Wednesday, September 9, 2009

13.1 a half marathon reported by M

On Sunday, September 7, Bob and I ran in the Virginia Beach Rock Roll 1/2 Marathon... the first I'd ever attempted running 13.1 miles.

Here are a few stats from the day… there were approximately 23,000 registered runners. Just over 20,000 actually started the race. Of those, only 15,553 finished. The average temperature on the day was 83 degrees… but that’s deceptive, as I’ll explain later. The race started at 7:00 a.m. Our finish time was 2:39… which is just under 12 minutes per mile. But the real story isn’t in the numbers.

Here’s how our race day went…

Bob was up before the alarm even went off at 4:00 a.m. Morning is not typically my best time, but that’s a moot point, since 4:00 a.m. hardly qualifies as “morning.”

Still, it’s hard to be grumpy when your sweet husband wakes you up with oatmeal, coffee, and encouraging words.

I had plenty of race day jitters going, even before I was awake enough to realize it, but we started into our long-run rituals… getting into our favorite running gear, applying the aspercreme, Tylenol, and cortisone (my 44-year old bones’ three best friends), and by the time we pinned on our numbers and double knotted our shoes, I felt like maybe, just maybe, I could this.

We thought we’d be among the first ones to arrive, but there was already a big crowd when we pulled into the parking lot at 5:15. Sunrise was still an hour away, and there was music and laughing and high spirits all around as the runners gathered and gossiped and stretched and told each other war stories about other races on other days.

Because there were so many runners, they had us in a corral system for what they called a “wave start,” which basically means letting people go in batches. We were in the 17th corral, about half way back, and from our vantage point, you could really appreciate how small you were in that big crowd.

We watched a beautiful sunrise. There were beach balls being batted around, and people singing and laughing, and a real carnival spirit. I saw an Elvis impersonator with a bib number on, and wondered how on earth he was going to make it 13.1 miles in all that velour.

Finally, at 7:00 a.m., they fired the starting pistol, and we waited for our turn to walk up to the starting line.

The first over the line were the folks in the wheel chair invitational. Then the professional women. Then, about 15 minutes later, the professional men. Only after that did they begin to release the corrals. From where we were, you could tell when a corral was released because you could see there heads begin to bob up and down when they started running.

Finally, about ½ an hour after the gun fired, it was our turn to start. Gulp.

There was no breeze as we crossed the start line… the air was heavy and humid. But I was too excited to notice that right away. What I did notice, almost as soon as I started running, was that I forgot to use the restroom before we started, and uh oh, I really had to go. D’oh! We weren’t even all the way out of the parking lot, so at least the porto-potties were easy to get to, but double d’oh! I had barely gotten started and I had to stop! We lost 3 or 4 minutes right there.

We merged back in with the pack, and settled down… and by mile 2, I really felt like I’d found my stride. We were running 11 minute miles, then, which was our target race pace. There were bands every mile or so, and lots of cheerleaders, and cheering spectators, and we were running down the road with a shady cool forest to our right… it was bliss. I felt like I owned the universe, and I could do this all day long. I was singing. We were talking. Cheering. Clapping. Laughing. Wahoo!

We started to see the professionals running back on the other side of the street… they were almost done, and we were just beginning. Pretty amazing, really. They had already been running for 45 minutes or so, and they were flying by us… It’s hard fathom how the human body can pound away like that for so long, so fast.

Things were merry, smooth, and went exactly as planned for the first 5 miles. We were inland, three blocks in from the water, running down a closed off street. It was hot, but there was shade, so it all seemed so doable. And I was loving all the excitement and how I good I felt.

Miles 5-½ through 9, though, took us to Camp Pendleton… a former army base clear cut out of section of forest. From the second we entered the base, you could feel the conditions change… we were running on black top, the sun was beating down on us, no trees, no breeze, no air, and the heat reflecting back up from our feet. It felt like we ran into a bad fever dream… it was hot hot hot hot hot, and we were all sweating profusely, but there was no way for that water to evaporate off our bodies. It was like running wearing a plastic bag.

That’s where I first started to slow down.

There were plenty of water stations, and we drank as we ran, and poured water over our heads to try to cool off. We could see people starting to struggle, me included. But not everybody had trouble – we were right behind a group of what must have been marines, or navy seals… they pealed off from the runners to go do sit ups and run through an obstacle course before they rejoined the pack, and later passed us. All I can say is that I’m glad those guys are on OUR side.

By the time we got out of the base and back on the road, round about mile 9, I knew I was in trouble. I had eaten some gu (runner performance food you’re supposed to ingest for energy in the middle of a long run), but it wasn’t going down well. It was a struggle not to throw up, and an even bigger struggle to not stop running. It was the heat. Even though there was some shade once we left the base, it didn’t seem to help… I was trying to shake off images in my mind of boiling lobsters and rotisserie chickens. I was miserable. But I was determined.

We kept going… slow slow slow, but still moving. Bob was giving me pep talks, which helped a lot. But still, at a couple of points, I was crying as we ran, and really struggling to keep going, slow as it was. But there were some pretty awesome people running with us… in one of those worst moments, one older gentleman came up along side me and said to me “no matter how bad you think you look now, you’re going to look great when you cross the finish line… keep going girl, you can do it!” An other woman ran over to me and said “oh, honey, would some m&ms help?” Runners are a very supportive lot, in the main.

By mile 10, we began to see people passed out from the heat on the side of the road, which was alarming, but Bob kept telling to not look, and just keep going. We were running in full sun again, by mile 11… but you could see the water through the buildings, and every once and a while, there was a whiff of a breeze.

The last mile was on the boardwalk. You could see the finish line, but that actually didn’t help me in the moment, because it seemed so very far away. The heat was literally visible… it made everything shimmer. I played a game to distract myself… keeping my head down, watching the feet of runners in front of me, only looking up every couple of minutes so that it would seem like the finish like was coming up on me faster.

It seemed to take for ever to get to the last half mile… but as bad as I felt, there was a breeze by then, and I was determined to finish strong.

We picked up our pace a little… even sprinting a bit at the end… and then, WHOOOOOSH! We crossed the finish line. Thank God! WAHOOOOOO! WE DID IT!!!!! I CAN WALK NOW!!!!!

Boy, the race organizers really did a good job with the finish line… as you crossed it, the first thing that happened is a volunteer handed you a bottle of water. You’re walking by then, delirious (at least, I was), through a gauntlet of volunteers and cheering spectators. They hand you a banana. Then they hand you a Popsicle. Then they hand you an ice-cold towel for you head and the back of your neck. Then they put a finisher’s medal on you (a really nice one, by the way). Then they hand you a “recovery kit,” full of gu samples, and cereal, and other chotchkis. Then, suddenly, you’re out of the finishing area, and the race is over.

I was elated by then, and I had no idea I was sore until we tried to walk down the stairs to the beach. At first, my legs just wouldn’t do it. They kind of buckled underneath me, and the only reason I didn’t fall down is because I caught myself on the railing. We managed to make it onto the beach, and to the beer tent, for our free MGD… I’m not a beer girl, but OH MY LORD, that tasted goooooood.

There were sooooooo many people milling about… not just runners, of course, but the beach goers, and spectators, and it was hard to pick our way through the bodies to find the stairs back up to the street. We walked back to the starting line, beginning to feel our legs as went, and we found our car and drove home.

My mom took pictures, and then trundled us off into a well-earned Jacuzzi, and a celebration lunch at Bubbas. Then later, back into the car, for the long drive to Michigan.

On a very sad note, we found out after the race that one of people who had passed out from the heat, never recovered. He was in his 20s and in good shape before the race, but he died from heat exhaustion. It’s a sad reminder that this isn’t child’s play… it’s hard work running 13.1 miles, and isn’t to be taken lightly.

I’ll definitely do this again. Next time, though, we’ll shoot for a cooler race, and I’ll be looking to beat our time. I think we’ll shoot for something in January or February for our next one. And I’ll be ready. Anybody want to come?


Anonymous said...

Way to go BIGGBY BOB!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

congrats, my wife was the one offering you the m&m's. this was our 3rd rocknroll half this yr. we are from southwest louisiana so for us, it was a pleasant race to run. heat and humidity is a relative thing when you train in 90 degree temps dew points in the mid 70's. i am happy for you finishing strong. my wife is 53 and i am 60. then next race will be much easier on you and yes, running in cooler temps makes a world of difference, chicago started at 59 degrees. email me to trade secrets or again congrats and have another one, it is like taking a drug. you can get addicted to rocknrolling.

Lady Di said...

Barista Lady Di here...
from above the 45th

WOW, I had tears in mye eyes, what a impression.....
CONGRATS,I wish I could have been there......I would love to have had the challenge..
One of these days, I am not getting any younger but it is my goal,
All I can say is AMAZING, by now I hope the misery has worn off and the feelings of accomplishment have taken over.
I just want to know who had to be the driver all the way back to MI, after a day like that, did you drive back on the same day as the run???
Good Luck and keep up the good work, I love to run in the heat but I am not sure the heat you described!!!
Much BIGGBY love,
Barista Lady Di

Gen M Girl said...

First, thanks for the kind words, guys. WOW! I can't believe that my m&m angel's husband is one of the commenters! How awesome is that! Bob and I had a great time on that race, and we'll definately be back... maybe as soon as December in Las Vegas. :) WAHOO!!!

Anonymous said...

Hey M - Bob's facebook page says September 27 at the Capital City Run! Good luck - wanted to make sure you knew maybe he was keeping it a secret! TCB

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

CONGRATULATIONS Bob and Michelle, what an accomplishment and one you can B proud of. All of your hard work paid off! Great job! NM