Tuesday, January 08, 2013

My First Race

Post-race, I am wobbly but standing.
Unbelievable. I'm 47 and still learning things about myself. Likely, the day one becomes predictable to themselves is the day they become OLD.

Last Saturday, I completed my first race (the Mississippi Blues Half-Marathon) and again, it's not something I ever pictured myself doing. People who run and race for fun? 'Batshit crazy' was my previous opinion. In fact, it still is my opinion, I'm just proud to be one of the batshitters now. Makes me wonder...

Just how many more I-would-never-do-that things do I have in my future?

Shirley's volunteer garb
My stepmother, Shirley, graciously offered to drive me three hours north to Jackson ("hotter than a pepper sprout") to act as my one-woman cheerleading squad. Truly, it helps to have someone yelling your name at the finish line, no doubt about that. She also signed up to volunteer so she had actual responsibilities like helping people store their gear and handing out water. Pretty swell of her, really.

I am good at many things in this life but getting up early is not one of them. Yet, somehow, I was so pumped and excited that I awoke at 5 a.m. and jumped out of bed. Dressed and ready for breakfast in 3 minutes, I headed down to the hotel's breakfast room (which catered to race participants) expecting to be late. I was the only person there.

Down at the starting line, I was nervous and jabbering to anyone, "It's my first race!" It was early and cold - the exact opposite of a cozy warm bed. It all went down in front of the capitol building and I heard Jackson's mayor welcome everyone to the race. Then, somebody played the national anthem on electric guitar and we were off, with helicopters buzzing overhead. It was thrilling!

A fellow runner at the Expo, night before.
Running in a herd like that was amazing, it felt like a river of humanity, many parts of one. I resisted the urge to run faster than normal because I'd received so much advice about taking off too fast at the start and ruining one's pace. Certainly, it hurt my ego to let so many folks pass me but in the end, I'm glad I kept my own pace.

And the hills! Lordy, I didn't train for those. I heard a woman behind me huff: "I've lived in Jackson all my life and I've never noticed the hills until today." More than once, I thought about stopping, especially after the 10th mile, but I never did, not once. My time (3:02) was leisurely, I suppose, but still 30 minutes less than what I predicted. Often, I felt like a sack of potatoes drowning in molasses going backwards, but miraculously, I kept putting one foot in front of the other. 'Twas a miracle.

And I learned interesting things about my body in the process. Even though I got up early to eat breakfast to (ahem) move things along in the bathroom, there were several moments during the race that I became concerned. At one point, I thought, "Wow. I hope I don't crap my pants. That would be embarrassing." Then, I turn the corner, and a kid is holding a big sign that reads: "DON'T CRAP YOUR PANTS."

Then, about the 11th mile, the woman next to me whined, "All I can think about is the bathroom."

"Me too!" said I.

A man ran past us and said, "DON'T EVEN TALK ABOUT IT."

So, evidently, it is a common race problem faced by all runners, not just me. Whew!

Post-race entertainment
At several points along the race, there were blues bands, gospel singers, preachers and lone guitar pickers. This is, after all, Mississippi. My favorite was the blues band under the freeway overpass - it echoed for miles and felt like a carnival. I loved all the incredibly supportive volunteers and the hilarious signs too. My favorite: "RUN, YA'LL!"

The medal - a gee-tar!
More than once, I requested a high five from one of the many volunteers along the way. One guy - a tall handsome, black dude - said, "Gimme a double!", smacked both my hands and clapped me on the back, thus, giving me a boost of much needed energy. I'm telling you, those people were angels to me and everyone in that race. I wanted to take them all home. I especially loved all the folks who shamelessly lied about the hills, "This is the last one, ya'll! I swear!"

Once I'd crossed the finish line, my speaking abilities disappeared. I was not overcome with emotion, just intense fatigue. It's like my tongue was too big for my head and I'd had quaaludes for lunch. My body had been working so hard on going forward without tipping over that all other functions were put on hold. Fascinating stuff.

I'm in there somewhere.
Pre-race, I read a wonderful training guide, Marathon by Hal Higdon, which offered an exact training schedule for newbies like me. I also recruited my pal, Jaime, to be my running coach, whether she wanted the job or not. I also asked every person I'd ever met to offer advice and got lots of excellent tips, but in the end, it was my nephew, Robbie, who gave the best advice.

Minutes before Shirley picked me up for the drive to Jackson, Robbie and I were playing with the dogs, Phoenix and Scooter. Phoenix is a German Shorthaired Pointer who lives to run. "Just pretend you're Phoenix and think about much she can't wait to run every day!" Robbie said. More than once during the race, I envisioned Phoenix's joyful stride and her ecstasy in being free and the image pushed me forward, again and again, right on over that finish line.

Next race: Surf City Half-Marathon in Huntington Beach on February 3rd. Ocean view and even better, it's flat.