TITLE: Best Case Scenario
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: May 04, 2009 7:59 AM
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
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
Ernie Banks's immortal words
on my lips ("Let's play two!". But I have to say: