It may sound odd with all of the events that I do, but I have never considered myself a runner. I hate running and I’ve never been any good at it. The main purpose of signing up for road races was to make certain I didn’t skip my long training runs. When people asked I would say I run as needed but I’m not really a runner.
Among the first races I ran was the 10k at Fort 4 Fitness in 2012. As soon as I had completed it I signed up for the half-marathon this year.
My ankle was structurally OK but not completely healed from Virginia and Vermont the weekend before, so I decided to run in my hiking boots to stabilize it.
I live 3 blocks from the starting line, so I used walking there as a light warmup, chatted with the other racers, and found someone to take my pre-race picture.
A woman commented on my hydration pack as we entered the starting corrals, “Oh, you’re running with a backpack? Around Mile 7, that is going to be HEAVY!” I smiled and said nothing, but all I could think was if she had any idea the other events that I am training for…
Local radio hosts made the announcements, national anthem played, and we were off.
I actually enjoy the bottleneck that often happens just after the start of a race. It may be one of the best places in the world for wry humor about what you are all about to do.
I modified my normal run a bit/ walk a bit style into pick someone in front of me, pass them, take a walking break, pick someone new, pass them, and keep going. This worked reasonably well, although I will admit that the group of 70-year-old Hispanic women absolutely left me in the dust.
Every so often I would bump into someone I knew or slow to a walk at the same time as another racer, and would usually share bits of encouragement and often some snarky humor.
Two National Guard soldiers had signed up to complete the course in 50-pound rucksacks. When I caught up to them I worked my way through the running crowd to tell them that they were badass.
When I had run the 10k last year, every photographer happened to catch me in a walking break. It may be a bit of ego, but I was determined to not let that happen this time.
All that is on my mind during long runs is to keep the spirit up and keep moving. Fellow runners were great for that, often chatty and always encouraging. Although at intersections of different courses we did make comments of, “Hey, if we turn here do you think we can win the 10k?”
The race bibs allow you to enter a nickname rather than your legal name, and many spectators will read your name to be able to call out encouragement to you. I had chosen the nickname “Spartan” hoping I would get jokes of “What is your profession?” That didn’t happen, but I did get several cries of “This. Is. SPARTAAAAAAA!!!!!”
Every mile or two there was an aid station with water and Gatorade, but the surprise came just after Mile 12. Getting my game face on, pushing for a strong finish, and-
“Hey, guys, beer shots!!”
I do not know who was the mad genius responsible for putting shots of beer just before the end of an endurance race, but this needs to catch on. This needs to be an actual thing.
The last leg of the race takes you to the local baseball stadium, you run around the bases and the finish line is at home plate. As I went down the ramp to the field, I yelled a last encouragement to the runners next to me and poured it on.
My fear has always been flagging and having to slow at the end of the race, where everyone can see you (on the jumbotron screens no less). For whatever reason, that was not an issue this time, and the harder I pushed the stronger I felt. For the only time in the race, I was passing everyone in sight.
They had a timing chip reader just before the finish line, so they can announce your name as you finish. It was a really nice touch.
I charged across the finish line, surprised that I had gotten here in under 3 hours, grabbed my bottle of water from the finish line volunteer, and stopped to congratulate the racer behind me (she and I had been continually passing each other and trading jokes for the last few miles).
I took a few minutes to pick up my post-race goodies and found the line for official results. I heard loud cheers and realized that the two soldiers had just finished about 10 minutes behind me. Perhaps a challenge to duplicate next year.
As I was walking back from picking up my results, I did something that I have never done before. I picked up one of the 13.1 stickers for my car. Something had shifted in my mind with this finish, and I no longer felt I had to justify or qualify what I do as not really a runner, slow but hard to stop, etc. For once I felt worthy of the mark.
I made reference to this race in a previous blog, which several friends posted on Facebook. One of them drew this comment from a fellow Cornfed that I had met at the starting line:
“I met him at this race and he kicked its ass. I watched him hard charge across the finish line and encourage others while doing so.”
I guess there is no further denying it. I am a runner.