Race Day! — A Post Long Overdue!

The alarm went off a little before 6AM EST.  I can’t really say that I had restful sleep.  I am pretty sure that it was because of not only nerves but the excitement that was building up!  I got out of bed and started eating my pre-race meal; a bagel, a banana, and 16 ounces of water.  Mmmm…breakfast of champions!  As I proceeded with my morning routine I found myself going through a mental check list that needed to be completed before we walked out.  As I side note, you should know that mental check lists and I don’t play nice.  Why?  It is because I think of the task, check it off in my head, rethink of the same task, and check it off again.  Maybe it’s forgetfulness, OCD, or again, just plain nerves!  Anyway, 7AM came it was time to head out!

I need to interject here something that might sound random.  During my training, especially during my long runs, I always wanted to make sure that there was a washroom along my route just in case.  Come to think of it, I rarely ever had to use the facility during my run.  I do, however, make sure that “all is well” before I run.  After we left our hotel, I wanted to make sure that “all was well” with me so I wanted to hit the port-o-potty before the start of the race.  To my surprise, or ignorance, pick one, it appeared that hundreds of people were thinking along the same lines.  In one respect it was comforting to know that great minds think alike, on the other hand, it was a little stressful for obvious reasons.  Oh well, I guess you just have to go with the flow…no pun intended!

When I registered for the race, one of the questions that is asked is what your pace/mile  is or your predicted finishing time would be.  Since I finished my first half marathon just over 3 hours, I put that time down.  Each runner is assigned an area of the starting line based on that time.  I was placed in Corral E, after A, B, C, and D.  That basically meant that when the starting gun goes off those in Corral A would cross the starting line.  After they crossed, then Corral B would go, and so on and so on.  The gun went off at 8:00 AM and I along with the people around me didn’t move.  My brother encouraged me to stay towards the back of our corral and allow others to pass.  He also said to NOT start running until we cross the start line because that’s when our time would actually start.  It took us 20 minutes to walk to the start line.  At that moment the announcer said that the lead runners had just crossed the 5K mark!  Oh, well.  I’m running my race!

The weather was perfect!  It was in the mid 60’s with cloud cover with a cool breeze.  It looked like it could rain but nothing was falling as of yet.  My worst fear for this race had passed.  Earlier in the week I would check the weather forecast in the Columbus OH area and I kept seeing high 80’s, sun, high humidity levels.  Thank goodness the weather man was wrong!

The first few miles was all about finding my place in the race.  Surprisingly, I found myself passing a lot of people, dodging left and right, squeezing through an opening, and so on.  My brother coached me to not waste so much energy doing that mainly because my body isn’t used to doing that.  Practically speaking, my training consisted of moving forward…that’s it.  I didn’t do any drills of moving side to side and squeezing through openings between two people running/walking slower than me.

I had planned that I was going to run a mile and then walk a minute throughout the whole race.  Anytime that I could, I would also walk through the water stations if I needed additional hydration.  I carried a four-bottle (42 oz. total) hydration belt filled with Gatorade so I didn’t have to rely on the watering stations.

This race had about a combination of 50 bands and DJ’s throughout the whole course to help pass the time and take my mind off of, well, running.  Additionally there were spectators scattered throughout as well; and I mean ‘scattered’.  You have to know that I had this expectation that since this was a big city race with 15,000 registered, I assumed that thousands upon thousands of spectators would be lining the streets of Columbus cheering the runners on just like those who support those during the Chicago Marathon.  Boy, was I off!  Needless to say, it was an eye opener.  I guess I need to get out Chicago more often to experience how ‘other’ cities do things.

By the time I got to mile 8, I think my body started to run out of energy.  This was in the middle of a 3 mile long stretch on North High Street which starts at the Ohio State University campus and goes south into downtown Columbus.   I felt drained but I didn’t really know why.  It’s not like I hadn’t hydrated or eaten for the first 8 miles.  Eating consisted of ingesting a product called GU.  Think of thick vanilla pudding containing sugar and electrolytes in a foil pouch that you can tear open when you need it.  Mmmm…yum!  Anyway, I pressed on and even walked a little longer during my breaks.

Just past mile 10, I was in for something completely different.  Up until this point we had been running on the pavement of the streets Columbus.  To my surprise the ground beneath me transformed into one of the most unusual surface that my shoes have been on…cobblestone bricks–UPHILL!  Really?  The last thing that I wanted to do is sprain my ankle in the last part of the race.  I found myself being extra cautious in where I was placing my feet, slowing down, and even walking at times.  What only lasted a couple of blocks felt like a mile!  Thank goodness, I made it out alive (a little drama added, of course)

Shortly after that obstacle, my brother had to find a port-o-potty so he sped ahead and I kept trucking along.  I passed up the row of ‘facilities’ and knew that somehow he’d catch up with me…after all, he is a two-time Chicago Marathon finisher AND he’s 10 years younger than I am!   Sure enough just after mile 11 he caught up with me.  Just in time for the final turn at the mile 12 marker.

The final mile was on South High Street headed north towards the Columbus Commons.  This is the mile that I will remember for the rest of my life!  At this point of the race, I was in pain, I was tired, I was mentally done.  Even though I thought that it would be cool to finish under three hours; I wasn’t thinking it then anymore.  Fortunately, my brother was keeping track of my pace the whole time.  In fact, at the beginning of the race he kept saying, “Do you trust me, Tony?  Do you trust me?”  And I kept saying, yes.  Now I knew why he was saying that!  He kept looking at his watch and would speed up a little bit so that I could keep pace with him.  I tried, I really did.

I knew that this final mile was supposed to be a straight shot to the finish but as I was looking into the distance I couldn’t even see the finish line.  That was because we were headed UPHILL and the finish was just on the other side of the peak of the hill.  REALLY?  I needed to finish strong!  My brother kept cheering me on.  I pressed on…and then it happened!  Suddenly, I felt five inch needle pierce out of my right calf.  You read that right, I felt a pain shooting out of my calf for a split second.  I let out an inhumane sound that I’ve never made in my life.  My brother was also surprised; so much so that he wasn’t even sure that it came from me.  And it happened again!  And another ‘yelp’ originated from my diaphragm.  I was convinced that my legs were cramping up, I was dehydrating, my body was shutting down, and I in fact was dying.  I guess I was over-exaggerating since I didn’t drop dead.

I continued running determined to finish and in fact passed up the final water station.  We crossed the peak of this dreaded hill and I could finally see the finish line.  It was then that my brother kicked into full-on-coach-mode.  He looked at his watch and started to cheer me on as we were getting closer to the finish.  I remember everything almost like it was in slow motion.  I could hear spectators calling out our names and cheering us in.  I could hear my brother commanding me to push it, that it was just a little be further, and that “you got this!”.  I saw him actually encouraging the spectators to cheer louder for me.  I could hear the announcer over the public address system saying something to the effect of “let’s hear it for two brothers from Illinois”.  We were finally going to finish!  We both crossed the line pointing up to heaven knowing that our earthly father who’s now with God was looking down on us!  We finished at 3:00:24!  Even though it wasn’t under 3 hours like I had hoped, I still beat my first half marathon time…by 45 seconds!!

As soon as we finished we received our finishers medal, got some food and water, took a picture and proceeded to the recovery area.  It was on the lawn of the Columbus Commons where we were stretching after such a grueling three hours.  While I was working out a cramp in my leg I turned to my brother and asked, “Why would we ever knowingly choose to drive nearly 8 hours, to run 13.1 miles, to feel like this afterwards?”  We both laughed!  The ironic thing is that if I had to do it all over again with my brother…I’d definitely do it again!

Thanks again for sharing this experience with me!

Tony

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