Friday, April 26, 2013

Running in Indy

Carmel, Indiana Half Marathon
The medal hadn’t been hanging around my neck for five minutes before I gave it a kiss and then dumped it into a plastic bucket. It was certainly the biggest medal I had ever earned for running any race, still was smaller than a few cowbells I had earned running an ultra at Pineland, but was never going to be displayed with my small handful of other shiny metal objects I had earned as a runner. Instead, this medal was going to be taken by the volunteers who were collecting other finishers medals and sent to a local hospital to be given someone unknown to me who was facing greater challenges than running a mere 13.1 miles.
I do love shiny metal objects, so part of me almost reached back into that bucket, especially since I hadn’t run a race since October where I earned a hoodie that I just may be buried in. My brother-in-law, Jimmy, was a little surprised when I dropped the medal in the bucket, even refusing to have my picture taken with the medal. He was the only family member or friend around me at the finish line at one of the biggest races I had ever been involved in. He was there paying off a bet just having finished his first race ever. He did not have a medal for his 8K race, but was certainly more proud of himself for finishing as opposed to me for my half marathon efforts.
The bet had been made during the NFL season as my beloved Patriots where to once again play the hometown team of my wife, the Indianapolis Colts. Jimmy and I make a bet every year and I usually win, except for the previous year I bet the spread versus a straight up win and somehow the Colts scored something like twenty one points in the fourth quarter to beat the spread of the same number. When it came time to set the wages for this year’s match-up, I checked the race calendar for our annual April break and found there where races to be held in Carmel, Indiana, Jimmy’s hometown just minutes north of Indianapolis. Jimmy agreed to the wager, if the Colts won I would run the race wearing some sort of Colts gear and if the Pats won then he would have to run one of the races. He agreed to the 8K and all I had to do was let Brady and Belicheck do their work.
Although I had plenty of time to prepare for this race, I never really got into serious race training mode mostly as I just didn’t enjoy doing any long runs on the road. I also spent more time running with my pup Wild, which has been wonderful but certainly a little slower than training pace. Maybe if the last couple of months had better weather I might have spent more time pounding the pavement rather than doing loops around the trails not far from my home. So with that said, I went into the race with the mind set that I probably wouldn’t get a PR, even though this would officially be only my second road half marathon ever. My only other one was also in Indiana five years ago just months after my son was born.
We had driven to Indiana a week before and even though I should have been tapering, I actually got in some really decent runs rather than taking it easy. My first was just around my mother-in-laws gated neighborhood where I got in some decent speed work the day after our four person family unit had driven just under seventeen hours through wet weather in order to get from Maine to Indy. The next day I went out to some trails I knew at Fort Harrison. I was really pleased to find that there were many new trails in the section that I normally ran that were now much more single track than before and added about a mile to this part of the park within the Fort’s grounds. Although I got in just around five miles on the loop, I didn’t feel like it was quite enough, but too much to do another complete loop, so I drove over to another part of the park that was closer to a river. I got in a couple more miles and had more people on these trails getting out of my way as I was pushing the pace on the flatter terrain.
The next day was Monday, marathon Monday, and I really looked forward to watching the marathon on my in-laws big screen. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any station that was covering the marathon, despite the thousands of channels they had to chose from on their cable, digital, satellite, shit I don’t know even know what kind of system it was. Instead, I frequently checked on the computer cheering on fellow Trail Monsters, a few other friends and of course Kara and Shalene. It wasn’t until much later in the day, when I had the house to myself that I learned about the horror that had taken place on Bolyston Street that afternoon. I won’t go into my emotions but I quickly scrambled to check on the times of runners that I knew to be sure that they and their families must be out of harm’s way. My wife and family came home about an hour later and I pulled my wife aside to tell her the news and to keep the news away from our seven and five year old. There was nothing we could do other than to pray and hug our children for a few moments longer than normal.
I got out for a run in the neighborhood again the next afternoon. I had spent a very rainy afternoon with my kids at a pretty decent rock gym, and although the rain didn’t let up very much I still felt the need for some exercise, especially since I wasn’t really hadn’t been eating all week like someone about to run a half. I ran past the gated community within the gated community where Larry Bird actually lives wishing that I had on a Boston shirt or hat in case he came driving by in his car. Instead, I did more speed work as the rain picked up and it felt wonderful. I wished I had trained more like this the last few months as my soaked shirt was sucked to my body and my legs were driving my body past houses that were nearly impossible to differentiate from one another and I ran alone with no one to cheer. I thought about those people who would cheer for a total stranger at a race and it really fucking pissed me off that those were the people who were killed and injured just twenty four hours before in Boston. As much as I love the solitude of the trail and don’t feel the need for encouragement while running other than from my own psyche, I have always appreciated the kindness of strangers to me while I’ve toiled. I prayed for all those affected and also prayed that the spirit around any race would never decrease.
My last run before the big day was on Thursday as I drove out to Butler University to run on the canal trails. I parked near the infamous Hinkle Field house, infamous if you’re a college basketball fan or ever watched Hoosiers. The bell tower rang three o’clock as I made my way down the hill to the canal. Technically these are trails but they are so well packed and flat that they made most Maine roads feel like mogul runs. Of course it began to rain again as I started my run but that only meant that there was practically no one else on these trails which were very popular. I figured I would do about five miles and there was only one other person on the trail, riding their bike in the two miles I covered. I saw more turtles in the water than people. I got to a spot on the canal near the Indy Art Museum and was surprised to find some map kiosks. These were new to me, and although it appeared the trails were quite long, I still had to check them out. Well, the maps were a little deceiving as I circled a lake, pond, body of water on some slick trail having once to dodge out of the way of a girl walking her dog while on her cell phone. There were a few interesting pieces of art (?) I passed and I was pleased to discover more trails. I thought that places like this needed more funding than we do here in Maine in order to build and maintain more trails. The rain really started coming down as I approached the campus and heard the bell tower playing America the Beautiful. I was glad I didn’t wear headphones anymore.
Paranoia will destroy ya’, or at least keep waking you up all night worrying that the alarm clocks won’t go off. After cooking a pasta and chicken dinner for my family, my mother-in-law set a couple alarms for me to wake up at six o’clock. I set my watch as well. The starting line was really less than fifteen minutes away, especially in Saturday morning traffic, but I didn’t want to take any chances missing the start when I didn’t have my own alarm clock(s) to trust. I kept checking my watch throughout the night, which was between every forty-five minutes to an hour and a half, and so when the first alarm went off I felt a little relief that I could finally start my day. As I was getting ready in the bathroom I began to wonder why I hadn’t heard the second alarm. It was just after five o’clock. I contemplated just staying awake and loading up on caffeine but soon dismissed that thought and hit the sack again now with my running shorts on.
Luckily, the second alarm was right on time and I was out of the house in about twenty minutes with a cup of tea and half a bagel in hand. In less time that it took me to get ready I was parking my car in a lot that was already nearly full not far from the starting line. I listened to NPR for updates on the arrest of the second Boston bomber which I had been watching the night before. I was reminded of watching O.J. Simpson and his white Bronco chase nearly twenty years ago. That event I remember watching at a bar in the Old Port and now I was imbiding in Gatorade. As I listened in the car I got further ready keeping the engine on in order to stay warm as the temps were somewhere in the thirties. There were actually some snowflakes in the air the night before. Another brother-in-law, Bruce, who was also a runner offered me some cold weather gear, of which I politely declined, feeling that I would be fine with a long sleeve under my black Trail Monster shirt. I did buy a cheap shirt to wear and discard before the race after I had picked up my race packet the day before the event. The pick up area was at Carmel’s community center which was a virtual palace. There were many booths set up to attract the attention of the runners, some of whom would be doing a full marathon besides the half and 8K. I passed by all of them, and only sought out directions for parking. All the info was good I discovered as I stepped out of my mini-van with about a half hour to go before race time.
I hit a porta-potty at a construction site on the walk to the starting line. It was still really cold, so I popped inside a lobby to a really fancy parking garage with many, many other runners. I stretched a little, but soon felt too confined and headed back out into the cold. I walked around, found more porta potties which had huge lines so I began a little warm-up jog knowing the race had to start soon. I chose to hop in the coral for those at an 8:00 pace. Slower than I even planned to go, but I figured on taking it easy to start the race. There were a few speeches, honoring the victims of Monday’s senseless tragedy. The banner in front of us all did have a countdown going, but no one could see it as we were all looking directly into the sun. I took my recently purchased shirt off and threw it off to the side and eager to get this race started and over with so I could begin my drive back to Maine later that morning.
It took about a minute and a half to cross the starting line, as I had started my watch at the sound of the starting gun rather than wait for the beep from the timing chip. The claustrophobia I had felt back in the lobby was now upon me again as I moved with the throng of runners. I began to wonder why in the hell was I really here. This wasn’t any fun. I had to spend all my time focusing on people in front of me instead of taking in the scenery around me. One runner ran into a traffic cone in the middle of the course, so I stayed closer to the left hand shoulder making my move around a few people by hitting the dirt.
I will say the roads were in incredible shape. I chuckled about seeing the occasional pot hole, as otherwise the public works department of Carmel should receive medals even more glorious than the one I was to receive in a little over an hour. There was nothing that could be done about the sun we were still facing. Despite it’s strength, it didn’t do all that much to warm the atmosphere. I was feeling good in those temps though and in looking around at other runners who were overdressed I knew they were going to be suffering later on when it did get a little warmer and their bodies much warmer.
Pleasantly, the race course was not as flat as I expected here in Indiana. The hills were not long or steep but they did nicely break things up and allowed me to pull away from some runners. We were also taken through some planned neighborhoods, where there were the occasional group in their driveway to cheer on the throng of runners. A couple older ladies were sitting in their chairs banging on a couple of pots. I commented to another runner that it was appropriate for the ladies to have their pot as the day was 4-20.
Closing in around mile four, the pack was sticking to the right side of the road and there were some fast runners coming at us in the left lane. Clearly, we were about to split away from the marathoners. I yelled out encouragement to those going the full distance as I turned around a traffic cone hoping that I wasn’t cutting any of them off. A little down and a bigger up now had me feeling like the race was really starting for me as there was now elbow room even though many more runners were still doing the half.
My pace picked up with the benefit of space and I was now really beginning to enjoy myself. A little smile was on my face and I looked at the spectators with renewed appreciation. We turned left at an intersection that had a long line of cars all stopped. I was filled with even more joy as I noticed the scowls on many of the driver’s faces. Another runner and I joked about the looks and he yelled out to them to spend their time by updating their Facebook status.
My mood continued to improve through the middle miles and so did my pace. I wasn’t taking splits but I’d say I was moving close to a seven minute pace. There were about 4,000 runners on the course between the two distances but there wasn’t much in the terms of fanfare along the side of the road. Where there were some timing mats to cross there would be some music playing on a boom box but that was about it. In a few weeks would be the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon which has something like 30,000 people and I guess all the fanfare was being saved for that one. No problem for me. I was feeling good and running well. I still didn’t expect a PR but at least I was feeling well.
I got somewhere past the ten mile mark and was going thru another planned neighborhood when a couple fans actually gave me some useful information. Usually most spectators just yell something like, "Run, you look good, oh god you’re nipples are bleeding!" which is all great but as a runner you really can’t do much with to turn those yells into something tangible. Now just as I passed a couple guys younger than me, this couple on the side tells me that the 1:40 pace group is just up ahead. Going into the race I had figured anything under 1:45 was all good, anything under 1:40 would be much more pleasing and the closer to 1:35/1:30 would have me feeling extremely proud. I did start to feel now that I would have to put in real effort to keep my legs moving but otherwise the rest of my system was strong even though I wasn’t fueling the system like I would during an ultra. Really I had probably less than a total cup of water and nothing to eat. I did have a couple Clif Blocks in my back pocket along with a small stick of Body Glide as my nipples had gotten a little torn up on my Thursday run. Luckily those were fine as well. So with all that, I didn’t reach in my back pocket for the Blocks. Maybe in the back of my head I didn’t want to bite into the wrong items, especially since I knew where else I’d used that Body Glide.
It was feeling more like work now but I was still passing people, and more people who looked like runners. I’d never seen so many MP3's, I-Pods, or other listening devices before in a race. There was one guy I passed whose device was broadcasting his pace out loud. I’ll admit, I used to run with music and may break out the tunes again but for now I do prefer to fill my head with my own rhythms and lyrics.
I did have a GPS watch working for me though. And it looked like I was closing in on the final mile. I pulled ahead from a couple other runners just before another timing mat, and they asked about the mileage. The volunteer said one mile, the guys then started to complain about the mile marks on the course. I had no such complaints, didn’t really care. A short time later there was a time clock clicking away right next to a sign marking the twelfth mile. Maybe the guys did have a legitimate complaint. Ah, who cares I figured again, my watch indicated something like 12.2 or 12.3, close enough. What really concerned me was the clock was just approaching 1:33 which meant that I certainly had to run under a seven minute mile to catch that pace group which had been eluding me.
An uphill then the course brought us to downtown Carmel and past the hamburger stand where I had paid off mybet from the previous year to Jimmy. I had seen this restaurant on Man vs. Food where if you can eat one of their oversized burgers you could get your picture on the wall. And the more of the burgers you eat the bigger your picture. I forget the exact weight of one of these BUB (big ugly burgers) but it was served in a extra large sized pie pans. I passed on the challenge, even though the largest picture, which was covering a door, had a guy holding four pans and he actually looked much more like a runner rather than a disgruntled Colts fan.
Through downtown I caught a few more people and made my move on a couple more headed back up a hill. I could hear one guy’s heavy breathing from a couple horse length’s away. I wished there was another runner closer to me so I could say, "That’s what she said." So instead I cruised by him and then cheered for someone on the sidewalk wearing a Red Sox hat. The final stretch was all downhill and I resisted the full sprint to the finish while eyeing the clock, slightly bummed that I was just a little over the 1:40 mark.
A woman handed me my medal and then I was even more pleased to see Jimmy just on the other side of the gate. His race had started a half hour after mine, and so I was never really sure he was going to pay off his bet until the race was over. I grabbed a chocolate milk as Jimmy came through the gates to join me. We talked as we grabbed some good grub. Volunteers then cut off the timing chip and I passed through the end of the gates. It was then the buckets came out. I did hesitate to hand over my medal. It was a good one. But it was just a medal. It was not a cowbell. And I thought of those people who lost limbs just watching a race earlier in the week. So in it went.
I walked with Jimmy over to his bike, yes his bike. He biked to his first ever race. It wasn’t too far away but I was impressed. The rest of his family was too busy to be at the event and mine was hopefully getting ready to head back to Maine. I bid Jimmy farewell, looking forward to seeing him this summer.
I didn’t get to check the official race results until later that night when we stopped somewhere in Pennsylvania after ten hours of driving. I was really pleased to find out my official time was indeed under 1:40 and that I had placed 96th of over three thousand runners. Sixth in my age group and the faster runner from Maine. There was actually one other runner from Maine in the race. And although none of the data reported it, I think I was perhaps the most carefree runner along the entire course. You don’t need a medal to prove that.