Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Respecting the Half

Wow. I've done three half marathons since my last update. And I've got another one coming up next Sunday!

Clearly I need to update more, but the writing just really hasn't been there of late. It's still not, but it definitely is time to put some words "out there" - for all three of my loyal readers, whomever they might be......

But already, I digress.

Three. Half. Marathons.  Since June 6th.  Crazy!

The Timberline Half Marathon on June 6th was my first half in about 9 months, as I also ran it last September. The radical date shift for this year was apparently the result of the race organizers wanting to avoid a rather significant bee issue that plagued previous year's runnings. I love this course - one loop around the gorgeously picturesque Timothy Lake, nestled nice and snug out in the middle of the Mt. Hood Wilderness Area. My time improved over last year only by about 30 seconds, which was disappointing - I'd really hoped to shave 10-15 minutes off, but no dice. Still, I finished - it is a challenging but beautiful course and it will be a staple race for me from now on.

June 12th was the Helvetia Half Marathon. It was warm - not overly so - but there wasn't a cloud in the sky and sunblock was an absolute necessity. The hills weren't too bad - and the latter part of the course was fairly flat. My time over the previous week's race improved considerably, even when taking Timberline's extra mile into consideration. I felt much better at the finish line, too....tired, sweaty and a bit on the sore side, but still smiling. Jamba Juice was giving free samples of their ice-cold berry smoothies and I must have inhaled about 5 of those puppies inside of twenty minutes! All in all, a good race with a reasonable outcome. The ice bath I took after getting home was torture, but as a recovery tool it cannot be bested. Oh yes!
So. Now it's time for a bit of explanatory backstory before launching into race #3.

Up until this last race on July 11th - Fueled By Fine Wine - I was beginning to develop a somewhat - shall we say - casual attitude about the half-marathon distance. It's not like I've run a gazillion of them - including all the racing I did about 10 years ago, FBFW was only my...seventh half? I think. But now it seemed that 13.1 miles just wasn't that big of a deal. In fact, I actually remarked to one of my work colleagues a couple days before Fine Wine that the half-marathon distance was commonplace for me at this point, like I run them every weekend. This one coming up - this "Fine Wine" - was just another half. Just another 13.1 miles, been there, done that....got lots of t-shirts, as a matter of fact.

Well. As I should have seen coming as payment for my arrogance, Fine Wine turned out to be a ginormous cosmic payback slap - Universal comeuppance for having dared develop a "whatever" sort of perception about half-marathons. This was an inaugural race that was highly hyped and publicized on Facebook and elsewhere, and true to what the organizers promised on a frequent basis in the few months building up to race day, it was well-organized and supported. Lots of water stops, very high energy, gorgeous course!!

At least there was that.

Sunday the 11th dawned already warm, at least in the running world - in the mid-sixties. It was supposed to be partly cloudy, but as we drove south towards Dundee that morning, there wasn't a wisp of cumulus or otherwise to be seen anywhere. I don't know how warm it was by gun time, but I suspect it was already pushing 70. Donna and I were happy, (unsuspecting) smiling campers as we waited for the gun and imagined getting one of the lovely satin-ribbon-strung medals we'd already peeked at hung around our necks - and the wine tasting! Ok, so there was apparently one monster hill....but hey, whatever! The views from the top were purportedly stunning, and I've done monster hills. And lived to tell the tale, even.

Here's where the "open-mouth-insert-foot" idea comes into play.

The monster hill was an epicly hellish, nearly two-mile ascent that put all other "monster hills" up which I'd ever dragged my sorry ass to complete and utter shame. Really.

Now, let me qualify this statement just a bit. I'm still about 80 lbs. overweight, and my cardio ability has adapted as best it can, but it's really not all that there yet. I've done very little hill training - in fact, it's fair to say that honestly I've done almost no serious hill training. And it was hot. Mid-seventies for sure by that point, well on its way to 80. Not hot by "sitting by the pool drinking a tall one" standards, to be sure....but quite hot when you're running. So to the first-place finisher, who in spite of the heat and the hills managed to break the tape in slightly less than an hour and a half, this was probably a tough one, but not really that tough. Just another challenge, you know?

And the organizers were right....the view from the 8 mile mark - the top of this hill, right smack in the middle of a picturesque vineyard - was breathtaking. I even stopped to take a picture:

Not excellent quality, but you get the idea...

I must admit I did feel a bit rewarded by the climb - it was very pretty. But combined with the heat, my current state of fitness and my unfortunate lack of training, it pretty much wiped me out. I could have easily called it an 8-miler and been done, done, done.

But hey, at least it's all downhill now, right?



Hellllooooo mile 11!

Now, this hill wasn't as bad as the Monster Hill to Hell Mile 8. But it was a sneaker hill....the course rolled gently for a while after the steep descent off mile 8, and then there was a very sharp turn that hid the hill from view until you got all the way around it. It wasn't anywhere close to 2 miles long, but it was long enough, and steep. And devoid of shade. As I rounded the corner and saw what was next, there was much cursing and gnashing of teeth and once again, being a back-of-the-back-packer saved me from embarassment as there was no one around to hear me.

By that point, I'd given up almost all pretense of actually running. Not that I could have run up this hill even if my legs were springtime-fresh and it was only 50 degrees with a light breeze and overcast skies. But whatever. The entire length of this hill went something like this:

Step. Step. Step. Pause. Hands on hips, head down.....
They lied!!!! They said NOTHING about this hill!!

Just.......keep.......trudging. One foot in front of the other.

One. Foot. In. Front. Of. The. Other.

ok, let's try to keep walking in a straight line, shall we....? $#@%*#$!!

Step. Step. Step. Pause. 

Just keep sucking wind and completely ignore the five-inch knife blades currently jammed into glutes and calves, mmmmmkay??

Stepstepstep. Pause.

Seriously???? Who the $#@% designed this course??? I want names and addresses!! Hackwheezecoughdroolgasp. Thank God I still have something left in my handheld. Gulpgulpgulpgulp. Mmmmm! Water!!

Stepstepstepstepstepstepstep. Pause.

I'm not going to make it. Reallyreallyreally not going to make this one. In fact, I'm done. 
Right now. 
Yay DNF!!!!

Step. Pause. 

Ummmm, no. Not today you're not!!
Boo DNF!!!! 

Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. Pause.
I'm so done with this #@%&*$#@*!!!

Lather, rinse repeat.
And finally.......oh look, the top of the hill, and another water stop with a sprinkler.
Oh thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou more water sprinkler stop and rest you're almost done dump cups of water on head thankyouGOD!!
After that, it was all cake. All downhill, with only one slight uphill that barely registered after what I'd already traversed. I even managed to run in the last tenth and across the finish line.
Look, it's pretty much my Timberline time!! Ha!!

And in spite of everything:

I earned every last millimeter of this medal!!

Oh lovely mighty half-marathon, never again shall I take you for granted or speak lightly of your hard-earned, thoughtfully and mindfully trod miles.....all 13 point blessed 1 of them. Never!!
At least not until October 10th!