I’m back at Stanford.
Last Saturday I competed––competed is a strong word––RAN the US Air Force Half-Marathon, the first non-marathon road race I’ve ever run and the first I’ve run outside of California. Besides a couple 100-meter dashes in 8th grade track & field, my parents have never seen me compete in a legit race before, so I’m glad they were able to come out and help me carry all those heavy, heavy 1st place trophies home. 🙂 OK, maybe not. But I’m still glad they came.
The race was scheduled to start at 8:30AM on the grounds of the National Air Force Museum, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, so I woke up at 6AM to eat a banana and drink some water––it’s best to eat at least 2-3 hours before a long run––and pump myself up for an exciting 13.1-mile journey with the Air Force’s finest. Right before a race I’m always worried that my race number or timing chip is going to fall off while I’m running, and Saturday morning was no exception. I probably checked my bib and chip at least 10 times before heading out the door.
The weather was perfect: 60-something and sunny. After a painfully slow Air Force rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and a flyover by a couple F-16 fighter jets––apparently, the “sound of freedom” is that of your eardrums exploding––we were off.
From mile 1 to the mile 6 turnaround, I just glided, sitting on the tail end of the 1:40 pace group. Life was easy. I didn’t keep track of my pace too carefully, but there was a huge, ripped Air Force guy right in front of me, and I figured if I could stay with him, I’d be in pretty good shape. Well, he kept a metronomic pace, but this guy was FAST; just trying to keep an eye on him, I left the pace group in the dust.
By the time we reached the tenth mile marker, I was ready to die. Every breath hurt.
If you compare the last 6.2 miles of a marathon with the last 3.1 of a half, they’re pretty much the same. In either case, you feel like you’re going to die. The only difference is despair. In a marathon, when you hit the wall at mile 20, you literally have no energy left in your body. In a half, at mile 10, you know the pain is temporary, no matter how much it hurts. In Harry Potter terms, it’s Avada Kedavra vs. Cruciatus. Both hurt like hell, but one is somehow infinitely worse than the other.
So when I saw the sign that said, “Your feet hurt because you’re kicking so much ass,” I grinned and kept on running. And at mile 12, I sprinted past my giant pacer––who I admit DID have a knee brace on––and never looked back. The tunnel vision kicked in around then, and I saw nothing but the next guy/girl I had to pass in order to make it to the finish line as fast as humanly possible. Then it was over.
I crossed the finish line in 1:36:35, a pace of 7:22 per mile. Negative splits too––I covered the first half in 49 minutes, the second half in 47. And as I discovered on Saturday, there’s a certain satisfaction in being competitive in a race––not necessarily in terms of being fast enough to vie for an overall or age group award, but rather in sustaining a competitive mindset throughout the entire race. Invariably, when the glycogen depletion rears its ugly head at mile 20 of a full marathon, all I can think of is finishing the race upright. In Saturday’s half, I crossed the line with the notion of finishing as quickly as possible still intact in my mind. It’s kind of like taking a class pass/fail vs. taking it for a letter grade––in one case all you care about is getting by, in the other you always want to do as well as you possibly can.
Today’s assessment: nothing bruised, nothing broken, nothing sore. Now I feel like running barefoot again.
What a way to end the summer.
P.S. Congratulations to Mom for finishing her first 5-K on Friday!