Monday, May 30, 2011

Going the Distance, Going for Speed

So today was race day. I'd trained for all of 5 days with only 3 runs, only one of which was outdoors in the real world heat and humidity. Guess what?

That was a mistake.

It was 96 degrees Fahrenheit this morning with 51 percent humidity. Do you know what happens with 51 percent humidity? Well, I'll tell you if you don't know. Your body can't cool off. Sweating doesn't help, even though you do lots and lots of sweating. Your flesh is just stifled underneath this soggy layer of steam that prevents any cooling from taking place.

So I was shooting for a not-impressive series of 10-minute miles throughout the race. And I was concerned because I'd had knee problems and calf-cramp problems all week. I needn't have worried because the heat and humidity made my knee and calf problems the least of my concerns.

I ran a 9:30 minute first mile. Yay me. That's not impressive, but it was better than I'd planned. But I could already tell as I finished that mile that I was going to be in trouble for the rest of the race. The heat and humidity was KILLING me.

The second mile, several very attractive young women whom I had passed during the first mile began to pass me right back. I knew I was in a bad way when I glanced at their tanned and very attractive behinds striding past me and did not even consider trying to catch up. I couldn't afford to break my slowing pace or I would never finish. I ran a nearly 12 minute, gasping, steaming, God-its-hot 2nd mile.

Oh Lord, there's still further to go.

The third mile, an old man, hunched with a kind of shuffle, who was wearing ankle weights on both legs, I shit you not, passed me by. I was not happy. To be fair, I had a bit of difficulty passing him during the first mile, so despite his seemingly decrepit gate, he was motoring pretty good. But still, it was insulting. And I couldn't do a damn thing about it. I may not have raced in 2 years, but I know my limitations and I knew I needed to hang on to my ever-slowing pace as best as I could or I would be in serious trouble.

The last stretch of the third mile seemed to go on forever. We went up a hill, then over the top. And far, far down the slope I could see a big banner which appeared to be the finish line.

"Oh God, I feel like I'm going to slow to a walk. I am NOT going to walk on the last mile. I am NOT!" I struggled and ached and squirmed along in the heat, trying to straighten my back up a bit to ease the pain of my lower back and take some pressure off. I had apparently begun to hunch forward in the heat, so I had to force myself to straighten up and raise my head. Looking at the banner across the finish line helped. I tried to ignore the beautiful girls and hunched old ankle-weight-wearing men passing me and just focus on the finish.

Thank God no one pushing a stroller passed me or that would have been too much to bear.

Some runners, seeing the banner, began to sprint, or as close as they could to sprinting. I typically don't sprint until the final 100 yards, so I held on to my dying pace. Finally, I reached the bottom of the long slope. It was a very long, straight stretch to that banner with no shade and my body screaming "STOP! STOP AND WALK BEFORE I DIE!"

I began to feel the distinctive cold shiver of heat stroke hitting me. It was just the beginning. I had endured this before. But considering the terrible shape I was already in, and how close I was to slowing to a walk, it was bad news. I looked for any water stations where I could grab a cup of cold water to throw over my head. There were none.

Meanwhile, more runners sprinted past me towards that banner.

That's when I noticed the other banner beyond the banner I had been looking at. And then I remembered, at the start of the race, the race announcer had told us that the starting line is NOT the finish line. The finish line is PAST the starting line. The banner we had been running towards was the starting line. Oh shit!

If I had tried to sprint when I saw that first banner, thinking it was the finish, I would have ended my race in the back of an ambulance. There was a considerable distance to go beyond the banner for the starting line until you reached the banner marking the finish line, and in this oppressive heat, that was just far enough to kill me.

But I hadn't sprinted when I saw the banner, and it was a good thing. I stumble-ran underneath the banner marking the start, still fighting the urge to either slow to a walk or just fall on my face in the middle of the street and be trampled. I could see the true finish. I just wasn't sure if I could reach it before I collapsed.

Children passed me. Mothers passed me. People who thought the first banner was the finish line and had sprinted stopped to walk in utter exhaustion. But I did not walk. I ran at my horrible pace. I saw the clock marking the time at the finish line. It said 33:56 and I still had several yards left to go.

Then 33:57.

"Oh Lord, I'm not even going to finish in under 34 minutes!"


I tried to speed up. I just couldn't do it.


"Oh son of a ... "


I ran across the finish line, glancing briefly at the clock marking my time, groaning in disgust at the worst 5K time of my entire life, and then warned the runners around me that there was a distinct possibility that I may projectile vomit at any moment.

I immediately found a water station and started trying to cool myself down before any fluids forcibly escaped through my mouth and nostrils in the form of racers puke. I saw a PVC arc someone had constructed, which had a hose attached and cold water showering out of it for runners to walk under and cool off. Cool idea! I made a beeline for it. I walked under it several times, slowly cooling little by little. Then I stood under it like my own personal cold shower.

Teenage girls who had been giggling and playing in the water arc, performing a possibly illegal wet t-shirt contest, stopped giggling and looked at me. I was apparently interfering with their fun even though I was off to one side of the arc and not really in their way. I glared at them. They moved more to the opposite side and continuing playing and giggling. And then I went and sat down in the shade, exhausted, sunburned as hell, and soaking wet.

A 34 minute race! I ran a lousy stinking 34 minute race! Oh, the humanity! Oh the shame!
My only real consolation today is that apparently our racing numbers which we wore contained a computer chip. That chip is how they timed us. Since the start of the race is so crowded, only the front-row runners actually cross the starting line when the gun goes off and the main clock starts timing the race. But our chips alert the computer to the true time we crossed the starting line. Then the difference between the race start and the time we actually crossed the starting line is deducted from our final time to give the actual time we took to run the course. So I had 6 seconds taken off my final time, giving me the worst time I'd ever run a 5K minus 6 seconds. 33:54 - Yay me!

And also, I never puked.

I didn't puke


  1. I've never run a proper race so I recon you've done pretty damn good despite your "time" AND you ran the whole way AND you didn't puke. :0)

  2. AlleyCat, I know it wasn't the worst time in the world, but it was the worst time I personally have ever run a 5K in so I was pretty disappointed. Of course, it was also the least training that I've ever done for a race, so I shouldn't be surprised by my time. And 'Hurray' for not puking!

  3. Fifi, I can't help the way I look :-(

  4. Ummm.

    I've been a runner for a good couple of years [not to mention I was once an elite cyclist, believe it or not], but never run any races --- because really, I'm not either very fast or competitive in running.

    Even though, it still sucks when I run my miles outdoors and some old [like 65-years] lady [skinny as hell] outruns me with no effort.

    Then, I always pretend my dog needs to pee [oh, because I run with my dog as company] so I don't have to feel stupid for being outrun by some old woman [or man for that matter, but it's always women who outrun me].

    Like the video :-).

    Oh and good thing you didn't puke. Myself, I have a serious puking-phobia. But that's just me.

  5. Heartbroken, at this particular race, in years past I think I have puked at the finish line of every single one except this one. It's ironic because I did my worst ever at this one.