Warning: I'm probably going to get carried away and write a REALLY long story here so stop now if you're not down for reading my gibber-jabber about my first Half Marathon... The Daytona Beach Half Marathon!
Sometimes I question my own sanity. I think this is completely normal, right? My question then would be am I out of my mind for running a 13.1 mile race without running the entire month before? Four week taper anyone? Here's what I did. Five weeks before the race I hurt my Achilles tendon. I didn't go to the doctor, but I did research it online and decide to give it plenty of time to heal. Four weeks should be plenty of time, right? I did go on several 20-35 mile bicycle rides leading up to the race just to make sure my endurance was on par. So when I ask people that question the non-runners give me the "you're insane" look while the runners including my doctor (we'll get to that story in the next blog) give the nod of approval. So in questioning my own sanity... I feel fine (like the R.E.M. song)!
In fact, I was feeling pretty fine on race day. I had been slowly carb-loading for three days before the race, hadn't drank any alcohol for weeks, was fully hydrated and going on a solid 6 hours of sleep. The day before I eagerly picked up my race packet in hopes of checking out the Asics display at their so called "expo" only to discover the Asics people were a no show. Must have been at NYC Marathon. Honestly, I have to agree with Rachael at Beginning Runner's Blog when she says her packet picket up day is about as exciting as watching a cat lick its butt! The Half Marathon people hyped it up in all the emails they sent out and it really was nothing to write home about and I could have saved the fuel and picked up the packet at 4:30 a.m. on Race Day. I will say the swag was excellent. Every runner got a free admission to the Daytona USA attraction. I haven't used mine yet, but I hear it's like a mini NASCAR theme park with all kinds of racing simulators. I'm not a NASCAR fan despite years of covering races as a journalist so this swag excited me about as much as that cat licking its butt, HOWEVER, the tech shirt did excite me! It's an Asics brand yellow tech shirt and it fits me quite well, I might add!
On to race day!
I have to stop for a second and make a quick list of firsts! At some point during the run I started thinking about all the first time things I was experiencing in this race weekend.
1st time attempting to enter a surf contest
1st time bailing on my 1st surf contest (due to friend's staff infected eye socket)
1st time EVER going to sleep before 9 p.m. on Halloween night (except for maybe when I was an infant).
1st time in at least a decade I haven't gotten drunk while partying on Halloween. 1st time ever laying out my race day clothes the night before.
1st time running a Half Marathon.
1st time ever running a race intentionally slow due to injury.
1st time meeting a fellow blogger I didn't already know outside of the blog sphere (Melissa of I don't Need Excuses)
1st time finishing a race without having someone pass me when the finish line is in sight.
1st time ever getting a blister from running (a very small one of which the Redhead sarcastically said "I hate you" upon seeing).
1st time getting free beer after a race, which kicks ass!
I said I went to bed before 9 p.m and that's true if you count the time change. While just about ALL of my friends were out partying it up for the almost full moon Halloween Saturday night, I was attempting to fall asleep completely sober and hydrated. I usually sleep well. I'm one of those lucky people that can turn off my brain and fall asleep. Not this night. I kept waking up every 20 to 30 minutes and checking the clock. Finally I had a dream. The dream was simply this.... I wake up and it's 8:30 a.m. Somehow I managed to sleep through two alarm clocks and my cell phone. I realize that I should be done with the race by this time and that poor Redhead is probably standing at the finish line with a motivational poster and I'm no where to be seen. This is such a horrible feeling I instantly wake up about to cry. My heart is racing and I look at the clock. It reads 3:58 a.m. I realize it was only a dream and I only have two more minutes to sleep. Thank God! I'm so ready to get up and do this and I'm happy the time has finally come. Then I check my cell phone and see that it says the time is 2:58 a.m. F*ck! I told everyone to remember to set their clocks back and I'm the one that forgets. Damn it! This means I have to try and sleep another hour. I consider getting up, but decide I need the extra rest and force myself to lay in bed half asleep for an hour. Then 4 a.m. finally arrives. I get up and throw on my Paulie Bleeker costume, fill my cooler with ice and ice packets for after the race, grab my bib number; eat half a power bar, a handful of cashews, a tablespoon of natural honey and start downing a large bottle of really cold Smart Water; and head out the door for the 30 minute drive up to Daytona International Speedway.
The road is completely desolate. It's as if I'm the last man alive on the Earth. That is until I get near the Speedway. All of a sudden I'm surrounded by a dozen cars. It's soon apparent that we're all heading to the same destination. The lights are on at the Speedway and you can see it from a mile away illuminating the sky. It's an odd feeling driving through the tunnel and into the infield of the Speedway without a NASCAR fan insight. The grandstands are completely empty and the only people in sight are totally fit runners. It's a beautiful sight and I start to feed off the energy and excitement of the pre-race atmosphere. These are the people I want to surround myself with in life... along with surfer too of course!
At 5 a.m. I have my chip and have stretched and I'm ready to go an hour early. My cell phone sounds off and it's a text message from the Redhead saying something motivational. That girl is hardcore! Seriously, she doesn't have to be up for at least another hour to have time to drive over and cheer on Melissa and I at the finish line. I smile at the text message and start to pump myself up for this race!
At 5:30 a.m. I still haven't been able to find Melissa. I've never met her before and am not completely sure what she looks like, but then I hear my name. I turn around and it's not Melissa, but two surfers I know from the inlet, Morgan and Austin. They are both phenomenal longboarders and Austin is going to run the race for "extra credit" in a communications course he's taking in college. His girlfriend, Morgan, is here to cheer him on and ride her bicycle along side. I chat it up with them for a while figuring that Melissa will probably spot me since I'm taller than average, duh, and wearing this ridiculous Bleeker costume. Might I add, at this point I'm not seeing anyone else dressed up in costume and am staring to wonder what the f*ck!?! Melissa finally finds me and we introduce ourselves (1st time meeting a blogger = SUCCESS). Austin is wearing some really awesome looking florescent green Nike shoes. I ask him if he's ever run a 13.1 miles before and he says "nope." Melissa asks him if his shoes are Nike Free. Austin says they are and that he's only run short distances in them, but they feel really "comfortable." Not wanting to worry him before the race, I just say that I think they are supposed to "simulate barefoot running" and that it's awesome if he can run long distances in them. In reality I'm thinking, "holy shit, I hope his feet will be ok after this!"
It's time to corral at the start line. Austin, Melissa and I crowd into the pack of 800 runners somewhere near the back. There's some confusion about where the actual start line is located, but then the gun fires or horn blows (can't remember which) and it's mass chaos as everyone starts running. I never see the actual start line, but Melissa tells me we just passed it. Austin blows ahead and I lose sight of him quickly. Melissa and I are both running on injuries and going slow. We hang together for maybe a quarter mile and I lose track of her as well. My strategy is to run the first 3-4 miles really slow until I'm completely warmed up and make a decision of if my Achilles tendon can handle the entire 13.1 miles. I've run this distance before and when healthy I average around 2 hours to finish. All I want to do today is finish. Getting caught up in the race atmosphere will surely tempt me to run faster, which will undoubtedly result in a FAIL situation. To fight this I devise a plan. For the first few miles I will make sure that people are passing me. If people are passing me then I know I am running slow. If people aren't passing me I force myself to slow down until someone does pass me. Does this sound like an oxymoron to the definition of the word "race" or what?
My strategy works and at the first mile marker a man with a stop watch yells out "11 minutes." Holy goat balls I'm running slow! I bet I can speed walk this faster, but the hell if I'm going to let Mr. T shoot Snickers bars at me! (If you don't get that just google or youtube "Mr T and Speedwalking") I do the math in my head and figure out what my finish time would be at an 11 minute pace. Not acceptable. Soon nobody is passing me and I'm not even to mile 2 yet. I slow down and let the Galloway people pass me and while I know I'll just pass them again in a few minutes at least someone is passing me. This will be a trend for the first 8 miles until they can't keep up anymore (Nothing against Galloway. It rocks, but it's annoying when people flip flop pace you while doing it)
At mile 2 I'm still running a strong 11 minute pace. At mile 3 nothing has changed. At mile 4 I'm feeling pretty good although it's very humid and hot. The forecast calls for 66 degrees at the race start time, but in reality it's about 80 degrees and 90 percent humidity. Wearing this 100 percent cotton "Bleeker" T-shirt is starting to suck! The Achilles tendon feels normal. I'm guessing it's at about 80 percent so I decide to start running faster. I check my watch and at mile 5 I'm doing a 10 minute pace. I down my first Gu and chase it with water from an aid station. I feel the urge to pee (stupid caffeine in the Gu), but don't see any bathrooms. I ignore the urge. I fall into a fun little group of runners to pace and decide to keep the 10 minute pace for a few miles and see how the Achilles holds up.
Somewhere between the fifth and sixth mile I hear cheering and clapping up ahead. I hear this over the music playing in my iPod. I look up and see a lone runner going the wrong way. Then I realize he's NOT going the wrong way because he's the leader and he's already on his way back to the speedway! He blows by and I can't help but let out a hoot and clap to cheer him on... this dude was flying! He finished with an average pace of 5:40. It's a full minute before I see the second place runner. Then I realize that this guy has already conquered the high rise bridge not once but twice and is nearly 3.5 miles ahead of me. Amazing! As a few more leading runners including the lead girl blow by I feel myself re-energized and just in time as I make it to the high rise bridge. There's an aid station at the bottom. I take a sip of water, forget my need to urinate and charge that bridge with everything I got. Charging hills I think is a stupid macho guy thing to do, but we can't help it. I conquer that "son of a bitch" and take in the beauty of the pre-dawn sky over the Intracoastal Waterway and Atlantic Ocean off in the distance. Going down the bridge actually hurts more than going up so I take it slow and remind myself of Mr. Achilles as most of the runners I passed going up pass me going down. At the bottom nothing has changed and I'm pretty much in the same place pacing the same people.
At Mile 7 I reach the beach, down another Gu and see Morgan on her bicycle way up ahead, but no Austin. Where is he? This is the official turn around spot and for some reason all I want to do is going surfing at this point so I just start thinking of the fact that I'm on the backstretch now. Ironically, "It's all Down Hill From Here," by New Found Glory starts playing in my iPod. I decide to pick up the pace. BRILLIANT! My lack of running experience begins to show as I can't seem to figure out what my pace is as I see the race clock at the aid station. All I know is I've made up a little bit of time over that shameful 11 minute pace I seemed to have been stuck on for the first few miles.
Just before mile 8 I see Melissa going the other way. She's conquered the bridge and is looking happy as ever. She's also got a pace partner running with a prosthetic leg. If that's not inspirational I don't know what is! Soon it's time for the second go around for the bridge. This time charging it is out of the question. I slumber up the bridge and as I reach the top see the last place runner going the other way. If you aren't making a 16 minute pace by the bridge race officials disqualified you. This guy was probably just seconds faster than a 16 minute pace. He looked older, I'm not sure how much older, but the most kickass thing was his condition. One of his legs was completely wrapped in ACE bandages and his entire knee was enclosed in a massive leg brace; the kind that don't allow any motion in the knee. HE WAS ON FREAKING CRUTCHES! Talk about determination! I was mesmerized by this and all I could think to do was yell, "hell yeah man, you got this!" Now that folks, is HARDCORE! Seeing this gave me another boost of inspirational energy as I conquer the bridge again, fly through the aid station, pass up water or Gatorade, completely lose the desire to urinate and rip off this stupid cotton Bleeker T-shirt and throw it into some bushes (I picked it up hours later as apparently nobody wanted my sweaty shirt).
Now it's time to start running seriously. I'm feeling strong and suddenly at mile 9 the finish line doesn't seem so far away. I pass a few runners. The Galloway people are no longer keeping up. I notice a man running with a golden retreiver. This dog is got the biggest stoke look on its face. He's having an awesome time. I tell his master that he's awesome and my dog can't even run 2 miles without pooping out on me and my dog is a lab. At mile 10, to my best figuring, I'm running something like a 8:30 pace? I know I'm dehydrating slightly because doing math is simply not an option and I have no urge to use any of the bathrooms anymore. Nobody has passed me in at least 2 miles. We cross Clyde Morris and I see cops stopping traffic and then hear them whistle on the traffic after I pass. Several cars blow their horns at me. I'm not sure if they're pissed they had to stop or are cheering me on... regardless, I don't care. But as I turn around to look back I notice I can't see any other runners for about 100 yards. Looking forward nobody is in sight. Why does this have to happen to me at mile 10? There are 800 runners and I'm all alone? The 10th Mile officially becomes the "loneliness mile," and fatigue starts to set in again. I lose feeling in my feet. Uh oh, no bueno! I tell myself that I only have a 5k to run and there's no way in hell I'm stopping now! I think of my self proclaimed race motto and say out loud "I'll find a way or I'll make one...... I'll find a way or I'll make one!"
Finally, an aid station appears in the distance ahead. I rip off my last Gel from the fishing line inside my pants (Oh yes I did! I totally sewed my Gu and Gels into my pants with fishing line). It's the 2x caffeinated tangerine flavored Power Bar Gel and I wasn't going to take it unless I really needed it. I need it! I slam it with water and patiently wait for a boost of energy or a jolt or anything! Mile 11 comes and goes and I start to catch up with runners ahead. Some are walking. I'm going strong. A series of Rise Against songs start to play in my iPod and oh man does this help. Rise Against is officially my new Papa Roach for angry-painful running music!
A little after mile 12 I see someone I recognize walking and looking completely defeated. It's Austin. He's ditched his shirt too and looks like he's been hit by a bus. I yell, "Austin!" He turns around and sees me quickly approaching. "Come on man, I'm running slow, like a 9 minute pace or something! Run with me and finish strong," I manage to say between breaths for oxygen. Austin starts running again and I start talking. I can hardly remember a thing I was talking about, but it's helping me to try and motivate him to keep running and in doing this I'm not only helping him but focusing on something other than my own demise. We reach the .5 to go marker and run through the last aid station. At this point someone hands me a Gatorade. I feel as if I'll puke if up if I drink it so I just dump it all over my head and down my back. Austin and I joke about going to the beach after the race and talk, well I do most of the talking, about surfing and other things and before long we're entering the Speedway. The finish line is in sight and only a quarter mile away! I yell at Austin to "come on, we can do this," and pick up the pace. Austin doesn't and I see the look on his face. It's something like, "I've got nothing left except this pace." So I continue on down the final stretch between turn 4 and the finish line of Daytona International Speedway.
I see a short girl in the distance jumping up and down while holding a green sign. It's the Redhead and she's yelling something to me to encourage me to finish strong. At this point I've jacked up the volume on my iPod to a Rise Against song and can't hear what she's saying, but I don't need to because I know what she's saying, "finish strong!" Her sign has my race motto written on it in Latin followed by Go Sylvan Go! "Aut viam inveniam aut faciam!" I pick up the pace to what seems like a sprint, but in reality I'm sure it was a slumber. I pass about 4 or 5 runners in the last several hundred feet and it feels awesome! Crossing the finish line was a blur. Some dude almost tackled me for my chip on my shoe. Then I almost fell over trying to get away from the finish line so other runners could finish. I remember someone grabbing my arm and saying, "are you ok?" I was handed a large Gatorade bottle, which I couldn't open because my motor skills in my hands were not doing as my brain was instructing them. Austin finishes about 20 seconds behind me and collapses on the grass infield. His girlfriend comes up and tells me she got pictures of us each crossing the finish line. Sweet! I shake Austin's hand and we both have the biggest stoke on our faces. I yell to him "Extra Credit!" He laughs and I leave them to walk down to see the Redhead who is a few hundred yards down waiting for Melissa to show up. I resort to asking the Redhead to open my Gatorade. FAIL! I slam the Gatorade like it's a beer drinking contest and collapse on the grass. She makes me get up and walk and stretch. After a few minutes Melissa shows up still going strong. I manage to run with her cheering her on for a short distance before the finish line.
I must say the after race party was super cool. Plenty of food was available and free beer! I managed to eat three chocolate chip cookies and a slice of pepperoni pizza at the same time and have myself a beer. All this before we went to Cracker Barrel for breakfast. Melissa and I ordered massive amounts of food and each drank a pitcher of water. I'm not sure what the server thought of us. I immediately applied ice to my Achilles tendon, which was already starting to swell up.
All and all I'm very satisfied about finishing my first half marathon with no regrets of my decision to run it injured. My official chip time was 2:16:49.8, which is good enough for the Disney Marathon folks to put me in a decent pace group so I won't be stuck in the 5 hour plus corral. For the Half I finished 390 out of 701 finishers and 35th in my age group out of 44. If I had run the sub 2-hour Half that I know I have in me if I'm healthy I would have finished around 20th in my age group. It's a very well organized race and I've already decided that I'll do it again next year. And if you're still reading this you've got to be a real "runner" so thanks and run strong!