I’ll try to keep this race report as positive and upbeat as possible… although, since you’ve already read my moaning about the race conditions, you know that’ll be a challenge.
This was my 2nd (and final) running of the AORTA (Auburn-Opelika Running & Track Association) Half Marathon. Both times I justified running a very early season half… with the added bonus of visiting my sister. Well, Sarah – in 2009, I’m thinking about just coming to see you… forget the race, hanging out with you is well worth the drive.
Speaking of the drive, I lucked out this year. Greenville, SC is connected to Auburn, AL via I85… which, as many of you know, runs straight through Atlanta. And Atlanta, I’m convinced, can have some of the worst traffic you’ve ever not moved through. But this year, I somehow managed to avoid any major hold-ups. The drive was pleasant, the weather was good, traffic minimal, and the radio was pumping out great country music… see, heading toward Alabama, I wanted to get my head in the game. The further South I go from Greenville, the more fitting country tunes feel.
I got to Auburn in good time, then found Sarah at her boyfriend, Vaughn’s, house. Sweet Sarah had already gone to the store for pasta… so we cooked it up and swapped some stories. I’d had a long day: short run – work – off site meeting – back to the office – drive from SC to AL… I was ready for bed. Off to Sarah’s and I fell right asleep.
*Around 3:00 am, I woke up to the sound of pouring rain hitting the roof.
This can’t be good…
Rain rain go away…
I woke up again at 4:30… still raining.
Then, I woke up to my alarm at 6. Yes, rain rain rain
I tried to not think about it – I dug through my clothes for something that had a chance of keeping me warm/dry. If I had not driven all the way from G’ville… I would have crawled right back under the covers. But, I’d signed up, committed to the race, driven all the way down… so I was going to run.
Sarah was a great sport about the whole thing. She got up, got dressed, and drove me to the race start (taking the long way so that we could drive along the course). I tried to ignore the rain, concentrated on warm thoughts, and began listing things I wanted to do after the race (shower, coffee, food, pj’s, nap).
I hopped out of the car at the sports club (race site) and Sarah took off to pick up Vaughn. Going into the club, I actually had to laugh out loud… a bunch of runners, numbers on, huddled inside to eek out the last remaining dry minutes, awaiting the chance to run 13.1 hilly miles in freezing rain. What a fun Saturday morning?!
I needed to warm up… so went back outside to run around the parking lot. Within those 50 yards, I knew this race was going to be a challenge. A few times back and forth (not the warm up I’d hoped for) and I was back with the mass inside.
The race coordinator had to herd us from the club to the start. A few short words, and then I heard “start.” 170 crazy people began running.
At the first mile, I found myself in 4th place overall. One woman and one man had taken it out fast. There was another guy about 20 yards ahead of me… and I checked out his pace. Feeling comfortable, I kept my eyes on his feet and stayed with him. Aside from the rain and cold, I felt good.
Simply watching the guy in front of me – and trying to avoid deep puddles on the road was how it went for 5 miles. At mile five, we took a turn onto a bike path. This is where the shorter/steeper hills began… as well as the unavoidable puddles. SPLASH – both shoes now soaking.
Soon, I spotted the lead runner – female – coming toward me. She was smokin’ up the wet course. The guy ahead of me and I made the turn and then passed the first place male, who seemed to be slowing.
My spirits lifted upon making the turn. Seeing the other people out there kept my mind off my freezing feet.
We turned left off the bike path… and began the uphill trend (looking at my Garmin after the race I realized that the race was basically out-down and back-up). The wind was now in my face. I had to keep my eyes lowered… and my lips felt swollen from the cold. I pumped my arms more to stay warm.
I saw Sarah and Vaughn on a corner – yelling and cheering for me to keep going.
Unfortunately, mile 9 was where it all kinda went bad. On top of the cold extremities and face – I began feeling stomach cramps like I’d never experienced during a race. My pace slowed… it actually felt better running uphill because my body was more hunched over. On the downhills/flats, it was excruciating to open up my stride.
Sarah drove by and honked the horn. After I saw the car pass by, I actually stopped. I stood there trying to breath. I covered my face with my hands… and realized how numb the skin was. In that moment, which felt like 5 minutes – and was probably 20 seconds, I contemplated quitting. Aloud I said, “this is stupid!” What was I doing, why had I even gotten out of bed, most normal people are still dry – asleep (or at least running on a treadmill!).
I was frozen, soaking wet, suffering from horrible stomach cramps, and alone on the road.
Starting to run again I realized why I was out there. My body was ready to race 13.1 miles… but I needed this training day. This was a mental test. I had to push myself forward.
Some men started passing me around mile 11. I tried to speed back up to hang with them, but my iced-over quads didn’t respond. This was my race to finish; I tried to focus on making it through the final miles.
Normally, I’m able to pick up the pace in the last mile – finish strong. But not that day. I forged up the last hill across the finish line. Oh that felt so good.
After a quick hi/thanks to Sarah & Vaughn, I was off to find a HOT shower. I eased my way down the stairs to the locker room, peeled off my clothes, and stepped under the borderline scalding water. I let the water run over me – I actually imagined it wash away the pain of the race. I felt the pins & needles on my skin as sensation returned.
Dry clothes haven’t felt that good in a long time. Well, the clothes + a Chick-fil-A chicken biscuit… and I was a new person.
As Sarah and I made our way to her car, it began to snow… something Auburn hadn’t seen in 2 years. After a coffee stop Sarah tucked me back into bed. This is where I remained until we ventured out for dinner.
Sarah – thank you SO MUCH for being the most wonderful sister. I promise that next time we get together, I’ll be more fun.