in faster than that. Where the hell was the finish line?

Finally, she saw it in the distance. Chariots of Fire came on her iPod, and she tried to give everything she had left. But she was completely bewildered. By the time she crossed the finish line, her watch had clocked that final mile at 19:40. 19 minutes and 40 seconds of running as hard as she could. Okay, well maybe not running as hard as Laura could, but certainly running as fast as Naomi could.

And, finally, as she was gulping down some much needed water, she heard it. "Congratulations runners," the announcer bellowed. "You just ran 11-plus miles. The course was re-routed at the last minute.*** Way to go!"

"I knew it!" Laura couldn't help exclaiming. A man nearby glanced at his Forerunner and said, "11.36." Later she heard 11.4 and 11.38. Which put those last 2.4-ish miles at an 8:15 pace. And her overall pace for the 11.4 miles? 9:16 (she finished at 1:45:49).

Which seriously rocks. Naomi might have to become Laura full time.


*** Rumor has it that there was an unidentified package on the 14th Street bridge, which they had to treat as if it were a bomb. And I guess re-routing 20,000 runners is easier than just moving the damn package. Safety precautions, protocol, whatEVER. That was a LOOOOONG 10th mile, is what I'm saying.

9 Comments:

Blogger Liz said...

Way to go Laura...errr...I mean Naomi!!!

Awesome race...amazing how running is so mind over matter!!!

7:22 PM  
Blogger a.maria said...

whoa. 9:16 is not back of the pack pace, hon. don't even front that you're a back of the pack runner no'mo..cuz you aint! thats pretty damn impressive! way to go lauromi!! (heh. get it? lame. i know. its sunday evening. what do you expect?!)

7:32 PM  
Blogger jeanne said...

How did you get so fast!!!!

And it took me reading this twice to get that you and laura were one and the same. DUH, I'm so dense. (The second read made me laugh out loud.)

Unbelievable time! You are a RUNNING CHICK!

7:50 PM  
Blogger jeanne said...

Yeah, and couldn't they just toss the package into the RIVER?? what the hell? I saw a shopping cart in the river last week, so it's not like people don't go tossing stuff in there. (not that I condone that sort of thing, but honestly...)

8:15!?!?!?! That is amazing. Sorry to post twice. I stand in awe.

7:54 PM  
Blogger Hutch said...

Great job on the race. My race was different, but very similar to yours. when I was at mile 8, I said to myself that there was only about 20 minutes left, so I pushed on. At 10+ miles, my legs began cramping while I was running. My heart rate wouldn't decrease. I pushed for the ten, but lost it mentally when I overheard others saying the race had been rerouted and was now longer. I am so happy you had such a good race. D.C. rocked!

8:13 AM  
Blogger InterstellarLass said...

Ooooh! That would make me sooo mad! But, great running! It always feels great to put up good numbers!

1:57 PM  
Blogger Ali said...

great run! I love how the a bib number can bring such expectations.

I think I would have preferred to find out at the end what the distance was, if they had told me at the beginning I would be all freaked out.

congrats!

2:45 PM  
Blogger Wil said...

Hey, that's a good pace, girl! Nice :) Don't sweat the other stuff!

2:59 PM  
Blogger Mrs.Robinson said...

That happened to me the first, and thus far, only time I ran a 10K. The distance was off by nearly a mile. I was such an unhappy camper.

Good job! Keep up the good work!

2:23 PM  

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