Alright, it's time. I've been putting this off for over a week now. And I have good reason...
My first instinct was to file the 2009 Denver Half Marathon under "N" for "Not impressive"... or maybe "Not awesome"... or even "Not even worth mentioning"... I wanted to strike it from my memory and any/all record books. It was the suck in all imaginable ways and I wanted to forget it ever happened.
But that is not an option.
The day started out well enough. I ate a PB&J for breakfast (last year's pathetic PBtoast & banana was hideously inadequate) and I was up and ready to go earlier than I'd planned. Miah even woke up on time and didn't waste a lot of time getting ready to leave. We didn't hit any traffic jams and only one detour on our quest for a parking spot near the start/finish and we ended up finding one only a couple of blocks away.* We got to the start/finish area and there was Gatorade and water everywhere, and I even bumped into my Runner's Edge coach waiting in line for the port-a-potty. I was feeling a little mix of nervous and excited, but I have to say it was probably 70% excited and only 30% nervous because I had enough confidence to poke fun at Miah over this thing or that, and we even got into an acorn throwing contest, which abruptly ended when he nailed me in the forehead with one.**
Eventually, the announcer screamed into his mic*** that it was time for us to all line up (which, as we all know means that there's only another 30 minutes to stand around before the race actually begins, but now you have to wait in your teensy little running clothes rather than the fleece jacket and warmup pants you had to hastily stuff into your gearbag). I lined up just like last year: at the front of the fast walkers. Actually, I lined up right next to a lady holding a 5:30 sign, which I thought was a bit ambitious for me, but, like I said, I was overloaded with confidence.
The lining up process always gives me a few things to think about. On the way there, Miah and I were talking about how people don't just "show up" for a marathon or a half marathon. I mean, it's possible to decide on a whim that you want to run a 5K (much like my brother, Brandon, did when I was in Newbern earlier this year). But you don't decide on a whim to go out and run 26.2 (or even 13.1) miles. Right? Wrong. Here are two conversations I heard while in the start corral:
Girl in front of me to her husband: "So, how many Bolder Boulder's is this, anyway?"
Husband: "A little more than two."
Girl: "So, how many 5K's is that?"
Me (thinking): "oh dear...."
Other girl in front of me (with full makeup and HOT-ROLLED HAIR): "So, where are we supposed to line up? We don't know how fast we run."
So, obviously, there are people who decide on a whim to run this distance (with lots of make up and hot rolled hair, even!). This is 75% depressing.
Anyway, eventually, the whole herd of us began to inch forward and then we picked it up a bit and we were running. Yay! And I was going at a pretty nice clip, too, even weaving and dodging and passing people (what a feeling!). My first mile was 11:something, my second mile was 11:something. I was shocked but I felt great because I knew I had to average 12:30s to hit my (A) time goal.
My Garmin managed to keep a signal through the early parts of the urban canyon, but somewhere near the 5K mark something screwy happened and I lost about a quarter mile. So, at this point my splits are completely screwed up and I have no idea how fast/slow I'm running. The timer part was still working, though, so I did glance down at each posted mile marker to see how I was doing and I crossed the 5mile mark at 1:02:something. Awesome. I was right on pace!
Well, as you can imagine, this is where things started to fall apart. There was no Gatorade and very little water at the aid station at mile 4. By the time I hit mile 6, I was wilting. Jeff and Kevin and Miah had caught up with me on their bikes and they were doing an awesome job cheering for me and ringing cowbells while riding bikes (and not crashing). And I tried hard to put on a brave face for them. But when they got close enough, I heard myself say: "I need Gatorade. They were out at the aid station. I think I might throw up." Yeah... That was sort of the beginning of the end.
Miah ran to 7-11 and came back to find me with bottles of water and Gatorade. I turned into my old nemesis - City Park - for miles 6.5 through8ish.**** The nice chilly morning that had started the day had turned into an all-out sweatfest in the high 60s. And right at the relay transition zone, I slowed... to ... a walk. It was crushing. I just didn't have it anymore. I wanted to keep running. I tried everything to will myself to keep running. But I just didn't have any gas in the tank.
I did my best through the rest of the race, but it was a struggle. My goals slowly changed from hitting a time goal to just simply surviving. I ran as much as I could and I tried to be tough. But when I turned into Cheesman park, I cried. I was so upset with myself as I watched my time goals slip away. I was upset because I'd made poor decisions that had led me to that point. I was upset because I just didn't have it.
Finally---finally---I came to the finish. But I did so with a much different feeling in 09 than I had in 08. As I finished, I hung my head in defeat. I didn't feel proud. I didn't feel like I'd overcome an insurmountable challenge. I felt like the challenge had overcome me.
I crossed the finish and got my bottle of water and my medal. And my time? A whole 38 seconds slower than my time last year. I immediately laid down on the grass and wondered why I fell apart.
Eventually, I got my sorry ass up and dragged over to meet up with Miah and Kevin and Jeff, who were cheering for me as if I'd just won the entire race. They were awesome and I felt ashamed for putting up such a pitiful effort in front of them. I tried hard to dry my shameful tears and joke with them and laugh off my lack of performance, but I'm sure they could see through it. But, because they're amazing and wonderful friends, they pretended not to and instead they just encouraged me to keep going and they reminded me that everyone has a bad day sometimes.
I had a hard time recovering after the race, but eventually I was able to get up and walk again and Miah drove me home, where we promptly took a 3 hour nap.
* A couple of blocks away seemed like a prime parking spot until after the race, when I didn't want to even walk another step. Then it seemed like it was at least 100 miles.
** Perhaps rather than throwing things at my spouse like a juvenile, I should have been trying to focus on my upcoming race?
*** Do us a favor, Denver, and next year don't even bother giving that dude a mic. He certainly doesn't need one with all that yelling he does.
**** I kept trying to psych myself out of feeling icky over City Park. It's only a couple of miles... it's only a couple of miles... I just HATE running there. There's no logical reason for it.
Now that the race is a week behind me, I've had a little time to reflect on it and because of that reflection, this blog post has certainly turned out differently. Like I said earlier, I wanted very badly to forget this whole race ever happened. I can now definitely say I'm not proud of my "accomplishment" this year, but I'm also glad it happened. So I won't forget this race happened because I learned some difficult and important lessons out on the course this year that I wouldn't have learned if I had had a spectacular, PR-breaking run:
- Eat more than a baked potato for dinner the night before a half marathon. Even if you are scared of gastro-intestinal problems. Chances are, if you eat nothing, you'll still have gastro-intestinal problems, you'll just also have any empty stomach.
- Carry your own GU (sport beans, etc). Even if the race says they'll be provided on course, sometimes they run out before you get there (if you're slow like me) and even if they don't, chances are you will get a disgusting flavor that you can barely choke down (especially if the GU station is a half mile ahead of the water station).
- Don't speed out from the start at a pace you know you can't maintain. This seems fairly obvious, yet it still escaped me on race day.
- When it's hot out, make sure you drink more water on the course than otherwise would. If it's available. Denver.
- It's ok to re-assess mid-way through a race. This year, my goals shifted from running fast to just running to just finishing without dying. And I learned something during each one of those phases.
I won't quit. I'm still eyeing R'N'R Arizona in January. Because I know I can do better than this. I know I set myself up for a bad day and I know I can do better.
And it always helps when other things in life happen to help you keep your running goals/achievements/failures in perspective... more on that later.