“You guys are on crack. You all haven’t stopped complaining once today about how sore you are, and here you are now planning your next race.” Our toes, ankles, calves, knees, quads, hips and even biceps hurt, not to mention all the blisters that we popped and the constant trips to the bathroom. Yet, we were already scouring the internet for our next race in the fall. My friend’s husband, who was the only non-runner in our group, had been listening to our moaning and groaning since the race ended and was tired of hearing us complain about something we volunteered and paid money to do. But it’s hard to convince a non-runner that completing a long race is the most rewarding experience. Even if he didn’t understand, we still needed a non-runner in our group, because who would cheer, take pictures, and carry our post-race backpack?
During a visit to Charleston this past December, a friend and I started to discuss our next race. Not sure how we picked the Nashville Country Music Marathon, but I signed up and devised a training plan that I had every intention of following. More friends decided to join the “fun,” including several who were half-marathon virgins. There ended up being eleven runners in our group... eight who were running the half-marathon (13.1 miles) and three crazy fools who were running the full marathon (26.2 miles). The training started in January and lasted longer than Kim Kardashian’s marriage*, and on April 27, we all arrived in NashVegas ready to unleash our inner Kenyan spirit.
In New Orleans a few weeks ago, my friend and I stumbled on the perfect running accessory: a blue and white tutu. Some of the other girls decided that we should rock a tacky neon theme. So why not do both? The night before the race, each girl had to have their outfit approved to be at least an 8 on a tacky scale of 1 to 10. I passed wearing a neon yellow tank (think construction yellow), argyle neon arm socks, and a blue and white tutu. As a group, we looked like a hot mess that could be spotted at night from the International Space Station. We pinned our bibs, attached the chip timer to our shoes, laid out our outrageous running garb, and headed to bed... dreading the 530am wakeup call.
A 6am meeting time was agreed on for the morning of the race. The fact that eleven people (nine being girls) walked out of the hotel together at 615 was nothing shy of a miracle. Getting to the start line from our hotel was the next hurdle... it was two miles away... and walking was our only plausible option. I knew walking was a bad idea, but it became a horrible idea when I was attacked by itchy-leg syndrome (or boringly known as exercise-induced uticaria). I promise it’s a real condition... google it. It has something to do with histamines that build up in your capillaries, and when you walk/run the pounding action causes the histamines to be released causing the most excruciating itchy pain imaginable. It happens to me randomly and this was the worst possible time. I immediately started clawing at my legs uncontrollably, causing scratch marks that turned into red bruises all over my thighs. The itching eventually stopped shortly before the race and thankfully I was able to run the race itch-free... because I was going to have more important problems to deal with during the race.
My friend and I stood in corral 25 trying to decide on a running strategy since we both had training plans that consisted of no training plan. Other friends had trained using the Galloway run/walk interval method, so I decided to cling to them to avoid being picked up by the sag wagon, and increase my chances of crossing the finish line. As the gun went off, there were five of us who were going to stick together and push each other to the finish. With 30,000 runners, it took 45 minutes to cross the start line, which gave us plenty of time to use the port-a-potty to take a port-a-poop*, take a 5-hour energy shot, get our iPods ready, allow our Garmins to find the satellite, and post a few last minute pictures to Facebook. There were 13.1 miles ahead of me and I was already asking “are we almost finished?” (that’s what she said*).
Next time I run a race, I might want to check the weather channel first. Kentucky has had a mild spring this year, so there weren’t any days that I ran in temperatures hotter than 65 degrees. Needless to say, I was not prepared for the hottest day of the year... by 9am it was already 80 degrees. I was overheating from the beginning. At mile two, I ditched my arm socks. My tutu came off at mile four. I attempted to carry it, but finally tossed it at mile five. And then at mile 5.77, I became overly dehydrated. I needed water... NOW. The next water stop was at least half a mile away and I knew I couldn’t make it that far. One of my friends noticed a mom-n-pop grocery store up ahead, so we ran in there for me to buy a liter of water and for my friend to use the restroom. While inside, I opened the freezer doors and put my face on some Lean Cuisine tv dinners trying to cool off. After the ten minute pit-stop, I was partially rehydrated and back to the grind. I can’t thank the spectators in the neighborhoods enough for having sprinklers set up for us. I wanted to kiss the onlookers set up on the side of the road with coolers of ice. Towards the end, I finally had a game plan for the water stops: first grab a Gatorade, then a water, then a second cup of water to dump on my head. I just didn’t want to be one of those runners on the side of the road getting IVs from the paramedics... so I kept telling myself I’m doing this for Katniss*.
First lesson learned: check the weather. Second lesson: check the course elevation. I heard that this race was hilly, but “hilly” doesn’t do it justice. I felt like I was running up the side of Pike’s Peak every five minutes. Those weren’t “rolling hills.” No way, José. I know rolling hills and these were no stinkin’ rolling hills. Remember when your Grandpa would say, “I walked to school uphill both ways”? Well, now I believe him because I ran uphill to the turn around point, and then miraculously it was uphill to finish line. The next race I run will be in Kansas or Oklahoma on a course that is as flat as my chest.
This race did not lead me to a PR. Not even close. I was the length of a Seinfeld episode away from my previous worst time. But this was my favorite race and produced the best memories... and I’d rather have fun over fast any day. The organization of this race was impressive, as were the pit stops along the way offering anything from fruit to salt packets to Krispy Kreme donuts. And then there was emotional gratitude by everyone towards the inspirational Marine who was a double amputee with above-the-knee prosthetics on both legs (and he finished before I did).
Of course the best part of any race is the party. Sitting with my friends in the parking lot of LP Stadium at the post-race festival was very rewarding... we had such pride for each other. But I smelled like a combination of a wet-dog and Mexican restaurant... and desperately needed a shower... a long shower... with lots of soap. We then prepared for our after-party, which of course we designated to be at some honkey-tonk bar on Broadway where they don’t sing rap music. The night slowly progressed to a haze, but I know I did finish the night at the Paradise Park Cafe (the world’s most famous trailer park) inhaling a cheeseburger and the best tater tots ever.
I am so masochistic that I’m doing this all over again next weekend in Indianapolis with my cousins. I had the most painful massage ever yesterday and I hope my legs can actually move by Saturday. I’ve often been asked if I wanted to attempt a full marathon, but I’ll stick with the 13.1 miles since I don’t go all the way*, even if it’s at your pace or mine*.
>>> I can’t claim all the good one-liners. There were some great signs along the course and some witty comments shared by friends, all denoted in the story with an *. <<<