Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A hit

I ran to the right, making sure to plant my foot squarely on at least one of the "marathon" cartoon footprints. Don't ask why. I'm also the girl who would avoid stepping on any cracks (to not break my mother's back) and who would step over the darker rows of tiles in my elementary school because, well, I guess I'm OCD.

With two-thirds of the runners heading for the half-marathon finish line, the field thinned considerably. This allowed me, finally, to use a porta potty. I'd wanted to for miles, but there was a line at all the previous ones.

Soon I was back on the road, and beeping over the mat at the halfway point, at something like 2:14. Well on target for my goal, and feeling pretty strong. I was two miles away from finishing my third 5-mile race, and three miles away from where I was supposed to meet Deanna and my family. My fuel belt was running low, but I had left two replacement bottles with my brother, and Deanna had filled one of her fuel belt bottles with additional gatorade for me.

I didn't really want gatorade though. Although I've never minded the sweetness in training, on race day, the sun-warmed, syrupy, orange concoction was driving me crazy. I hadn't taken anything from any previous water stops, but at mile 14 I grabbed a cup of water.

These next few miles were fairly residential and somewhat shaded. I was still loving my music, and, unlike in Anchorage, keeping mostly to myself. I'd spoken to Derek, and also to Angela (around mile 10), who was running her first half-marathon and determined not to have to walk. But I was mostly running my own race, and in fact I was running in sort of an empty pocket. If I have one complaint about the race organization, it was that they failed to post road closures effectively, and it was clear that non-running Miami was severely inconvenienced. There were cops directing traffic at every intersection, and cars lined up seemingly endlessly. Occasionally they would let a single car through ahead of or behind me. But there were plenty more cars, and the honking didn't seem like it was meant as encouragement for the runners.

Around mile 15, I fell into step with two runners in pink. I don't think they knew each other, but they seemed to be running together at that moment. We greeted each other, and I mentioned that I felt good, but wished we were about 10 miles further on. And in the process, I depressed myself by realizing that, 10 miles on, I would still be running. But I had started my fourth 5-mile race, and was about to hit my reinforcements.

In theory.

As I ran through the 16th mile marker, the water stop, and the general area of where I had thought I was meeting my family and Deanna, it became obvious that they weren't there. I held out hope until about mile 18, but to be honest, by the time I had hit 16.5, I already knew that something had happened and they hadn't made it.

At that point in Anchorage, I was exhausted and trying to keep up with LadyFab, and looking forward to meeting our families as a chance to stop and catch my breath. When we didn't see them at 16, I was horribly disappointed, and by the time I saw them 2 miles later, my legs had cramped and I was falling apart. This time, I was disappointed, but running comfortably on my own with my music, so I was determined not to let my family's non-appearance shake me. My only worry was that my fuel belt bottles were empty. But there were water stops every mile, and I knew I'd be okay.

It was getting brutally hot, though. I grabbed a cup of gatorade at the 17th mile, and downed a few gulps (and splashed a lot all over me). I grabbed a cup of water at the 18th mile, and drank almost all of it. But I was starting to worry about drinking too much. Also, I'd been fighting stomach cramps the whole time, and gulping down huge cups of water or gatorade every mile didn't seem like a good plan.

So at mile 19, I took a cup of gatorade, and walked through the aid station. I drank a few sips, and then poured the rest into one of my fuel belt flasks, filling it nearly to the top.

All to the greater good. Except, good lord, the walking felt good. It was so slow, and I had so many miles to go, but. Walking. Wow. Unbelievably good.

It was not easy to start running again, and even harder to keep running once I'd started. I made it to the next water stop at mile 20, and once again walked and refilled one of my flasks.

This time it was even harder to start running again. I passed through the water stop and tried to pick a landmark or feature in the near distance where I would start running.

But I kept walking.

Mentally, I think, I was losing the battle. I was so hot, and so tired, and I had six endless miles to go. All I wanted to do was stop (or walk, at least) and chug gallons of ice cold water. I envisioned running off the course to the beach and submerging myself in the ocean. I wished for someone to appear with an icy towel. Or ice. My kingdom for an ice cube.

A minute or so later, the lady in pink from mile 15 passed by. "Get a move on! Stop walking" she shouted. I grunted some sort of response. But as I watched her back, I realized she was right.

So I started to run. I told myself I'd run at least half a mile, but by the time I'd been running again for 5 or 6 minutes, I'd hit some sort of stride, and, though I was running slowly, I'd stopped wishing so hard that I could stop. I still had a full flask from the last water stop, and I told myself to keep running until mile 23.

The course took us through Coconut Grove, a ritzy suburb of Miami that I'd visited once with a friend. There were a lot of spectators (many lounging at sidewalk cafes) and lots of fancy store windows.

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, Deanna appeared at my side. Later, I heard about the incredible traffic, the roads closed without warning, the unhelpful cops, and the helpful race volunteer. About driving backwards the wrong way down a one-way street to escape the traffic jam where they'd sat stationary for more than 20 minutes, and about entering a twilight zone traffic warp, where no matter what direction they drove, they ended up at the Hyatt Hotel. About endlessly calculating and recalculating where I might be and where they could catch up with me, but never getting any closer, until, thanks to dumb luck and iron determination, they'd suddenly arrived exactly at mile 21, minutes before I would get there (they hoped).

They had been driving almost as long as I'd been running, and they felt terrible that they hadn't been at mile 16. I was simply grateful that they were there at all, and I squeezed Deanna's hand and managed to tell her "I'm so glad you're here!" before starting in with the whining. "I'm so hot. It's SO HOT."

"I know," she said. "But you're doing so well. You look great. And your family is just up there. Just a little farther up."

When they'd found themselves at mile 21, they'd hopped out of the car, and Deanna immediately started running towards mile 20. She only made it about a quarter mile before she saw me, and she kept telling me where my family would be and how happy they would be to see me. My brother was there, and so was my mother and grandmother. After finally managing to start running again, I was unwilling to stop, so I waved as I passed by. My brother had the camera, my mother passed off my extra fuel belt flasks to Deanna, and my grandmother cheered. I heard my brother try to apologize for not being there earlier ("You meant we should come later, right?" he joked) but I didn't stop.

A couple minutes later, though, I had no choice. My calves cramped.

The last five miles were like a--much less unpleasant--repeat of Anchorage. I'd walk until the cramps passed, and stretch my calves on the side of the road. Then I'd walk a bit more, and then start running again. After that first cramp, I was able to run almost the rest of the way to the next mile marker. I think I passed David somewhere around this point. He was walking, but he seemed in good spirits. Mile 22 was harder; getting from 22 to 23 took an eternity, and I kept having to stop.

I was sick to death of the gatorade, and I started drinking Deanna's Vitamin Water/Electrolite Water concoction because it was less sweet. And, at the aid station at mile 23, someone had pretzels, which, at that moment, were a chalky, dusty, piece of heaven. A little further up, some spectators had a bowl of cheez-its, which were even better, and a bit beyond that, another family of specatators were pouring bottles of aquafina on passing runners. Few things have ever felt as good as having that 20 oz. bottle of water poured over my head.

Whether it was the salt or just the mental boost of having only three miles to go, the cramps seemed to alleviate after 23, even if they didn't disappear entirely. The worst cramp I remember hit just in front of a Gordon Biersch restaurant that I'd noticed the day before. One calf seized up, but the other foot kept moving, and I spun around and yelped in pain. But that was the last cramp I remember. I'm pretty sure I ran the last two miles without stopping.

Every part of me wanted to let loose and speed through to the finish line, but my calves couldn't take it. Still, I ran those last couple miles in about 11:20 each, and I didn't even have to stop when we hit the last little "hill" (a tiny bridge over the Miami river).

I was finally able to lengthen my stride slightly as I hit the final straight-away, which I was dying to do, if for no other reason than to make my finish line picture look better. They haven't posted them yet, so I don't know how well my plan worked. And I choked up (with pleasure) when they handed me my medal. Which, I'm not going to lie, is one of the ugliest things that I will never part with.


Blogger jeanne said...

Nooooo, not cramps!! of course, reading this made me cry. So thanks a lot. Isn't it just the most WONDERFUL thing in the WORLD when someone you know jumps in to HELP YOU right when you need it? You did soooo well, and trained so hard! I'm inspired. and moved. and touched. yeah, all that jazz. For real.

4:14 PM  
Blogger Rae said...

Awesome recap!!!! You had me totally captivated. I felt like I was there. OH WAIT!! I WAS there! Wasn't it an awesome day? I wish we had gotten to spend more time with you but it was a pleasure to meet you! Congrats on your great race and new PR!

P.S. I wasn't spending time w/Brent pre-race, it took me waaayyy longer to choke down some breakfast than planned!!! We were walking up the road and they told us to "clear the road, we're about to start" and I was like "WTF!!! I gotta run, NOW!!" I can't believe David spotted me!

5:02 PM  
Blogger Running Jayhawk said...

What an awesome report, Naomi!!! Congratulations :)

10:48 AM  

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