Sunday, February 12, 2017
P.F. Chang's Half Marathon Race Report
This race was on January 15th, but it might as well have been Friday the 13th. The bad luck seeped over.
I had gotten through the whole holiday bad-eating season relatively unscathed. Little did I know that the fat pounds were laying in wait to show up two days before the race. Of course, a little too much sea salt probably didn’t help. Were the pounds fat or water? Either way, they were a disadvantage. The theory was each pound would slow me down so many seconds per mile. I hoped that the fat/water pounds would magically evaporate in sweat during the race.
I only do this race every three years or so because it’s a giant hassle. The organizers force a participant to go downtown to pick up their bib, which I hate. Downtown has parking issues, one way streets and pedestrians to dodge. The particular garage that I picked had a mysterious machine to take my payment, but I couldn’t figure it out after many tries. I put in my debit card this way, then another. Nothing from the machine indicated its existence with a receipt. People behind me waited patiently for my brain to engage. I finally gave up and found an actual human, who told me that I had already paid. I escaped from the clutches of the garage into middle of the afternoon rush hour traffic.
Race morning was treacherous as well. I had planned out where to park, but I wasn’t sure if I was in the right garage because it had no name. No Name garage had the gates up, so I figured it was okay to park there and that I wouldn’t get towed or ticketed. It was dark anyway, and hard to see. I don’t like driving at zero-dark-thirty. Plus, the streets were curved. If they aren’t in a grid, it confuses me.
I had to figure out what direction to walk. I never go in this part of town, so I was disoriented in the dark. On this quest to get to the start line, my gut rumbled warning signs of imminent danger. Of course, as is always the case, no porta potties were nearby. I dashed behind some grass plants. I covered up the evidence with gravel and hoped no one would smell it. I suspect I wouldn’t be the only one to publicly defecate on the ASU campus. Luckily, it was deserted.
The corrals were the usual body jam. They are based on theoretic assumptions of finish time, which almost never come true. I don’t like people that much anyway and to be densely packed in with strangers was so much worse . Adding to the irritation were people taking selfies. The polite thing to do was to stay out of their picture, but I was cranky and didn’t care.
The race started and we waited. And waited. With so many people it took me ten minutes just to get to the actual start line.
Finally, I was running. Why am I doing this again? To beat my previous time? For self-flagellation? The first section passed by an exciting power plant. I remembered running by this at the end of a past marathon and wanting to cry from the misery.
So many runners were in my way. I had to weave in an out of the masses. My start was cautious, because it was a long way and because of a nasty hill at mile nine. My run wasn’t as fast as I wanted, though. The road felt like a false flat; seemed like it should be easier, but wasn’t. I was getting hot with the exertion. The other people that wore long sleeved tops baffled me. Why weren’t they roasting like me?
The runners thinned out, but got weirder. A barefoot Elvis? How the hell did he do that? My feet hurt enough in cushioned running shoes, let alone without anything between my feet and the road. I couldn’t imagine how much it would hurt to run over glass, rocks and whatever other debris was in the road. Not to mention it looked ridiculous.
Two guys ahead of me were carrying large flags. Every half marathon seems to have at least one flag carrier. I admired the fortitude of trying to run with a large flag, but it must have been exhausting.
Once in a while I went by a band. Some were good and some were eighties bands that I didn’t care for. Eighties music can vanish from existence as far as I was concerned. The bands were momentary distractions from the discomfort. The roads still were at a slight incline. When the hell were they going to go downhill again?
Every once in a while I passed perky people cheering. In an impressive show of coordination some actual cheerleaders in short skirts had climbed on top of each other to form a pyramid. That was a lot of enthusiasm.
I passed a bar with an outdoor patio, adjacent to the opposite lane. Patrons who had had a good amount themselves were trying to lure runners to take a cup of beer. Some took them up on it, dodging traffic to get to it. This was not a good idea. Beer was not worth bodily injury.
The miles still weren’t as fast as I wanted and it was depressing because I was trying so hard. The older I get, the more speed is a struggle. Maybe my expectations about what I could do were unrealistic. This race was going downhill, every way but literally.
The dreaded mile nine approached. This mile was an awful memory from the last time. On the side of the road I saw a cute row of little terriers dressed in different-colored matching sweater designs. They were just chilling and not doing their usual behavior yapping and generally freaking out. The road went sharply uphill, which was unwelcome. The sight of a man in a wheelchair and a person pushing someone in a wheelchair made me appreciate my working legs.
I kept chugging up the hill and strangely had energy. Then it hit me.
Toilet! Now! My gut screamed at me. The nearest port-a-potty was up the road in the opposite lane with runners passing it down the hill. Could I make the turn around and come back to it? No. My definition of a good run was one where I wasn’t violently forced to find the nearest toilet and this wasn’t a good run.
I dashed across the road, while avoiding people to dive into the john, just in time. This sucked because it was that much more time lost. I got out and wove through people again to get back to where I was. The route went down, then up again. That was special. I ran faster to make up time. I was finally going downhill and gravity was my friend. I had three miles left, so I knew I wouldn’t die.
The lovely downhill went on for a while and I was running the way I wanted to. Then it died and so did my legs. The last aid station had beer. This was tempting, because I was in pain, but I passed. It would just slow me down more and my gut was unpredictable. The last few miles of a half marathon always were a painfest that made me question my reason for living. I barely held on to the mediocre speed I had had before, but the pain would soon be over. I sped up the last quarter mile because I wanted it to be over with. Lots of bystanders were cheering.
Finally, the giant arch of the finish line. My final time was 2:13, which wasn’t what I wanted, but it was the best I could do. It probably would have been 2:11:30 without the potty stop and maybe 2:09 without the water/fat extra pounds. Who knows? I tell myself it’s the process of the physical challenge, not the time result. The magical experience of a personal record would have been nice, but that rarely happens. The human zoo had been amusing. I even beat Barefoot Elvis.
Next time, no sea salt.