Well. That wasn't the hardest thing I've ever done. It's probably only the fourth or fifth hardest thing.
The world of running is new to me. I didn't come into triathlon from a solid endurance sport background. So this is my first straight-up running race since my dad made my brother and me do the River Run, which was when I was seven or eight. In other words, I had no idea what to expect.
The experience was totally different from a triathlon. First of all, there's the wake-up call. With no transition area to set up and no body marking and no wiggling into a wet suit and no warming up three separate ways, there's really no need to arrive any more than fifteen minutes before the start. Add that to the fact that my dad and I each ran half of the race and I ran the second half (i.e. no pre-race warm up at all for me), and I ended up taking pictures at the starting line; I may as well have been an observer.
Along with all that, this is the first race I've done in Wichita, although not my first Kansas race. Since the only marathon I've really been fully exposed to is the L.A. Marathon, which is a haven for the unexperienced and those looking for a challenge, I think of a marathon as a pretty manageable endeavor, something that takes some stamina and training, but not at all superhuman (and I think the current literature, for example, the "Marathoning for Mortals" phenomenon, reflects that attitude). I could have guessed that the Wichita Marathon would betray quite a different point of view. See, the L.A. Marathon serves the city as a mechanism that reduces the distance between the gods and mere mortals; true, the elites still finish the "race" six hours faster than the slowest Angeleno marathoners, but they all finish the same race. Wichita, as of yet, has no such mechanism; the gap between the superhuman and the everyday is much, much wider.
So while I was expecting at least a thousand participants--I figured people would come from all around because the race was advertised as a flat, fast, "qualify for Boston" kind of course--there were actually about 400. And hey, nothing to be disappointed in; that's 400 bad-ass Kansans. Nowhere near the 20,000 who turn out for the L.A. 26.2 every year, but as I said, not disappointing. Intriguing, but not disappointing.
From a personal perspective, all these differences between the Wichita Marathon and, say, a collegiate tri added up to a very laid-back race day for me. I had already established that I was not going to be able to do this race fast, and I had made my goal simply to finish. I had made my peace with that decision, telling myself that I can run fast when I go back to 5K. Thus, in my mind, the only objective was to keep putting one foot right in front of the other.
And it added up to one of the most pleasant race experiences I ever had. The miles flew by. Well, the time flew by; the miles did not, in any sense of the word, fly (unless you know some object that can go airborne at 5-6 MPH). In fact, as I passed mile 21 (my mile 8), I thought to myself, "This is the easiest long run I've ever done!"
Until mile 10.
At mile 10, my legs turned to lead and my hamstrings and quads pulled up into my pelvis like testicles on a cold day. "No no," they seemed to say, "you can do the rest of this race without us!" I wasn't wearing a chronograph, and the Wichita Marathon uses neither chips nor mats for timing, so I have no idea what my pacing was like, but I would bet that I was running sub-11-minute pace up until mile 10. Since my overall average pace was just under 12, I figure I must have been running slower than 13-minute pace by the end. It was horrible. It hurt so bad just to put one foot in front of the other. The time passed as if it were covered in molasses and crawling on its elbows through jello. It took every ounce of discipline and masochism I've managed to cultivate in the past year and half not to start walking (although the tall, strapping guy about a block ahead of me who was walking sure helped my resolve). We all know how it is; we've all had those moments (multiple times!) where our bodies hurt and our souls are crushed and we just want it to be over . . . but we've trained, and we know we'll hate ourselves if we stop now, and we know that if we can just keep moving, it will be that much easier to overcome this pain next time. It's what makes these crazy endeavors we undertake beautiful and ineffable and ethereal. I'm pretty sure it's what keeps us coming back for more.
Anyway, fortunately there were volunteers and/or supporters every block or so, each one shouting encouragement and praise at me (after 5 hours on the course). There was one guy who said, "Just five more blocks, and you have a tailwind!" and I thought, "What the hell? No I don't! It's blowing right in my face!" But inane comments aside, the supporters were great. And as I ran into Old Town (on bricks, I might add--the streets, not my feet) and heard the music and microphone-enhanced celebration of (five-hour) finishers, I willed myself to pick up the pace. My parents came into view, my dad holding a camera as I started to use my poor, shrunken ham- and quad-sicles to rotate the lead weights coming off my hips a little bit faster. I shouted at him, "You better make it a good shot, because you're only getting one!" Then I was around the corner (still on bricks) and within view of the finish line and the crowd. With about 50 yards left, I gave it all I had left and sprinted full speed across the line. "Jamie Morton, you are . . . " the finisher of a half marathon. Hurray! (maybe someday with the Ironman thing. I've got time, ya know.)
Looking back, it was a great experience. Oh sure, there were some hitches . . . I forgot my heart rate monitor, and my chronograph. I came into the race with a weird pain in my left foot (from teaching water aerobics, of all things) and ankle. A cold front moved into the area within half an hour of the race start, causing temperatures to abruptly drop 5 degrees and bringing a biting north wind that persisted for the remainder of the day (actually, it's still persisting). I started off with a long sleeve t-shirt which I had to shed by mile 3 (but hey, a triathlete would always rather over-prepare than under-prepare, right?). I did something to my knee on a downhill that involved lots and lots of pain through miles 5, 6, 7, and 8 (I considered stopping at several of those aid stations, asking myself, "Is this annoyance, or real, dangerous, I-am-your-ligament-and-I-am-torn-and-shriveling pain?"). I forgot sunscreen. Oh, and I can't walk down stairs or move in pretty much any manner without encountering severe pain. And after the race was over, as I was scarfing down bananas and Gatorade, my dad and I discussed how we seriously don't like running. It hurts and it's hard and it sucks and we don't think it's for us and we don't want to do it ever, ever again . . . ESPECIALLY not for 13.1 miles. And definitely never, ever for 26.2.
Today we got a brochure in the paper for the annual Turkey Trot (November 17). We're debating whether to do the 2 miles or the 10.