The Spirit of Columbus Race Report – in chapters a la Inglorious Basterds – AKA “Party like a track star”
Chapter 1 – Backstage
Although my OCD tendencies were on full-alert Saturday afternoon, we checked into the elite athlete host hotel without a hitch – names on the athlete room list and keys well-secured. The hospitality suite had bananas, gatorade and a race management team on hand to give us our race packets and any assistance for the day. We took our bags back to the room, dumped them on the bed and started sifting through the piles of STUFF, sorting goods into useable and waste. The waste pile was absurd. Checking the amenity list I realized we had missed the course tour (which really would have come in handy!), but the massages were still being given, however I opted not to take a massage on advice of the other guys I came with and my own reservations of strangers touching me in awkward areas. Finally, we had all settled in, laid out our race clothing for the following morning and were faced with hours of a non-agenda, so we decided to go out for a slow 30 minute run to keep the legs loose for the next morning.
Upon returning to the hotel we began to see runners everywhere, in fact, pretty much the entire wing of our hotel was occupied by elite runners from all over including Africans, Eastern Europeans, Asians and Americans. Little by little we started to realize the magnitude of this field. We knew there were going to be super fast racers here, but we didn’t realize the extent of the field and just how many people were showing up for the prize money. I knew I wasn’t going to be in the running for any sort of placement from the start, so the extra runners didn’t mean much to me except for race prestige by association. Admittedly, it was pretty awesome to be included in the benefits of athletes this caliber, to have my room and entry comped, massages, rides to and from the start line, etc. I was enjoying it all.
After getting cleaned up we still had an evening to kill and a few of us, not wanting to get too restless, decided to go catch a movie (Inglorious Basters) before we called it an evening. The movie was great, but as it drug on and on I couldn’t help but keep checking my watch and calculating just how much sleep I was going to get in contrast to how much sleep I WASN”T going to get. I figured it was too late by then anyways, so decided to just enjoy the movie.
Finally, we left the theater, went back to the hotel and made sure all preparations were in order for the following morning. Alarm clock across the room set and at full volume. Breakfast foods ready. Coffee maker ready to turn on. Jersey, shorts, shoes and socks laid out. D-chip inserted into shoe. Post-race bag packed. Satisfied that I had thought of everything, I finally managed to fall asleep around 10:30 or 11:00.
My phone alarm jolted me awake at 5:15 and I gathered my wits enough to hit the button on the coffee maker and drag my ass to the shower. I went through my pre-race morning rituals, which involves going to the bathroom about 5 times, before heading downstairs to wait for the race shuttles. I put on my headphones and psyched myself up with my usual metal music selection, all the other runners groggily hanging about in the lobby waiting all the same.
The first shuttles arrived and picked up two busloads of runners before carting them off to the start line. Waiting outside with another group of runners, the sun not yet visible but arcing its orange glow just over the horizon, I tried to take in everything that was going on around me. Friendly faced runners were talking animatedly with other runners, a few women were doing some light stretching, a couple people were standing around relatively uncomfortably while athlete bags were spread at our feet. I couldn’t help but appreciate the moment, thinking how just 2 years ago, hell, 2 MONTHS ago, I would never have thought I would be in this position, standing outside of a free hotel waiting to race with athletes who have made running their entire lives.
I thought to myself, “This ceratinly isn’t something everybody does. I’m experiencing moments that most people will never understand or be in the position to experience. This is pretty awesome that I’m actually here doing this.”
The buses finally returned and the group of us piled in and were carted off to the start line. We dropped our bags off at the athlete baggage check and started our individual processes of warming up for the effort to come.
CHAPTER 2 – The Headliner
The wheelchair athletes had been sent off 5 minutes previous and the rest of us stepped forward to the start line, lightly jostling for what we perceived would be the best position to get out and away from each other. I fell in about 3 rows back behind a tightly clumped mass of Africans who would go out somewhere in 4:20 for the first mile, nowhere near what I was aiming for. Learning a good lesson from the Indy Mini, I wanted to start my first couple of miles somewhere near 5:20 – 5:25 and then knock them down further into the race.
By this time my heart was pounding strongly with a mix of nervousness and anticipation, and I tried to take slower breaths not wanting to waste any bit of exertion before it was absolutely needed. Then before I knew it we were seconds out from the start. The airhorn blasts into the air and the mass of runners up front all surge forward like an ocean wave pouring over its breakers. Just as I expected, the mass of Africans in front of me took off like mad as they led the race out and drug the other contenders behind them, while the rest of us tried to settle into a fast but sustainable pace for the coming miles. As we pushed out I found the group of guys I came with (Davis, Little and Poray) as well as some other Hoosier runners that I could be pulled by for a decent pacing. Little, Poray and myself stuck close for about the first 1200 before Little surged (some say “sprinted”) to get with Davis, while Poray and I held to our pace and continued through.
We rolled pretty consistently through the first portion of the race, but unfortunately the race wasn’t lined with mile markers until after the first 5k and so we really didn’t have a good gauge of our initial pacing. I didn’t want to go out too quick, but I really had nothing to base my speed off of and decided to just stick with Poray as I felt like I was taking it easy. This, apparently, was not the case as we knocked out the initial downhill miles that spilled into the 5k at 16:00 flat, averaging somewhere around 5:08 for the effort. Still, I felt just fine, and although I noticed my speed was, well, noticeable, I didn’t want to fall off Poray and risk losing him or any group to run with as I wasn’t sure there was anyone else around us at the time.
The course to this point took some serious drops in elevation, but soon started to make up for them with long gradual uphills that Poray and I were grinding out. I was still feeling great as we pushed up the inclines and managed to pull up close, even taking the lead and pulling him on for a bit. Moving past mile 4 and into 5 it felt like we were knocking out a fast, but manageable, speed workout. Dare I say, I was even having fun. I felt not a bit of fatigue, even with the up and downs of the road and managed to recover very well at the top of each incline, rolling even harder down the declines.
Soon enough, we started picking off a few of the Kenyans that blew out at the start as they couldn’t hang with the lead pack and turned the race into a training jog. We continued on into mile 6 and all of a sudden came into the 10k point. I looked at my watch and was taken back. 32:18. A 10 second PR for the distance. I wasn’t completely excited about this though, as I knew this was probably going to catch up with me sooner or later, and like a premonition I felt an odd fatigue pour through my body like some mysterious magic. It wasn’t enough to slow me down, but I knew I’d be fighting it up the road.
Then, as luck would have it, we run smack into a short but steep incline that topped out at mile 7 and sucked every bit of speed out of my lungs. Angry at losing pace I push through after the incline and start making my way up the road, trying to hang onto Poray who was a few strides ahead of me after that hill. It took me a bit longer, but I recovered from the effort and continued on into mile 8, which wouldn’t you know it, also topped out at the top of a steep incline. I don’t think there could be a worse place for those hills in a 1/2 and again the speed was sucked out of me like blood to a vampire. This time, the recovery effort was a much more considerable effort and I struggled to regain composure, fighting my way up the gradual inclines and trying to get into a rhythm back down the hills, but I just felt off-kilter.
I tried all my tricks and although I found myself back in it from time to time, the inclines would knock me off pace again and again. Now usually I’ve noticed I die from mile 10 on and I have to fight hard to keep speed, but this time it came early. Going into mile 9 my breathing was intense and I was struggling to calm my breaths and focus on leg speed. I managed to continue fighting, but it was starting to get real ugly. Somehow I worked my way past 9 and into mile 10, but simply had nothing to make a last 5k effort. I kept grinding out the distance hoping the ever shrinking distance to the finish line would turn things around and give me a second (third? fourth?) wind, but it wasn’t coming.
I ran to mile 11 and really dug deep, looking for anything to get me back on pace as I had slowed noticeably and all of a sudden I found myself moving…and it felt good. I was back on track, knocking out the distance with considerable effort, but at a speed I could accept….then the road rose quickly and I was knocked back out of it. I fought up the incline, made it over and started the process again. This was the pattern for pretty much the rest of the race. I’d fight to get pace and after 50 yards of hitting speed I’d get it ripped right out of me by another incline. All i desperately wanted was a continuous stretch of flat road, but this wasn’t to be.
I made it to mile 12 and told myself to push hard, get that rhythm and at least have a successful last mile, but everytime I thought I was in the clear I’d hit another small, but speed sapping incline and my legs would turn to molasses as I struggled through. I had so little fight in me the last mile that I was passed by 3 guys in that distance. I don’t think I’ve ever been passed in the last mile since started racing, but today was the day.
Then like an oasis, I saw the finish line and started a final surge, right into a small, but visible uphill finish. I hit 13 miles and looked at the clock….
“Oh shit. I’m still in this!” I had .1 mile to kick in order to stay in the 69 minute range and I turned it on. There wasn’t a lot there, but I pushed hard, literally watching both the clock and the distance in front of me simultaneously. My face was crammed with fatigue as I ran to the finish and hit the line at 1:09:46, well within the range and knocking off a 44 second PR.
I almost couldn’t believe it. I knew I was knocking out the miles solidly in the beginning, but I started to die so hard so much earlier than usual that I was sure I bagged it in the end. Ultimately, part of me was absolutely ecstatic that I could now say I am a 69’er 1/2 marathoner, but another part of me was disappointed knowing that If I had run more conservatively and smarter in the beginning that I would have had more fight in the end. I know I’m fit enough to knock that even lower right now, if I just get it in me to run smarter. Still, I can’t dwell on that too much. For now, I’ll just focus on the PR.
CHAPTER 3 – The Finale
I came through the finish line and crouched to the ground as I let the fatigue wash out of me and the sweet relief of stopping fill me back up. I started to stand up when a significant light-headed feeling came over me and I went back down. A race official came over and asked if I was ok, but I thanked and waved him off and told him I was fine. I regained composure and walked over to the group to decompress after the race. We hung out for a bit before going for a 3 mile cool down and came back to wait for the gear check buses and shuttles back to the hotel.
We hung around and replenished ourselves, eating bananas, watermelons, cookies, water and everything else they had put out for us. I felt just fine and although my legs were pretty rocked, all in all everything was normal. Then the shuttle buses were delayed and we spent the next hour or two hanging around talking. When they finally showed up the first bus filled quickly and we were left waiting again. Getting kind of bored and thirsty I decided to look for some water. As the race was pretty much over for quite some time the only thing left was Vitamin Water. This stuff, by the way, is disgusting, but I had no other options.
I grabbed a lemonade flavored water took a few swigs and then set it on the wall never to touch it again. Like I said, it’s disgusting. Then something peculiar happened.
All of a sudden, without any warning whatsoever, a dreaded feeling overcame me. The feeling of nausea. The flushed face, cold sweat, dizzy, puking feeling. Just like that I felt like hell. I stood up and walked around the wall for privacy and realized I was about to pass out. I dropped to my knees and put my head between my legs. But then I realized I better tell somebody in case I do pass out and no one sees. I tell one of the other athletes before going back behind the wall to kneel down yet again. I stayed there for a few minutes before trying to slowly rise up again. The feeling wasn’t totally gone, but I was well enough to search for some water. Another elite runner who saw me go down came over and asked if I needed anything. He was nice enough to get me some water and I went off to the bathroom as my stomach started cramping ever so slightly. I made it back to the wall and drank some of the water just as the bus pulled up.
Nothing as bad happened from there on out, but I finally felt like I had been run over by a bus as we made the trip back to the hotel. I kept eating once we got there and still felt relatively trashed, but finally, we left the hotel, made it to a Noodles and Company and after a sufficiently stacked plate of pasta and tofu I suddenly felt myself again. I have no idea what happened to me, but it sure took me by surprise. I’m just glad everything recovered and I didn’t pass out, either alone or onto the hard cement. I guess I worked myself a lot more than I realized that race.
Overall, I’m satisfied with the day and my finish time. I learned a bit more about a successful race and had a great time being accomodated for with the elite athlete status. I’m certainly looking forward to more of this.
CHAPTER 4 – The Encore
Spirit of Columbus 1/2 marathon
Successfully stayed conscious