TITLE: Best Case Scenario AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: May 04, 2009 7:59 AM DESC: ----- BODY: My expectations for the 500 Festival Mini-Marathon were rather low. I've been battling subpar health for a year, so my mileage has been down. I've gone through a few dry stretches of six to eight weeks without running much or at all.. I've been running again for the last ten weeks or so, but I've managed only to reach the mid-twenties of miles in any given week. My body just isn't ready for running many miles, let alone racing them. My running buddy, Greg, and I arrived in downtown Indianapolis half an hour before the start time of the race. It was overcast and cool -- around 47 degrees -- with the slightest of breezes. I cast my lot with the possibility that we'd not run in the rain and left my cap in my checked back, but I did throw on my thinnest pair of gloves. A good choice. When you run with 35,000 other runners, the start of a race is always a little crowded. After the official start of the race, Greg and I shuffled along for six and half minutes before we reached the starting line. From that point, we ran in tight traffic for only a third of a mile or so before we could move unencumbered. I was how quickly that moment came. I was also surprised at the pace of our first couple of miles. Even with the shuffling start we clocked a 9:08 for Mile 1, and then we did Mile 2 in 8:37. I won't be able to keep this up for much longer, I said, so don't feel bad about leaving me behind. But I didn't feel as if I were pressing, so I hung steady. Talking as we ran helped me stay steady. I have gone to races with Greg and other friends before, but I have never actually run with them. We spend time together before and after the race, but during we find our own strides and run our own races. This time, we actually ran together. The miles clicked off. 8:33. 8:32. Can this be? 8:42. Ah, a little slower. The we reached the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home to the 500 mile race that gives its name to the race I am running. Race cars navigate this brick and asphalt oval in 40 seconds, but thousands of runners staked their claims in anywhere from twelve minutes to over an hour. We saw the 6-, 7-, and 8-mile markers inside the track, along with the 10K split and the halfway point. 8:46. 8:49. 8:44. Slower, yet hanging steady. I felt a slight tug in my left calf just before the 9-mile marker. I did not mention it out loud, because I did not want to make it real. We kept talking, and I kept moving. 8:46. 8:29. What? 8:29?? The tenth mile was our fastest yet. I felt good -- not "just getting started" strong, but "I can keep doing this" strong. I thought of Barney Stinson's advice and just kept running. I took a last sip of fuel just past the 10-mile mark. 8:22. Greg and I decided that we would let ourselves really run the last mile if we still felt good. We must have. We clipped off miles 12 and 13 in 16:16. Then came that last mad rush to the finish line. 1:52:25. I have never been so happy to run my second worst time ever. This was 8-10 minutes faster than I imagined I could run, and I finished strong, thinking I could do a little more if I had to. (Not another half, of course -- I am nowhere near marathon shape!) Talking throughout the race definitely helped me. It provided a distraction from the fact that we were running hard, that the miles were piling up behind us. I never had a chance for my mind to tell I couldn't do what I was doing, because it didn't have a chance to focus on the distance. Our focus was on the running, on the moment. We took stock of each mile as a single mile and then took on the current mile. In an odd way, it was a most conscious race. The only ill effect I have this morning is a barely sore left hamstring that gave its all for those last two mile and a minor headache. In all other ways I feel good and look forward to hitting the trails tomorrow morning with another challenge in mind. The weekend itself was not an uninterrupted sequence of best case scenarios... As I pulled out of the parking garage after picking up my race packet in downtown Indianapolis, my car began gushing coolant. Was there any irony in the fact that I was at that moment listening to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? I am not one of those guys who tinkers with his own engine, but I know enough to know that you can't go far without coolant. Still, I did not face a worst case scenario. I called the friend with whom I was to dine that night, and he came to get me. He arranged for a tow, and while I ran on Saturday morning a professional who knows his way around under the hood fixed the problem -- a faulty reservoir -- for only a couple of hundred dollars. Given the circumstances, I could hardly have asked for a better resolution. Race day, May 2, was one year to the day of my last 100% healthy work-out... I do not think I am yet 100% healthy again, and I did not finish the half marathon with Ernie Banks's immortal words on my lips ("Let's play two!". But I have to say: Great day. -----