Well, half marathon. We ran one today. It was the Police Service Half Marathon, a fund raiser for their cancer charity. 13.1 miles. Two out-and-back loops, crossing the start/finish line halfway. I figured a mile-by-mile account of it would remind me why I should never ever run again, should I lose my senses and reconsider some day. If I do, please email me a link to this blog. Of course, a mile-by-mile account will probably not thrill you, my loyal followers, but I figure if I suffered this way, with only one single solitary fan (my friend Edwina, wife of Other Trevor, the fastest man I know) who cheered just for me (where the heck were you all, I ask? I needed your support!), the least you could do was read this to the end and act suitably impressed by my stamina and incredible conditioning (not).
So it started at 8:00 this morning, which wasn’t so much a hardship, except that an inch of snow fell last night, and it was -11 C with the wind, which was, shall we say, brisk. In May, who would have thought. We drove to the start line hoping it would be cancelled due to weather. No such luck.
We lined up at the port-a-potties, because the last thing I wanted to do was run with anything in my bladder. Squeezing a couple of kids out of that region does a number on the continence muscles, if you know what I mean. Then, after that delectable experience, we headed to the starting corral (demarcated by, of course, yellow Police Line tape).
My goal time was to finsh it in 2 hours. That is 13.1 nine minute miles. I had trained at that pace, and Trevor kept reassuring me that I could do it. We planned to run together, unless I was sucking wind, in which case he would carry on without me, so as to avoid the years of well, if I had gone at my own pace, I would have finished in 2 hours comments (him) and marriage-risking, physically imposible four-letter suggestions, reminiscent of labour (me). My last two half marathons were 2:14 and 2:11 (first-time goal was to finish not last, second time it was ten minute miles, both of which were about right). I was worried that if we were too far back of the start line, it would take us a few minutes to cross the start, and if I finished in 2:02 it would be because of the delay between the starting whistle and crossing the start line (times are counted from the whistle). And then I would feel compelled to try again in June. Still, not having any testosterone, I was not stupidly invested in my goal time, but hopeful.
Anyway, we lined up in the 1:45-2:15 pace group. Closer to the 1:45; I was feeling optimistic. Frozen, but optimistic. The whistle sounded and we started running.
Mile 1: Feeling pretty good. Chilly, but not too bad. Roads are slippery, people are still chatting amiably, good pace. My borrowed GPS says 8 minutes and 40 seconds per mile, nicely ahead of the 9:00 pace I want to be running.
Mile 2: Warming up now, still slippery. First water station. Sure, I’ll have some. Walk a few seconds, no problem starting up again. We turn down a street and the wind dies a bit. We cross a major street and I look proudly at the waiting traffic. I’m running, you’re sitting in your car. You can wait, I think.
Mile 3: Really slippery, and we turn up a street with the wind in our faces. Where is that turnaround? Trevor is still with me. The frontrunners pass us going back.
Mile 3.5 and the turnaround: I’m losing speed. Phew, a water station. I’m walking. Trevor wants to keep running. I say go ahead. He says, no, you’ll be mad. I promise I will not punish him if he goes without me, and he takes off. I reluctantly begin running again. I see a pace bunny (yes, it is a male runner in a pink bunny suit with ears). I ask his pace and he says two hours. Good, if I stick with his group, I will make my goal.
Mile 4: Wind at my back, well on my way back to the start line and half done. Sucking wind, but pace is still in the mid 8-minute-mile rage. Bunny is doing 10s and 1s (run 10 minutes, walk 1). I gratefully walk with them. This is not all that fun anymore.
Mile 5: The bunny is ahead and Trevor is long gone from my field of vision. I am considering dropping out at the half-way mark, where the course passes through the start/finish line. Four-letter words start creeping into my head. Maybe two hours isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Mile 5.5: Walk break.
Mile 6: I am no longer having any fun at all. In fact, I am hoping to slip on the ice and break an ankle. Maybe, if it’s bad enough, I will be off the hook for the Manitoba Marathon in June (Oh, I will say, I was sooo disappointed I couldn’t finish… and even worse, I’m out for the season… darn). The side benefit is the paramedics (yummy) that will have to come to my rescue. A good walking break in this mile.
Mile 7: Crossing the start/finish/half-way line, I eat an energy gel (pure sticky carbs and caffeine) and take a walking break. The gel almost makes me barf, but I am now committed to the second half. In my body’s effort to disperse some heat, my fingers have swelled up like little sausages so I can no longer make a fist, and my left calf hurts. I continue to secretly hope for injury, to put me out of my misery. I don’t actually give a flying fig about my 2 hour goal. The front runners pass me coming back.
Mile 8: My legs no longer hurt; I can’t feel them anymore. Where the hell is that turnaround? And who put these hills here? Manitoba isn’t supposed to have hills (they are about 1% grade and maybe ten or twenty meters to the top). The wind is still at my back; I am dreading the turnarounds, if only for the wind chill factor. My pace has dropped to 9:30 miles. The two-hour pace bunny, that miserable so-and-so still smiling, passes me coming back. My short-lived burst from the gel is long gone. I walk every ten minutes, plus water stations.
Mile 9: I start thinking about the wife of a patient we lost this week. He was a really nice guy, and she gave us hugs every time we saw her in a clinic; always had a smile on her face. He was really sick, but we figured it was treatment-related and he would recover as soon as his treatment was done. He was even starting to feel better on Tuesday when we saw him, but then we heard Thursday that he was in ICU with septic shock after his white count dropped to nothing (a common chemo side effect). We visited them a couple of times, and on Friday, Mrs. S. chased us down the hall to give us hugs and let us know that he was up to a 50% chance of pulling through from 10% the day before. I said I’d come up and see them before I left Friday. When I went up on my way home, she hugged me and told me they’d lost him at 3:00 pm. She had to make the decision to stop the machines. I had tears in my eyes. Around now, I realize that my pain is temporary and will stop as soon as I stop running. Right now, I think, she is probably planning the funeral for her husband of 58 years. She will be living with her pain for a long, long time. Suck it up, buttercup, I tell myself. Run for Mrs. S. Your pain isn’t a fraction of hers.
Mile 10: Heading back now on the final leg. There is a kilometre marker up ahead; if it says 15 km I will die. Hey, it says 16!! I’m a whole km closer than I thought! Only five left to go! I can do this! Mrs. S…. Mrs. S…. Mrs. S…. in time to my steps. 1 hour 33 gone… sure, I can do 5 km in 25 minutes… my goal is still in reach! I pick a girl ahead who is wearing shoes with purple soles. I can catch her, I think.
Mile 11: My pace is 10:25 miles and the damn GPS keeps beeping at me to speed up. I would pitch it in the river, except that it isn’t mine. I tell it to bugger off and take a walking break. A few diehard spectators in winter gear clap and holler what are intended to be, I’m sure, encouraging and inspirational messages. “Good job, keep it up, you’re doing great, you’re almost there!”. Kiss my ass, I think. I’m running, you’re clutching your cup of coffee and shouting at me. Let’s see you try this, you clown. Purple shoes is gone. She’s probably in the tent, wearing her medal, eating bagels and drinking Gatorade. I hope she has frostbite on her purple shod toes. Mrs. S… Mrs. S… Mrs. S…
Mile12: I’m almost there. My legs are threatening to give out, but I force them to keep going simply because it would be too embarassing to collapse this close to the finish. I see people in race bibs wearing medals walking towards me. You’re done, you bastard, I think. My fingers are tingling from cold and hyponatremia. I come around a corner, maybe 500 meters from the finish and I’m hit by an icy blast of wind and snow so strong it slows me down. “Oh, this is just not fair” I whine aloud. The man who is unfortunate enough to be running beside me simply ignores me and speeds up, visibly. Piss off, I think. I can no longer feel my upper lip from cold. I can do it… I can do it… Mrs. S… Mrs. S…
Mile 13. I can hear the roar of the crowd. I can practically smell the bagels and gatorade. I make the last turn and I can see the finish. Hey, wait a minute, it’s over to the right. Jeepers, you want me to run 10 extra meters, over frozen grass? Hey, you bonehead, you will not pass me, I was here first. Keep in your finishing order, they say. You bet. I run across the finish line and they drape a lovely medal aroud my neck. It is suspended by gaudy yellow ribbon with Police Line Do Not Cross printed on it. I spot Trevor, Other Trevor and Ed. “Someone get a pen,” I gaps. “Take this down. NEVER AGAIN.” “Didn’t you say that last time?” says OT. Fuck you, I say silently.
My Trevor finished in 1:52. OT finished in 1:49. I am proud of them, and not even a little bit bitter. My GPS said 2:05. I am satisfied. I do not feel the need to do this again. Not having any testosterone, my ego is more invested in finishing than finishing within some arbitrary time. Five extra minutes is not enough to make me want to do it all over again. I wear my yellow ribboned medal all day, even when we go out for lunch. Trevor walks, pointedly, a few steps behind me.
Equivocating, briefly, a few hours later, I think maybe next year I will try for two hours. Forget June this year. Train up, properly, with redoubled efforts. Then, I come to my senses and think, no, you idiot. This was not fun. It was not enjoyable. Shake your head. I am over it now. Maybe a relay (5 miles), maybe an occasional 10 km road race, but no long ones again. I hate the training, I hate the abstinence from coffee and alcohol, I’m even tired of pasta. Forget it. Run for exercise, not for glory. Besides, I’ll probably keep my knees longer.
I truly believe that if today’s run was a fun as last year’s half, I would want to do it again. Last year I ran with my friend and felt great. No whining, no pain, no prevaricating on time goals. We felt good, had a good time, and finished strong. Trevor said I looked like hell crossing the finish line today. This performance cannot even be blamed on the weather, or lack of training. Heck, I knocked 6 minutes off last year… I have something to be proud of. But it was not fun. Not worth two hours of my day and hundreds of hours of training time.
Now, my fingers have returned to their proper size, I am warm, and I managed to escape the run with no major chafing (thank goodness for Bodyglide, or Boob Lube, as I fondly call it). In fact, except for some pretty ugly feet and a little muscle fatigue and the occasional involuntary sigh (my body’s way of trying to repair its oxygen deficit, I guess), am little worse for wear. I feel the endorphin-induced glow of completing something really tough, but I still don’t ever want to do it again. Maybe I can even be happy volunteering at the big races, sticking IVs into dehydrated runners and being glad I’m not them. I could probably do that now and not think, hey, I should have/could have done that. I know I could, but I don’t wanna. And you can’t make me.
I have to say the best part about it is that I did it. I completed it, even though it sucked, and I wore my medal all day to prove it (although no one asked me why I was wearing such dorky bling-bling, much to my chagrin). I don’t really care about the time, but I am glad it was better than last year. When I ran today, I knew it was going to be a hard task, but I had a choice about my discomfort; my patients and their families don’t. Even though it didn’t do anything objectively for them, I hope that somehow, somewhere deep in their hearts, they know I was thinking of them while I was running.