Okay, not really. But I've been such a bad blogger lately. Also, I'd just written 3/4 of a post when my computer shut down unexpectedly - wiping out an hour's worth of work.
How'd it get to be Friday so fast? I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Time flies when you're working like a dog, preparing for one's "unwedding" reception (which is TOMORROW) and sleeping, oh, maybe 5 hours a night. Plus I was feeling under the weather a couple of days ago. Or "puny," as they down in the holler. (This is what six years in Arkansas will do to you. Which is a whole other story.)
This is a long post, y'all. So sit back and relax. Or print this out and read while eating a piece of chocolate.
Back to the Army 10-Miler. I slept fitfully the night before - maybe it was that teensy glass of white wine I had with dinner. Or that even teensier shot of homemade limoncello (yum!) apres meal.
Anyway. After having run last year's Army 10-miler, I did things a little differently to better prepare myself. On Sunday morning, instead of getting up at 4:45, I woke up at 5:30 a.m. (inadvertently stumbling over the dog). After a quick shower, I drank coffee (new) and lots of water, swallowed a Tylenol (new), and ate breakfast (yes, also new).
Instead of leaving before 6 a.m. to walk the half-mile to the Metro, which would ferry me and other runners to the Pentagon metro station, I left at 6:45 a.m. That way, I wouldn't have to spend so much time waiting around, getting nervous, and feeling my muscles tighten in the cool early-morning.
Meanwhile, E. slept. He was going to cheer me on, but he'd been working so hard - both at his job and on the house (he spent hours painting the entryway and the 2nd floor hallway and stairwell) - that I gave him a pass.
I got to the race - which began at the Pentagon - by 7:15 a.m. Overhead, the Army's parachute team, in a pre-race show, spiraled down from the sky, trailing red smoke. I was hoping to meet up with several of the runners in our running club's 10-miler training program. But I couldn't find the program coordinator and the club banner she held in the sea of runners, military tents, buses, and port-a-potties.
Security was extremely tight. Each of the 20,000 runners got wanded by cute soldiers in Army fatigues, and they even searched my tiny waistpack (big enough only for a$20 bill, ID, and lipgloss). After waiting in line for 20 minutes to use a port-a-potty, I jogged slowly to warm up, then positioned myself under the blue balloon arch.
That was the arch for my bib color - race organizers coded our bibs according to our estimated finishing time. I gave my expected time as between 1:22 and 1:26, netting me a blue bib.
At the front were the green bibs - the elites and super-swift military runners. After them came the speedy red bibs, then us blue bibs. Behind us were the white bibs, orange (?) bibs, and ending with the purple bibs for the walkers and 12+minute runners.
However, I noticed that many slower runners - mostly purple bibs - were near me. I made a mental note to stay clear of them. I jumped up and down a little bit, trying to keep my muscles loose and stay calm. Then the starting cannons boomed - real cannons - one advantage in having the military organize a race - and we were off.
Racing It: My aim in this race was not just to finish it, but to PR. I took up running in August 2004, and the Army 10-miler last year was the first race I ever ran. My average time was 9:50/mile. I couldn't believe I ran the whole way. In April, at the Cherry Blossom 10-miler, I lowered my average mile pace to 9:05. In this race, I knew I could run 8:30 to 8:35 a mile for the duration.
Keep back, turtles!: Despite being towards the front, I didn't cross the starting mats until exactly 6 minutes after the official start time. I knew it would be croweded for the first half-mile or so of the course. What I didn't expect was trying to run past WALKERS and joggers at the beginning of the race. Why were those people at the front?!
People, it is not cool to position yourself ahead of faster runners. It is not cool to turn up the music on your headphones so loud that you do not hear - or perhaps you simply ignore - runners saying "Excuse Me" as they desperately try not to knock you over in their haste to actually race and not to do a fun run. And it is verboten and very rude to walk two to three abreast, which BLOCKS runners from getting by you.
This went on for 3 miles! My race turned into an urban trail race. I hopped up and down street medians, ran along grassy and gravel perimeters, and even hurdled flowerbeds and safety cones to avoid running into other race participants. Consequently, my average-per-mile pace for the first 3 miles was 9:05. Aaargh.
The course thinned out a tiny bit after that, but I still had to keep weaving in and out of small packs and slow down occasionally lest I mow someone over. I saw our running coach, E., at the 5-mile marker. He yelled my name, and I raised my hand, slapping him a high-five as I ran past. My pace quickened, and by mile 6.5, my cumulative per-mile pace had dropped to 8:52.
Then something weird happened. At around the 8-mile marker, when we were supposed to turn left to cross the 14th St. Bridge, back to the Pentagon and the finish line, we were directed to go straight. "Hmm," I thought. "Maybe I mis-read the race route."
Then a military trumpeter (there were a couple of Army bands playing for us) started playing the theme song to "Rocky," and I laughed, re-focused, and started pushing it hard. I think I'd run a few 8-minute or sub-8 miles, because when I got to the 9-mile marker, my cumulative per-mile time had dropped again, to 8:35.
"Yes!" I thought, and then, "This is it. Go faster." My right calf muscle had started to spasm occassionally at mile 8.5 (jumping up and down all of those medians did not help), and soon after mile 9, the left one joined suit. That was a bit painful.
My strides shortened a little bit as a result. After another quarter-mile, I thought, "Well, now or never," lengthened my strides, and forced my feet to turn over faster. Then I started sprinting. Or as much as I could sprint. That was painful, too.
At what I instinctively knew was mile 10, I looked around. Where was the finish line?! Other runners were wondering too by the looks on their faces, though we didn't say anything. We were too tired. Then someone yelled, "Only 1 more mile to go!"
What the hell?! Okay, no time to waste. Maybe I just hallucinated that last mile.
My body didn't think so, though. I had to slow down because my chest was heaving, and my calf muscles felt like rocks. They were spasming in tune to the thud of my pounding heart.
After yet another mile, I looked for the finish line. It was waaaay, waaaay off - a tiny balloon arch in the distance. Then someone on the sidelines yelled, "Only a half-mile to go! You're almost there!"
What the F***K?!!
Between painful wheezes, runners began to grumble. It was extremely hot, and the tarmac scorched the soles of my feet. Sweat was running into my eyes and my throat was parched. I also felt a bit lightheaded. I had ignored all of the previous water and Gatorade stations, and now I was paying for it. But who knew I would be running this long?!
My pace had slowed somewhat. How slow, I don't know. But I was keeping pace with a tall black man with headphones, and he looked like he was just easing on down the road at a nice but not speedy pace. At the last quarter-mile, I gritted my teeth and tried to sprint again. "Holy Sh*t!" I thought. "This hurts!"
As I crossed the finish line, I looked for the running mats, so my shoe chip would record my time. The running mats were missing.Then I heard the announcer say something akin to, "Congratulations for running 11-plus miles!"
Well, damn. I guess I didn't hallucinate the last part of the race. It turned out we'd run 11.4 miles or so. Race organizers had to reroute the race after Washington, D.C. police found a suspicious package (which turned out to be harmless) a few minutes before the race began.
Because of the lack of finishing mats - they were probably still at the original finishing line - our race times were not recorded. Which is a major bummer. But at least I have an idea of what I'd run and what I can do.
In this post-9/11 era, and with the race coursing through downtown Washington (the Capitol, the White House) and starting at the Pentagon, race organizers (read: the Army) played it super-safe. I just wish they'd told us earlier.
We had to walk another 1/4 mile after the race to get water. Many of the families and friends of runners were waiting at the original finish line, some with signs cheering on racers, and they looked confused and deflated when they saw us walking slowly towards them. I guess race organizers didn't tell them either.
Ah, well. I would hate to be in the Army's shoes. They were stuck between a rock and a hard place. It would have been tragic had the package really been a bomb.
If so, a PR (which I got, by the way - cumulative 8:42 pace - even with the extra 1.4 miles), would have been the last thing on my mind.