Our story begins Saturday, around 11:45 AM, when I am fresh from the shower, robed and dripping wet. And my phone rings. And it's Carl. And he's in Philly, when his train shouldn't even have left yet. We're supposed to meet at the hotel at 2. I'm not packed. I'm not even dressed. Fortunately I am an expert in the subcategory of "Throwing Shit into Backpacks and Hopping in the Car." I proceed to do just that. Also fortunately, I've already had the race gear laid out for about a day and a half, because that's a whole different category of packing. Lube? Check. Socks? Check. Extra hair ties? Check. Gu? Check. Safety pins? Check. Lucky snot bandana? Um, check. But I'll get to that later.
So, I fly down 95 with the tunes cranked and avail myself of the generously included valet parking (Carl, if you're lying about that, I owe you $36 and then I'll smack you NCIS-style.) Carl does some pointing and laughing at my LETS GO METS keychain. I drop my gear on the bed closest to the bathroom, of course, and we hit the expo and met Charlotte and Bill. Charlotte and I proceed to lose Carl because he's still shopping, I hit the main expo floor and score some deeply discounted Mizunos--and MAN ARE THEY PINK--and visit the Power Balance booth. In part because I'm curious, in part because I want to piss off Jerry.
Then, we meet up with Mike--hey Carl, who is that hot Marine in the tie-dye and flipflops?!--and Len for the obligatory Maggiano's dinner. Charlotte meets Smart-Car cake. Her reaction is almost as good as the cake. Sit around in the hotel lobby shooting the shit until 8:15 or so. Lots of cackling and interpretive-dance type flailing. Then upstairs for a few episodes of NCIS, which Carl has to explain to me. Interspersed with all this activity are certain pre-race rituals that cannot be discussed. Some of them, in fact, cannot be explained. Like the part with the lemming and the Body Glide--but that would violate the non-disclosure agreement that Carl made me sign.
Ahem. Anyway, Sunday morning dawns as predicted--with the very loud strains of Bach on Carl's cell phone, a yodel of "Good morning, Morning Glory!" from the other bed, and me muttering, "Shut your face, Carl." Things only deteriorate further when he emerges from the bathroom singing and I am forced to use my stuffed bear as a missile. Seriously, man, how does your wife stand you before noon? When I emerge from the bathroom, Carl has bought Starbucks and pumpkin bread. What a mensch. I take back at least a couple of the mean things I said about him. We indulge in more weird pre-race rituals (as you can imagine, mine involves a lot of peeing.) We go downstairs to meet the crew. Mike is nowhere to be found. Eventually we figure he must have struck out on his own because he's not answering his house phone. So much for leave no man behind.
We find Len at Logan Circle and continue our trek to our respective corrals. We dump Carl at Corral 5, where apparently we stop and pose for a photo that I don't remember. We continue on to Corral 13, where we realise that portajohn lines are not getting any shorter. So we get in one. Charlotte and I are in line long enough to make friends with the women in front of us. Someone up at the front passes back a bog roll, thank god. We're still in line when they sing the National Anthem. We're almost at the front of the line when--oh god, Starbucks. Oh god. Starbucks.
Yeah. Despite the kindness of strangers who carry bog roll to races, I end up sacrificing my lucky blue snot bandana to The Cause. I am remarkably displeased about this, er, turn of events. Charlotte gives me a tissue when I finally emerge, in case I--you know--actually have to blow my nose during the damn race. But needless to say, my mind is not particularly on the run at this point. It's mostly about things like my favourite blue bandana. And anti-bacterial wipes. And adult diapers. This is not a normal part of my race-day ritual. It customarily occurs early in the pre-race festivities. Like, the night before. So I'm feeling a little off my game.
Anywhoodle. I leave Charlotte and Len (and Bill, with his collapsible yellow pom-pom on a stick, which always reminds me of something from The Lorax) and continue on my way to the end of the starting area, to a corral marked To Infinity, And Beyond. Here, there are walkers, teenagers,Team in Training noobs, pregnant women, disabled veterans, the juggling man, and a 74-year-old grandfather. These are my people.
Twenty minutes later, we are finally approaching the start. And here come the elite runners, who are at Mile 5. And the elite women. And the elite hand-racer. At which point the female announcer makes a comment over the loudspeaker that seriously pisses me off: "And the people over here who are about to start, they're a bit more casual." Yeah? Yeah??? Fuck you lady. We're not any more casual. We're just more slow. So go screw. (Seriously, I'm emailing my displeasure with that to the RD. That's not ok with me. Way to make me feel three inches tall. There is nothing casual about running 28 miles a week. I don't see you out here training, bitch.)
Ok, I'm over it. Really. We cross the mat, I start my watch, and follow the crowd ahead of me the frack knows where. Seriously. I am less than intimate with the geography of downtown Philly. All I know is we passed my hotel twice and the convention center like, eight times. I'm just following the--oh look, there's the Reading Market. Again. I'm feeling pretty good, mostly just thinking about running at this point, and not falling into any of the Smart-Car-Cake-sized potholes for which Philly is notorious (not to mention the whole train tracks in the street thing) and--oh look, it's JFK Boulevard. I totally know where we are. We're heading back towards the start, where the elite runners passed us before we even started. Cool.
Mile 5: some band is playing Margaritaville. I start giggling and make a mental note to tell Lee and Nita.
Mile 6: another band, a tunnel through the side of a rock, and--oh hey, there's Bill! He doesn't see me, so I do a superman-style leap in front of him. Because, what the heck, I still can. He's got Cytomax and a Clif bar in his backpack for me, but I don't need anything. Except maybe a brain that would remind me to have some Gu, because while other people don't take Gu at six and a half miles, I've been out here for almost an hour and a half. It is what we runners call Time for Gu. And my time is still pretty much either on pace or ahead of pace. I don't really pay much attention, actually. I feel pretty good. I'm in a running groove, the scenery is lovely (the only other time I've run this part of the course was during Midnight Madness for BOMF, so I've never actually seen it) and--oh, hey. Runner down. Not ok. She looks as if she fell and hurt her arm, but she's already strapped on a gurney. Poor dear.
Mile 8 and some change: I discover that I really like blackberry flavoured Gu that they've set out. Much better than the lemon-lime crap that makes my teeth hurt (which is not even as sweet as some of the other flavours). Score. Oh, and hey, here's that bridge that I remember from Midnight Madness. Left turn, Clyde. I'm coming down off the bridge, past the gaggle of middle or high school band members with, like, one trumpet, one trombone, and a couple of saxes, getting ready to feel kind of down and think about a walk break.....and they start playing the Rocky theme. And I am, after all, in Philly. Damn. Damn those pesky kids. I can't help but perk up. Plus, it's downhill and in the shade. Awesome.
I hit mile 10 at a pretty good time (for me) but am starting to get a little cranky. (That's why I make the announcement, Carl.) Mile eleven is seriously the longest mile of the race. All in the sun, I'm hot, I'm cranky, I'm sore, my mouth is dry even though I've got plenty of hydration (thank you radioactive iodine and its effects on salivary glands). I've just had enough of this. Grr.
Last water stop. Some college kid at the water station is saying, "One more mile, one mile to go." I don't take water from him, but I pound over and kiss him smack on the cheek. He is totally my new best friend.
Of course, it's more like a mile and a half. A few minutes later, which coincidentally are the ugliest miles of the course if you ask me--one side of you has a stunning view of the concrete holding up an exit ramp--and everybody's Team in Training coaches are meeting them and encouraging them and running with them and congratulating them on a job well done, and.......here's me, slogging along by myself, dragging ass. Grr. Where's my cheeseburger, dammit? I ask one of the coaches, seriously, how long? She says maybe 2/10. Well hell, I can run that. I pick up my shuffle to an actual run. Plod plod plod. Just around the corner and up the hill.
Why hello, finish line spectators. Why hello, passing people. Why hello, all summer of training in the absurd heat and humidity and forcing myself to pick up the pace in the last mile. Why hello, strong finish. Why hello, BIG HONKING HILL whose butt I am kicking. Why hello, passing two people AT the finish mat.
Why hello, folding over sucking wind behind a race staffer so no one will see me. Points deducted for no one at the finish (race staff, medic, or fellow runner) asking if I was ok. I was, but still, if someone is bent in two sucking air after they finish, it's just polite to ask. Especially if you are an EMT and are stationed there for that purpose. So, I wander through the post-race, get my bagel, my bottle of water, my banana--someday I will eat a bagel post-race and not get the hiccups. But as Aragorn says, today is not that day.
I find my cell phone, which is coated in salt from a mishap with a ziploc bag during the race, and text Carl. COME GET ME. He's already gone back to the hotel and showered. How mortifying. He immediately calls back. "Are you a cheeseburger? Then don't talk to me." He asks where I am. Dude. I have no idea. I'm near some portajohns. I can't operate my banana. I see the Somalian flag. That's what I know. You figure it out. We start walking and meet somewhere in Logan Circle. I have managed to figure out this new-fangled packaging on the banana, but now cannot open my free Dove chocolate with peanut butter sample. Crap. I want my mommy. Fortunately, I have Carl, and what I usually call him starts with "mother," which at this point is close enough for me.
My next coherent memory is being back at the hotel bathroom, getting trapped in my sports bra. I hate that. You men have no idea, truly. Next stop, hotel lobby. Charlotte asks about my time. I have no idea because I forgot to stop my watch, but it was under three. Which is all that really matters to me. Oh, and I beat the 74-year-old guy.
Soul food and more hilarity ensues. We get to hear the story of why all ING race shirts are that unique colour called "holy crap neon inmate orange." I eat the best storebought mac and cheese I've ever had and get props for ordering collards. I mourn the lack of beer. We watch some amazing video coverage Bill got of race course geese. Run like the wind, geese! Carl makes more references to my bodily functions. I tell him to shut his face.
The party breaks up around 2:15 after Carl's left for his train and the rest of us realise we have places to drive. Some of them several hours away. I get home in time to watch the Mets lose to the Bravos, about which I have mixed feelings. I mean, it sucks that they lost, but at least they lost in a way that does the most damage to the Phillies, who are actually in the pennant race. After that it's kind of a blur of discount technical shirts, Advil, and smelly socks. And naps. Of course, let us not neglect to mention the naps.
Some damage to the upper quads today, but I'm chalking that up to sprinting up a hill at the finish line. My brain is still a little less than coherent, but that's also fairly normal after a long hard run.
Shut your face, Carl.