I went to sleep much earlier than normal on Saturday night knowing my Sunday was going to be rigorous. Maybe I should have stayed up and had a few post-party cocktails.
I arrived at the Lansing Center at 8:09 Sunday morning and hurried to check in. I only had 21 minutes until I ran the longest distance of my life. I got my chip and stuck it to my shoe and then had to decide what to do with my shirt. I figured I'd run it out to my car-- that way I'd get a little warm-up in and not have to carry the thing around with me. Two birds with one stone-- crack thinking!
When I came back, however, I heard a faint voice on a microphone saying, "...8, 7, 6, 5..." Pickles! I'm about to miss the race! The Capital City River Run consists of a Half-Marathon and a 5K. The 5K runners were leaving toward the Capitol on Michigan Avenue, while the Half runners were going toward East Lansing. I had to jump in the middle of the 5K runners and "Frogger" my way across the street to the start of the Half.
I was at the back of the line so I had a few moments to catch my breath, say hi to former MSU hoops star and runner Matt Steigenga, and press play on the iPod.
I crossed the start line and took off down Michigan with a lot of excitement and adrenaline. I was trying to take it easy and pace myself, but I also wanted to catch up to the 8:30 pacer and run with that group. But something funny happened on the way, I ran across my buddy Mark, the East Lansing firefighter turned super runner. He's run a marathon and this was his second Half. His goal was about the same as mine-- break the two-hour barrier. He finished his first Half at 2:06 and when I found him I was listening to Adam Corolla and Dr. Drew. Over the podcast, I heard a familiar voice. I turned and running right next to me talking to a woman was Mark. We quickly caught up and started running.
Two things: I never thought I could be the runner who talks while they run, and I never thought running with a friend could be so much fun and helpful. The reason being-- for both-- is that I'm a loner to an extent. I like to zone out with my headphones on when I run and kind of forget about my surroundings and get lost in my thoughts. So, it took my a mile or two to get used to chit-chatting with Mark, but it became fun as we ran into other people we knew, like Tara Peplowski who ran with us for awhile.
We lost Tara, before Mark lost me. I was able to hang until about mile 7 when he pulled ahead and I started to hit the wall. I found out later why. He kept saying we were on an 8:45 pace which made me think we were running too slow. I knew I wanted to be closer to 8:00 so every time he said it I ran faster. He told me after the race that he meant we already WERE running fast. So maybe my stupidity helped him out, because he finished in 1:54-- 12 minutes better than his first Half!
By the time Mark was gone, I was into my tunes. I wasn't able to find a groove the entire race or get into the zone. What I mean is I never "forgot" I was running and was able to run like it didn't feel like I was running. So, from mile 9 on it was tough.
The course took us all over the place to MSU to the River Trail to Hawk Island Park to Potter Park Zoo. That's where I started getting frustrated. I thought we'd run right by it and back to Riverfront Park, but of course we diverted into the park. A while later, I was dying to know where the hell I was in terms of distance and the next official I saw-- I asked.
"11 and three-eighths right over that hill."
THANK GOD! How she knew the mileage down to the fraction baffled me a little, but I didn't care. Just another mile and a half and I was there. I was dying, but I had a mile and a half left in me. I kept saying it over and over in my head.
"A mile and a half. A mile and a half. You can do this. That's like one lap around the neighborhood. A mile and a half. Is my butt chafing or is it just an itch? Hmm. A mile and a half. C'mon."
I ran for what felt like at least another half-mile when disaster struck. Over the hill, a runner pointed out the sign that came like a kick to the gut.
No. Freaking. Way.
The fraction lady was off by a mile! I almost stopped there and went home. How the hell can I go another two miles when I thought I had just one to go? All I could do is put one foot in front of the other and just keep moving.
It seemed like a day and a half before I finally saw the 12 mile sign, but at that point I was hoping I just missed it and I was close to done. Nope. And to top it off, here came a hill. And I had no idea where I was. I knew I wasn't close, because I know downtown and nothing looked familiar.
I could barely hear my iPod at this point and was on the verge of quitting. I started thinking about anything that would motivate me to not stop-- my kids, my wife, my mom and grandparents who might be watching somewhere. It was that moment I summoned all of it as I looked up to see my path back to Michigan Avenue in front of the Lansing Center took me up the huge hill on the side street next to the Nuthouse.
I weaved down to Washington and passed Kositchek's. I couldn't focus on anything. My eyes were half open. I didn't care about my goal of two hours, now it was just about finishing without stopping. Actually, that had been the new goal for about three miles, but reaffirming it didn't hurt. On my iPod, "Eye of the Tiger" was ending and I still had a tenth of a mile to go. I set up the playlist so I would know that when that song ended I should be crossing the finish line or I wouldn't make my goal.
I ripped my headphones out and surprisingly found a sixth wind and ran a little harder toward the finish. I turned onto grand with the array of balloons in sight. I knew that was the finish because the guy on his bike said so. I wanted to punch him. Naturally, the finish into Riverfront Park was up a hill.
I heard the announcer's voice as I came near the finish. She said "2:01" as I hit the finish line. I took five more steps and saw some open ground and fell on it. I had never been as exhausted as I was at that moment. I honestly had nothing left. I laid there for 10 minutes on my back with my eyes closed. One person did ask if I was OK, to which I mumbled and nodded.
I was finally able to get up and start making my way toward the water table. My calves were absolutely killing me and I could hardly walk at this point. I drank 7 cups of water and grabbed as much food as I could get my hands on in the food tent.
I found some more grass to sit on and replenished my system. I had been hungry since mile 8 or so. I chit-chatted with a few people for 15 minutes and finally got up to go check my time. When I got to the table, I couldn't find it. I did see Mark's time and was blown away at it. If I lived, I would give him a big congrats. It took me a few minutes, but finally, there it was in the middle of the Male 35-40 category.
I actually smiled. Not only did I make it without stopping, I came in under two hours. I thought of every moment that I had wanted to stop and thought, if I did, I wouldn't have made it in time. What an experience!
It's such an amazing feeling to accomplish something like that. When I do it again-- IF-- I do it again, I will stick to a much tighter training schedule so I'm better prepared on race day.
By the way, I dropped something the next morning and couldn't pick it up. My calves hate me.
The struggle to get across the finish line