Now, usually when you read a lede like this, you prepare yourself for the worst. You wince a little, and keep one eye on the page like you’re about to see a train wreck. Everyone has “one of those days,” and they’re never good. I’m happy to report, not this time. Yes, today was one of those days, but by that I mean it couldn’t have been better!
William Land Park in South Sac played host to the 8th Annual Kaiser Permanente Urban Cow Half Marathon and 5K. Race conditions were perfect. No other way to say it. Clear morning, 54 degrees F at the starting gun, and just 67 degrees F at the finish. My group, the +9 min. mile slow-pokes were slated for a 7:35 a. m. start and we started at exactly 7:35 a. m. That’s no small feat, considering there were more than 5,300 runners at this year’s event. The energy was high, the volunteers pleasant and well organized. Aaaand, I showed up early. Of course! How early? It was exactly at 0:dark-thirty. The volunteers were just starting to set up their booths under generator-lighting when I got there. It was OK with me, since it was my first half and I have no frame of reference for race etiquette or timing. I wasn’t going to be rushed.
Eventually, I got my bib, a few instructions from the volunteers and I was left alone to get warmed up and into my pre-race routine, or to be more specific, to copy the guy next to me on his routine. Remember, it’s my first half marathon. Who am I kidding? I have no routine. After I found my fellow slow-pokes, it was time to stretch, jog a bit, stretch, set my iPod playlist, hurry up and wait. That’s what the guy next to me was doing, so it had to be right.
“Three-two-one,” shouted the MC, and we were off. Now, you would think that I would have an in-depth internal conversation going with my uber-runner self – planning my strategy, watching my form, “running my race.” Yah, you would think. But that’s not how I roll. No, at the moment of the starting gun, I was thinking about much more important things. “Damn, I forgot to take an establishing shot of the starting line for my blog,” and then, “I have to pee.” Being strategy-challenged, I was not surprised when I realized I forgot that part. I snickered and re-focused on more important things. “That is one UGLY back tattoo.” I would tell you what it was, but I honestly couldn’t recognize it. I reminded myself, as I established a respectable stride, that I was there to run, not gawk.
High energy in my group of slow-pokes. Runners of all ages and capabilities bounded forward in small groups, experiencing lots of support from family and friends along the route. We ran through William Land Park and then out onto Sacramento’s surface streets, through some beautiful neighborhoods. I was feeling great, and ready for a great race. I was amusing myself, watching all the different running styles of my fellow slow-pokes. Some run like a bounding rabbit, some look like Shrek. There’s the jump-ropers with wild swinging arms, and the Frankensteins with lead in their shoes. I start to wonder what my style is, then I’m reminded, “I’m here to run, not gawk.” And on I go.
It occurs to me that this is one well-organized event. Volunteers line the route, some with specific jobs and others I call “The Fivers.” The fivers have one job; stick their hands out from the sidewalk and let us runners give them high-fives. I noticed that the fivers under the age of 30 set up their fives below the waist and talk a little smack when you approach. The fivers over the age of 30 set up real high and make you work to slap a solid five. Back to the race, I realize that I’m running solid, and really enjoying the event. I’ve trained for this distance, and the weather is perfect, so why not? What little bit of strategy I did have, came in to play at Mile 7. Replenish before I bonk. I slowed my stride and grabbed a Vanilla Strawberry GU and slugged it down. I noticed a slight pain in my right calf and left foot. I’ve grown used to these so it wasn’t that much of a concern.
The race is starting to get real. There is a stretch of time when we ran along the waterfront and for whatever reason there were no volunteers, aid stations or fivers. I remember really missing all three. Fatigue was a factor at this point, meaning it was now something I had to pay attention to. Knowing my capabilities, I was prepared for this and had to get into a different mindset. It was time to put the game face on, and drive on. No more gawking at tattoos and making fun of running styles. “Don’t worry about the fivers, just run your race,” I said to myself.
Why would the race planners put a big hill in Mile 11? All of my fellow slow-pokes, including me, walked it. It seemed like a cruel joke at the time. I took the opportunity to eat a Power Bar for some solid food in my belly and some extra calories when I need them the most – the finish.
Because I walked and ate a little, I was rested and ready to finish. The energy from families and friends on the sidewalks was high and the fivers were back. My calf and foot pain had elevated to the point where I noticed that I was waddling, almost limping. This was the point of the race I had read about. “Block everything out. Put one foot in front of the other. No BS, just concentrate on not cramping up and keep moving forward.” And then, out of nowhere I heard the muffled sound of the crowd reacting to the MC at the finish line, looming just a half-mile ahead. I smiled to myself and knew I had done it. The MC was announcing the names of the finishers as they crossed the finish line, and I heard my name. It surprised me so I looked up just in time to barely miss the photographer taking our picture. I saw 2:44 on the digital display and thought to myself, “I’m glad that’s over!”
I actually beat 8 other slow-pokes in my age group. While it wasn’t my goal, it was nice to see.
Editor's note: Photo, courtesy Steve Jiminez