I started the day out poorly. Slept lousy at the hotel (which wasn’t the hotel’s fault…it was fabulous). I woke up late. I didn’t eat any real breakfast. Bummer. My first race since I have started running, and I did everything wrong. Of course, the deck was stacked against me in that we couldn’t leave Ann Arbor until 5:30 or so on Friday, rush to GR, get my packet and then eat late before checking into the hotel. Not a restful pre-race day. It must be said, though, that coffee, a quick power bar, and a banana can do wonders. I was happy for the banana, I had to charm it out of a gracious race volunteer who was pretty serious about protecting her fruit until after the race. I guess she took pity on me since I looked lousy.
All of a sudden, though, I started to realize a few things that made me forget all of that. First, there were 6,000 runners and walkers there, all of which were decked out in various shades of pink or LiveStrong regalia. Second, I was starting to feel much better, my feet felt great (thank you fancy socks), my knees were strong, and it was a crisp morning. Third of all, I knew I only had to go all-out for 30 minutes or so (or hopefully less). Most of all, though, Moira being there with me made me forget my little problems. Not to spoil it for you, but there were tears afterward. Not so much for me running the race, but the vision of all these thousands of people running the race, and the hundreds of volunteers and survivors and businesses and everything represented there. When you looked around and saw groups of folks all in matching t-shirts with a picture of a loved one, or a group of women with the special pink race numbers reserved for survivors, you couldn’t help but be moved. Moira said to me that she could be one of those women next year, running and feeling good after having beaten cancer. I know she can.
The race itself was a gun-to-mat race, meaning that all 6,000 of you start in a big mob and race to the mat at the end that registers you as you go by (you have a small chip attached to your shoe). It may not be as precise as a mat-to-mat race (which registers you as you cross the start line and the finish line, giving you an exact time), and it also results in a sort of near-violent dash to get moving, but that is OK. There were about 2,000 timed runners and 4,000 untimed runners and walkers, who started in the rear.
I felt great for the first 5 or 6 steps, then my nerves and empty stomach sort of crept up on me. No matter, I said, I can do this! And then the hill came. Right out of the gate you turned left onto a hill. In fact the whole first mile of three was straight up a hill. Not a steep hill, but it may as well have been Everest base camp up there for someone like me. I was clearly on the rivet and running pretty hard. I didn’t start a timer or anything on my watch, so I had no idea what my first mile pace was like. I just ran and tried to stay with this guy here or that guy there. Soon enough we were passing a drink stand. I pretty much got about three drops in my mouth, the rest on my neighbors, my shirt, etc. I was on a mission and I wasn’t going to slow down to drink, so with my clodhopper bounce it pretty much went all over me. No matter, I said, I am a badass road racer and I don’t care.
As you can imagine, the uphill turned downhill after a while and that jacked up the pace. Folks were really jostling now and the finish line at the mall was in sight. Sparing you all the details, there were a few folks here and there that definitely DID have breakfast, started out running way to fast, and were now enjoying their meal a second time in reverse. Oops. Maybe I did do this right. After all, I was tired but I was still cruising and I had something left in the tank. We rounded the last turn and made our way up the mall drive. At the finish line, Moira was right there to greet me, which I was really happy and surprised by, after all…I figured a thousand runners had come before me, so wouldn’t she have been mobbed by other finishers and their families?
Well, as it turns out, I ran a personal record and finished 319th out of 1994 finishers. I was 211th among the guys. I ran it in 25 minutes and 51 seconds. Now, for perspective, the winner ran it in 15:58, but hey…I’ll take it. After all, I couldn’t break 32 minutes just a matter of a couple of months ago. The best thing that came out of it was that afterward I felt great, I felt like I could have run harder…I have 20-25 more pounds to lose in addition to the 25 I have lost so far…it was a hilly course…I actually felt like I could do better in the future and really exceed even my own expectations.