Running for It, Week 14: In which success is achieved at a terrible cost

My quadriceps are trying to kill me.

Not that I blame them, really. I put them through 13.1 miles of prolonged torture yesterday, so it’s only just that I be made to pay for my heinous crimes against leg muscles.

Yep, I did it. 13.1 miles. The first hurdle in my year-long race to destroy myself has been cleared. And what a hurdle! I had heard that the Hospital Hill half-marathon is considered one of the most grueling courses in the country, but I told myself, “Come on, how bad could it possibly be?”

Oh… that bad.

Yeah, it was pretty rough. The course (see this elevation map) features three main hills. They all kind of look roughly similar, with the second maybe phoning it in a little. And to be honest, the first one–though it looks fairly daunting on the map–didn’t seem all that bad. I had started the race shooting for the 2:00 mark, so I was running with the 2:00 pace team. But after a mile or so, I felt like I could bump it up a little. Blame the excitement, the adrenaline, the idiocy, whatever… but I pulled ahead of them. Not far ahead, mind you. I didn’t want to overdo it. But for whatever reason, the first hill passed and I felt pretty good about it. The second hill wasn’t especially pleasant, but I got through it fine, as well. I was sure to walk through all the aid stations, and to drink something at every one, and I brought along some foul-tasting gel crud to properly stoke my running engines.

It had been in the mid-70s at the starting line, but ’round about mile 8, 8.5 or so I really started to notice the heat: mid-80s, with nary a cloud in the sky and a sun that was clearly in the mood to ruin everyone’s day. Some shady stretches helped, but the warmth was starting to make things unpleasant for everyone.

And then, around mile 10.5 or so, I just started losing it. I could feel my entire body screaming at me to, okay, knock it the heck off already, this isn’t funny anymore. As you can see from that elevation map link up yonder that the Broadway hill starts right about mile 10, where it continues, mercilessly, for like a mile and a half. The hill was not quite as steep as first one, I suppose, but it just seemed to go on forever. I was tired, and I was hot, and I felt like I had to pee. I was miserable and clearly flagging. It was right about then that I readjusted the “finish in under two hours” goal to “just finish this thing, for God’s sake.”

So, after the aid station at mile 10.5 (at which point the 2:00 pace team passed me and I cared not one whit), I walked for a few minutes. At first, it felt like giving up, but after a minute or so, I was like, “Man, I should have been doing this all along!” (Indeed, incorporating brief walking breaks into long runs is a valid strategy, and it’s one I intend to implement as I train for Chicago.) When I finally started running again, a little before the 11-mile mark, my legs were all, “Hey, what are you doing? We had a nice thing going there!” I was a little wobbly for a second, but I got back into my previous pace. I passed some folks handing out orange wedges, and when I jammed that thing in my mouth John-Locke-style,  it was like the magic of citrus kicked in and even though I was exhausted, something clicked in my brain and suddenly I knew I could do it. I was going to finish this thing.

The last couple of miles were mostly downhill (with one steep grade tossed in there to keep you from getting cocky), and by that time I could hear the loudspeakers at the finish line, and that was like a little shot of something-something to put a little bit more spring in my step. When I turned a corner and saw this big stainless-steel sculpture thing, which I knew was just a few hundred yards from the finish line, I was ecstatic. With the finish line in sight, I finally heard Shannon and Tom cheering for me, though I was too sweat-addled to be able to figure out where they were.

And so it was that I crossed the finish line. My final results:

  • 2:02:06
  • 918th out of 3170 total runners
  • 655th out of 1624 male runners
  • 73rd out of 205 male runners 40-44

Maybe it wasn’t two hours, but it was pretty darn close. To be honest, if I had it do all over again, I probably would have been a little less aggressive and maybe shot for 2:15 or even 2:30. Two hours is pretty aggressive for a first-timer at Hospital Hill, I think, but still… I was only two minutes over that! I think that was a pretty impressive showing for my first time.

Even more than hitting that two-hour mark, I wanted to finish in the upper half. I did that and then some. I actually finished in the top third overall (and was just shy of that in my division–why, oh, why did I waste those minutes walking?!), which is pretty friggin’ awesome for a dorky little short guy like me who is better known for being “that weird guy who reads comic books and talks about Star Trek all the time” than for anything, you know, athletic.

And so, I bask in the glory–briefly–and start working on the next hurdle: the Chicago Marathon. Today at church a friend of mine tried to encourage me with “You’re halfway there!” Well, no. I’m only like a third of the way there, really. I have to repeat yesterday’s experience two more times. Plus the 18 weeks of training that lead up to the marathon: 18 weeks running in the oppressive Missouri heat and humidity (I would have said “murderous Midwest mugginess” but that’s a little too precious). Geez, thinking about it that way brings me right down from that “runner’s high.” Way down.

Then again, my marathon training program starts tomorrow, with a day of rest. That’s right, I’m starting this next phase of my journey by doing a whole lot of nothing.

I hope that’s okay with my quadriceps.

One Response to “Running for It, Week 14: In which success is achieved at a terrible cost”

  1. Jessie Says:

    Super job! You should be proud.

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