You know when you train for a race – adding distance, doing intervals, building muscle – your legs get antsy and restless? They want to keep moving. They want to run! That happens to me during the taper. No, I don’t mean a candle or the South American mammal. For my non-runner friends, the taper is the week or two before a race when you gradually decrease the mileage so you will have fresh strong legs on race day. Of course, then you gorge yourself on pasta and goodies the night before, like a last meal before the sentence is carried out.
It’s during that taper period when runners are the most vulnerable and emotional. Even after they’ve had their morning coffee, approach with caution. Reminds me of poor Aunt Lulu… but that’s a story for another time.
My legs get restless during that time and I can’t sit still for long. Even watching a half hour sitcom with my wife, Saint Gwen, I have to get up and pace. And while I sleep? Well, let’s just say I probably log more miles sleeprunning than on the road. (Have you ever seen a dog kick its legs while sleeping? Yup. That.) I woke up one morning to find my wife trimming my toenails, cursing under her breath, “son of a… I’ll show you…” I’m kidding of course. She has a 3 foot quarantine zone around my feet because, well, we all know how pretty runners’ feet are. I saw a documentary on ultramarathoners once where the guy had his toenails surgically removed. I thought, why bother? Just cut the toes out of your socks when you run and those suckers will fall off all on their own. But I digress.
I had a half marathon last Sunday at the Phoenix 10k Half Marathon Race (rolls off the tongue), and while laying in bed the day before, peacefully slumbering and dreaming about chasing cats, my left calf cramped up. “Aaaaaaahhhhh!” Son of a…!” After a minute of agony, I curled up into a ball and cried while Gwen whispered soothing words in my ear. Then the right one went. “Aaaaaaaahhhh!” All I could think of was how this was going to affect my race performance. How was I going to run 13.1 miles with sore calves? I spent the day massaging them and walking on my heels. For my last meal, Gwen fixed spaghetti in a cheesy sauce with bacon. Love you, Honey!
Start time was 7am and the plan was for my three buddies and I to meet at Steve’s house. There was Steve B., Steve M., Doug L. and me, Doug I. Every time somebody said one of our names, it threw us into confusion.
The alarm was set for 4:45am, giving me enough time to fix the scrambled eggs with the remaining bacon I had been looking forward to. But when I got to the kitchen it was, “Eh, instant oatmeal is easier.” So, that and a yogurt.
I picked up my buddies and we got to the race with 45 minutes to spare. That is after spending 10 minutes making sure I got the closest parking space possible. We had to help unload band equipment, but it was worth saving the extra 50 feet I knew we would appreciate after the race.
We gathered on the street behind the starting line filled with anxiety and anticipation. “It’s a little chilly this morning,” I said as my nipples poked out. “These shirts are so thin.” Beside us, I noticed the local news anchor in front of a camera. “Steve, how’s my hair?” They said, “What hair?” She ignored us anyway. Probably on a commercial break.
The celebrity race director blared some unintelligible words over a loud speak and then we heard faint music which had to be the national anthem. All heads looked up to the sky and there at the top of a tall building was our beautiful American flag with the sun shining on it and moon behind it.
Well, it was more impressive in person.
The gun went off and so did we. We ran downtown around the state capital building and back with people at bus stops smoking cigarettes and yelling at us to run faster. Then we turned and ran up Central Avenue.
One of the fun things about being a back-of-the-packer is that you get to see all the other runners (as they pass you by). I like to see the different outfits and running styles. Some people lean back with their legs out front, almost like their feet are too fast and they’re just trying to hang on. Then there are the toe runners, and I’m sure many of you, my fit friends, fall into this category. Light on your feet and bouncy like Tigger. I came up behind a toe runner, and I kid you not, her heels never touched the ground. She was a slight thing, small and slender. Then a breeze blew her into the next lane and I stomped on by.
It was a gorgeous November morning in Phoenix and I was feeling good. My primary goal to finish in 2:45, but after the fourth mile I could feel my calves starting to tighten up and I opted for my secondary goal of not being last. I was worried about even finishing.
That was when an angel came and scooped me up. He was the 3:00 Pacer with his band of groupies. “Look out for the 3 Train!” he yelled as they came steaming up behind me. I quickly stepped to the side thinking, Oh man, I’m not even going to break three hours. Then as they came even with me, they slowed and walked. I thought, what’s this? A walk break and still on pace to make 3? I can do this. So I became a groupie. It was awesome! Thirty second run-walk intervals and we talked and laughed and had a great time.
Somewhere around the halfway mark, we approached a large church. Being Sunday morning, people were gathering to worship, dressed in their Sunday best, waving and smiling. Then, GONG!!! GONG!!! GONG!!! It scared the crap out of us. How big was that bell?! It was like the Liberty Bell! We collectively jumped. It was like it was meant for us. “You think you can skip church to run? We know who you are, running people.” The chatter stopped until we passed then gradually picked up again.
As the miles ticked by, we picked up some more strays and lost a few. Funny thing, though – at each mile marker, our pacer looked at his Garmin and said, “That’s not right. These are too far apart.” At mile 12 he said, “This one’s almost a tenth of a mile off. They must have made the last stretch an even mile instead of 1.1 so people can finish strong.” They didn’t. As we turned the last corner and saw the finish line, he looked at his wrist and said, “It’s too long. We’ve only got 30 seconds to make 3:00! Let’s go!” and he took off. The rest of us looked at each other with the same expression: RUN! We booked it, man! “Look out! The 3 Train is coming!” and we thundered ahead. Runners ahead of us turned at the commotion, mothers scooped up their children and the volunteers dove behind the water tables. We crossed the finish line and slapped each other on the back. “Woo hoo! We did it!” Somebody smacked a medal in my hand and I looked around for my buddies.
I imagined them enjoying a cold brew in a pub somewhere. “Yay, Doug’s here! Now we can go.” But they weren’t. My good friends waited and met me just past the bananas. Steve had a bottle of coconut water. Doug somehow managed to get a small case of it. Together we walked to our usual restaurant and ordered beer and sandwiches. I handed the poor employee a sweaty twenty then we sat outside to enjoy our meal and watch the costume contest while I massaged my calves. Batman won. Then we groaned and limped back to the car. “Thanks for parking so close, Doug. All hail Doug,” and headed home to recuperate and watch football.
When I got home, my wife greeted me with a smile and a kiss and my two boys ran up to me, gave me hugs and balloons that said, “Congratulations!” and “Number 1”. I love my family and thank God for them everyday.
By the way, my official time was 3:00:03.