Striker Life Half Marathon 2014
I don’t know where to begin. It was a bad run. I suppose there were several factors that contributed to it, but that doesn’t mitigate the frustration.
I thought I was well rested, well trained, and well experienced. This was my third half marathon after all. My first was horrible. My second was great. And so my third should have been a success, but it wasn’t. Maybe I went into it overconfident. I’ll puzzle over this for a long time.
The run was held at Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Missouri, which is about an hour’s drive to the east from my home in the Kansas City suburbs. It’s the home of the Stealth bomber. The entire 13.1 miles would be run within the base, including three miles on the runway that the Stealth bombers use. And there was a very cool finisher’s medal waiting at the end. For the most part it was a flat course, and I can understand now why some runners actually look forward to an occasional hill on these long runs. The weather looked iffy all week, with a chance of thunderstorms for the morning of the run. Plus, the base is very secure — we had to pass through two security checkpoints to get in, and the pins I used to attach my GU to my waistband set off an alarm. (They let me in anyway after I more or less pulled down my shorts to show them what I was packing.) We had to park far from the start and then got bussed the rest of the way in. The clouds ran away and the sun was out in full force. There was no shade in the waiting area. (It was already 70 degrees when I got up at 3:00 that morning.) The band didn’t start playing until just before the start. All portents of the upcoming run.
There were three runs: the half marathon that I would be doing, a 10K, and a 5K. The organizers decided at the last minute to start these separately (good decision, I think), with the half folks going out first. And so we halfers shuffled to the starting chute and waited for an actual gun start. (It was a startling start, with many people jumping in fright when it went off.) I started at the back of the pack since my goal was merely to finish and not break any of my records (either of them). But I did keep myself close to the pacer for the finish time I hoped to achieve. The trouble was that she was going much faster than the pace she was supposed to run. I trotted up to her and asked her why she was going so fast. She looked at her watch and reported that she was going at exactly the right pace. My watch had us running at more than a minute per mile faster. This little inconsistency would present itself twice more on this run. (Update: They posted the official times this morning, and my chip time matched my watch time, suggesting that my watch was correct.)
So regardless of whose watch was right, I was starting out too fast, but it felt okay, so I (foolishly) kept at it.
An early award for everyone on this run was the chance to run past an actual Stealth Bomber on static display outside its hangar. This was at mile two. We didn’t get any closer than a couple hundred feet, and there were two airmen there with rifles to show how serious it all was, but I’m glad they had this display early in the run when I could still focus my eyes and all. Pretty much the route of the half was to get us to the far end of the base so we could then get on the actual runway and fly down it. There were some turns, and the route took us around a fetid pond, through some rough gravel, across freshly mown meadow stubble, and then on a two mile approach to the end of the runway.
Somewhere along here I started falling apart. I think it was at mile 4.4 that I walked for the first time. I’d managed to go twice that distance before walking on my two earlier halfs, and I didn’t like the fact that I needed to give in so soon on this one. Before that, though, I had dutifully sucked down my first pack of GU and grabbed a cup of water and/or Gatorade at each of the stations. The water station at mile 4, however, hinted at what was to come for the rest of the run. They were running low on cups. They even asked runners to give back the cups they drank from so other runners could use them! This is insane. There were fewer than 200 runners doing the half, and by this point, we were well beyond where the 5K and 10K runners had split off, so there shouldn’t have been any pressure for cups. How can you run out of cups at a half marathon?
Another frustrating observation at this point was that my watch was not reporting the same distance as the mile makers on the side of the road. Early in the race, my watch told me I had gone as much as a quarter mile farther than what the mile marker said. Later in the run, I didn’t seem to be going as far as the mile markers reported. I didn’t think too much of this at the time since the markers were placed by hand and were probably intended to be no more than approximate.
The approach to the runway was uphill, and though it wasn’t steep, it was long. I think we probably went for two miles alone on the tarmac just getting to the end of the runway to start our epic three-mile run along it. Officially, the temperature never got above 85 degrees at the base that morning, but out there on the exposed, concrete runway, it sure felt hotter than that. Around this point my hips started to hurt a little. This has happened before, but it’s never been a serious problem. And I wanted to keep it from becoming a problem since I was only about half way done by then. Fortunately, I had slipped three Advil into the tiny back pocket of my running shorts, and I dry-swallowed them then to head off any further aches. (With more than an hour to go, I figured they would have their effect in time.) From that point, I think it became a contest between the Advil and the hard concrete of the runway I was pounding down.
I wish I could say that the runway was a glorious time. It wasn’t. I was alternately walking and running, and it never seemed as though it was going to end. I didn’t realize that this runway actually has a peak in the center. There was a point where the runway filled the horizon. It was all I could see ahead of me, and all I could see was only halfway down the runway. I think that took a lot of spirit out of my run. It just looked endless and despite all of the running I was doing, I never seemed to be getting closer to the end.
Fortunately, there was a water station at the halfway point of the runway. Unfortunately, they had no cups at all. If you wanted a drink at that point, you had two choices. You could put your mouth to the nozzle of the water jug the volunteer had hoisted to his shoulder and suck out some precious water. Or you could get shot in the mouth by a SuperSoaker. I chose the former. Germs, at that point in my misery, were not much of a concern.
That left the second half of the runway to get across. Since it had peaked, there was a slight downhill grade to it, but not enuf to make a difference. The sun beat down. I ate more GU. I finished off my Honey Stingers. I watched for circling vultures in the sky. I alternated between walking short distances and running longer distances. I pressed my thumbs into my hips to show them who was boss. And I finally got to the end, not feeling edified or proud but just wanting to get off that three miles of madness.
Some volunteer offered the helpful information that we only had about five miles left to go. You can imagine how horrific that sounded. Based on my walk/run combo, that meant another hour. Yahoo! I passed another water station, which did have cups, and slopped a bunch of Gatorade over my hands (and watch) and managed to get some in my mouth, and then we were back on familiar ground. Some of the last part of the half was on the same pavement as the first couple of miles. By this time the sweeper bikes were buzzing by constantly, asking us back-of-the-pack runners if we were okay. I know they meant well, but I just wanted to get this thing done. We passed the Stealth Bomber again, and the two armed airmen did not look happy out there in the sun for all of that time. By then, though, I was too blinded by sun and sweat to enjoy the opportunity to see it up close. I just plodded onward.
I could see the finish area off to my left, but the route perversely took us to the right for a couple of miles. At one point a water station (with cups) had someone dressed at Thor jumping around and talking in an Arnold Schwarzenegger accent about pounding our trash for us. What? I was so frustrated and exhausted and sweaty and achy by then that I just rolled my eyes and kept on.
In the last mile they gave us a hill to climb. It wasn’t particularly steep or long, but it wasn’t the kind of thing I wanted to struggle with before the wonderful last quarter mile stretch to the finish. But I did. That last quarter mile was straight and flat, and I could see the finish line, and it was actually getting closer as I ran. So were a lot of people, though, who had already finished their runs and were walking back — along this road — to where the bus would collect them. Most shouted encouragement, and I tried to wave thanks to them, but I was focused on the finish mat that I could see getting closer and closer. And though I didn’t think it was possible, I found some energy within and ran as fast and hard as I could to finish well. I crossed the mats. Turned off my watch. Then staggered and nearly fell to the ground. Several volunteers rushed up to me to ask if I was okay, and I think I was once I managed to catch my breath and stand up straight again.
And then someone did something to me I had completely forgotten would happen. She hung one of these around my neck:
By far the coolest medal I have ever collected. My wife met up with me then and forced me to drink the bottle of Gatorade I had brought. We surveyed the goodies spread out for us but they were disappointing: bagels in bags from the grocery store, lots of granola bars, some fruit, and some nasty foil-packed fruit drinks intended for kids. And not a drop of chocolate milk! I passed on all of that. My oldest son (also part of my support crew) appeared, and we wandered around for a bit, but I was ready to go. I checked my watch, fully expecting to be disappointed in the numbers it would report, and I was (though I was only five minutes off from my best half record, so that’s not too bad, and I did three minutes better than my first half), but it said that I had run only 12.87 miles even though a half marathon is supposed to be 13.1 miles. I’m going to go with the thought that the Air Force is better at measuring these things than my Nike watch is, but I’ve never seen this kind of discrepancy between between my measurements and official ones. Hmmmm.
So it’s run and done. I lived to tell the tale, which I just did. I don’t feel too bad (yet). I’ve eaten and showered. And now I’m turning my thoughts to the half marathon I’ll be running in two weeks up in Vancouver, Washington with my doctor son.