18 September 2011

RR (RFKA)PDR, Code Name: Finishing Crazy

I refuse to call this race anything other than Philly Distance Run. Ever. Let's just get that out of the way first. Last year the race was bought by Competitor, and made part of the Rock n Roll race series. To which I say, ".....meh." It is hereafter memorialized by Len and me as "The Race Formerly Known as PDR." When someone asked at the finish line what race had been run today, someone told him, "Rock n Roll Philly Half Marathon," and he was unimpressed. Until I added, "You know, that thing that used to be the Philly Distance Run," at which point he was all, "Oh, ok, cool, man."


I slept in Saturday and then moseyed around the house for a while (read: changed the cat litter), so I didn't hit the road until almost noon. Since I'm so clever, that put me on I-76 juuuuust in time for the Penn State/Temple football traffic. Yay! So I spent some quality time with the Conshohocken Curve and finally checked into my hotel at three. Yes, it took me two and a half hours to make the one-hour drive, and another twenty-five minutes to figure out how to get out of the Wanamaker Building once I'd parked.

Was altogether unimpressed by the expo--they could have utilised the space a lot better and, say, had more floor space allocated to the places where people have to stand in line twenty deep to get their bibs and less floor space for the Brooks store. I mean, I get it. They're the underwriting sponsor, them and Dodge. But Dodge made more effective use of their space, and they had to park a freaking car in it. Also, for the entry fee, their swag bags are majorly lame, although the bags themselves are at least now reusable.

Went back to the hotel, fetched my book of Lucille Clifton poems (what? I had homework) and went downstairs to the on-site restaurant. No Smart-Car cake for me this year. In truth, I was feeling a little forlorn. This was my first race in Philly without Carl and Len and a gaggle of other assorted folks who change from race to race (Jen, Gunz, Charlotte, whoever). But few things cheer me up like reading during dinner, and a pint of beer. So when I returned to my room to lay out my kit and watch some NCIS reruns--er, I mean, grade some papers--my mood was much improved.

Since I was a short walk from the start, I slept in until the luxurious hour of 6 AM. Geared up, stretched out, drank my truly awful hotel room coffee (those of you who remember last year's RFKAPDR race report may recall an unfortunate incident involving Starbucks medium dark roast, a start-line porta-john, and my bandana; I have learned my lesson) and headed out the door.

Oh my God, it's freezing.


I head over to the start and hang out for a while on the Art Museum steps--the famed Rocky steps--chilling with the official Back on My Paws Great Pyrenees and his people from Back on My Feet, one of my favourite Philly organizations. After I while I meet up with my friend Mags. Mags and I used to run together when I lived in Three Feathers, but we ended up with consecutive injuries that sidelined us each for several months, and then I up and moved. So I hadn't seen her in more than a year.

We catch up on some stuff, pet the Great Pyr some more,  and then line up for the start. Where we listen to the starting gun go off. Twenty-two times. That's right, Corral To Infinity, and Beyond! has a thirty-minute lag between gun time and chip time this year. So we're both pretty stiff for the first three miles or so. Also, I am still freezing my ass off and loving it. We hit the 5k at about my predicted pace, which is a little ahead of Mags's but she's happy.

The first five miles of this race are always a blur to me (no, not an Andrewblur, just a blur) because it goes through parts of the city with which I am unfamiliar. Which is to say, any of it. This year, at least, I notice that we pass the Liberty Bell and Constitution Hall and all that stuff (ohai, I can haz history lesson?) before hopping back on Arch Street and under/through the Convention Center and up Kelly Drive, where the bulk of the race is. There's a pretty stiff headwind at some points, but there are also some fun downhills. Whee! Annoyingly, most of the aid stations from Mile 5 to Mile 10 don't have any Cytomax at all (the first cup of "Cytomax" we got at Mile 2 was more like a few crystals of Cytomax mixed in with water. Not pleased. Not pleased at all. Especially since I spilled about half of it into my sock. Whoo hoo!)

Rather than my usual walk/run strategy, Mags has me taking a one-minute walk break every mile, sort of the way it worked out at MCM. And you know what? It freakin' worked. We hit Mile 5 well under my usual pace (though not a PR, thanks to a particularly motivation-filled--read: mad as hell--five-mile run scheduled a few years ago on the first wedding anniversary after my husband filed for divorce). The sun is perfect, the river is perfect, the pace is perfect. "Oh my God." I turn to Mags. "I feel freaking awesome." She glares at me. She does not feel freaking awesome. She fishes some Advil out of her Spibelt and gulps it down. We meet someone with a banner on her back that says JULIA and I comment to Mags how annoying it is that this Julia person seems to have been walking the whole way and keeps managing to pass us. (Turns out she's been running some. More on this later.) We stop for a much-needed pee break. Of course there is no toilet paper, but dammit this is my favourite grey bandana. I'll just drip-dry, right? No problem. Guys do it all the time. In fact, I've done it before running on trails. Outside at the washing-up station (since when do races have those?) I see Mags pulling paper towels out of the dispenser. What the hell. I grab one and stick my hand down my compression shorts--which is quite a feat, thank you very much, since CW-X compression shorts are tighter than Cameron Frye's ass--for some ill-mannered but very satisfying roadside assistance. The cop at the intersection is kind enough to pretend he doesn't even see this crazy lady. It's probably not the most horrifying thing he's seen all day.

Doot-dee-doooo....anyway.....there we are, my hands down my shorts....no, wait, I've finally managed to extricate myself, and Mags is laughing her ass off at me. It is true. I have no shame. Not during a race, anyway. And it's not like you could even see anything. So we make the turn at the bridge a few miles later and hit the shady side. Also the downhill side. Whee! I lose Mags for a little bit, but she catches up. And then? "See? I told you! Julia passed us. Again." Julia laughs and waves and tells us, "Oh yeah, the jogging's done."

Mile 10. Kickass! I love Mile 10 (hi Holly). Actually, I don't love Mile 10, I'm just happy that it means three more miles. We run under the Annoying Inflatable Rock n Roll Crotch Guy and, inexplicably, Mags keeps trying to take pictures of her legs. "What? I need something to distract me." Just then, during a minute-walk-break, someone dashes in front of us and cuts in, all, TA-DA!!! like with her arms out. It's Julia! For some reason (like, we've been out here more than two hours and we're getting stupid, just maybe) this cracks us up. She jogs off. Mags and I look at each other and set off, giggling, at a dead run. She goes right, I go left. We sneak up on Julia, and I shout "Ha-HAAA!" at the top of my lungs. Which, let's face it, is pretty loud. Julia jumps about a foot and then laughs for about a half a mile. Sadly, that's the last we see of her. Hope you had a great finish, Julia!

At some point during these festivities, Mags takes a picture of my butt, saying it's the only part of me she's going to see for the rest of the race. By the time I got home tonight, she had posted it on Facebook. And tagged me. It's mortifying. I am clearly pointing at my behindular area while--I don't know, I may be sort of running, I may be walking--as if to say, "See this? This is my butt." And I believe that is actually what came out of my mouth. Man, I don't know. We were totally goofy by now. The Cytomax had returned, I had to pee (again) but wasn't about to stop, and great god almighty cheez whiz, there's that last ramp up to the Art Museum. It occurs to me that I feel about a thousand percent better than I did at this point last year (it is also about a thousand degrees cooler, but whatever, I'll take it). We've taken a couple of half-mile minute walk breaks, but not too many. The rest of the time, we've been keeping what is for us a pretty strong pace, and we keep it now. I'm starting to get a stitch (I got one at Mile 8 too, of all places), because oh my god this hill sucks almost as bad as the one ending MCM, only without hot Marines yelling at you, and Mags looks like she might start to flag and I feel like I might start to flag if one of us doesn't do something and before I know what I'm doing I let loose with a mighty berzerker "YYAAAAAAAAUUUURGGGGHHHH!" loud enough to scare the crap out of several spectators and myself, and we dig into the final bit of incline rather like we're Merry and Pippin at the end of Return of the King, two tiny stubby little people running headlong and swordfirst into certain death, for Frodo. This is not what they call finishing strong. This is what they call finishing crazy. I'm running. I mean, really honest to God running. Virginia Beach can kiss my ass. I'm back.

05 September 2011

RR Virginia Beach, Code Name: Zombie Ass

I don't even know where to begin this race report.

Let's start with the first week of school here in Doodlehem, which is actually more or less where the road begins. In a way. Actually, of course, the road began back in March, when everyone else and their moms (and sometimes their kids) gathered for the annual Shamrock Marathon and Sweet Caroline Sing-Along Fest in Virginia Beach. I, of course, was unable to even run for a minute on the treadmill under the watchful eye of my beloved physical therapist. So there I was. Deferred until 2012, eating and drinking as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted, and in truth feeling kind of pissy about it. (I know. You're shocked. Me, pissy?)

So at some point later in the spring, when I was finally cleared to run for whole minutes at a time between walk breaks and rehab exercises, I signed up for RnR Virginia Beach. Somehow I felt like I ought to. Everyone else, of course, had already run it, back in 2008 or 2009, and I had yet to have the experience of slamming up the boardwalk....er, concretewalk....to the finish line, either in March or in September. I admit it. I was jealous. So, I signed up, figuring I'd have a chance to test my chops before Marine Corps and visit with at least some of the gang before school ate my brain.

Folks, this is not that race report. If you are looking for camaraderie, drunken sing-alongs at Il Giardino, late night trips to other people's rooms with more beer for the 14 people hanging out on the floor between two beds, rude comments from Carl, or folks with yellow pom-poms, go to another post. You will find no such chicanery here. This was a solo trip. Turns out I was one of precisely two people from our Old Folks' Home for Calcified Habitual Unrepentant Marathon group who ran this race, and the other one lives here. (And I saw him for all of about three minutes, not even in a row.)

Second of all, by the time the first week of classes was over, school had already eaten my brain. Two and a half days of teacher training (not as redundant as it sounds), twenty new faculty members, thirty new colleagues, two orientations, five meetings, four classes, nineteen and a half freshmen, and approximately fifteen vertical miles later, I was ready for a marathon nap, not a half marathon. Plus, I had just found out that unlike the rest of the free North American world, I actually had a full day of work and classes on Labour Day. Yeah. This meant I would be making a 24 hour turnaround on a six-hour drive. With a bad back. And 13.1 miles in the middle. As Jimmy says, whooooooo-hoo!

So that's where my zombie ass started this weekend. With my alarm going off practically in the middle of the night on a Saturday morning so I could drive six hours on roads I was only moderately certain were not underwater or washed out from last week's hurricane, after having just experienced first-hand the horrifying realisation that oh my God, they're going to make me work for this PhD!

The trip down to Virginia Beach was uneventful, right up until I completely missed the exit for my hotel after leaving the Expo, because it wasn't there. Apparently Virginia is one of those states where exits sometimes happen from one direction but not the other. And suddenly there I was, in Norfolk. Fortunately, I actually know people in Norfolk, and was planning to meet them for supper later anyway. So I just went straight there and had a lovely visit with Nicole and Brian, who went out on a special pasta-buying excursion for me (they're a low-to-no-carb family for medical dietary reasons). I left Norfolk what seemed like fairly early, but thanks to the wonders of Google Maps I once again did not go straight to my hotel. Apparently sometimes "slight right onto Greenwich Ave" means "just go straight, through the traffic light, not turning your wheel from TDC at all." So I had a lovely tour of...I don't know, somewhere, banged an illegal U-turn in the middle of Princess Anne Road, stopped at a 7-Eleven and bought breakfast supplies, and finally made my way to my hotel. Where my credit card wouldn't process. Twice. Fortunately, I carry a spare (for just this reason, to be used only in direst of emergencies like the threat of having to sleep in my car, or finding a pair of shoes at the expo in my size) and finally--finally--I was ensconced in Room 225. At ten o'clock at night. With a D-tag to affix, a bib to pin on, compression shorts to wrestle, and a four AM wake-up call. Awesome.

When the wakeup call came, I seriously had no idea what that godawful noise was. It was almost as bad as Carl singing at me, except when it was over I still had to make my own coffee. Inserted myself into the gear I'd laid out before crashing, fueled, chugged my Gatorade, peed a couple of times for good measure--hey, this is me we're talking about here--and stumbled out to my car. My first thought on hitting the parking lot was that I was not cold. When there is dew on my windshield before dawn and I am half-dressed in spandex, I should be at least a little chilly. The fact that I was not made me a little uneasy about the weather for the day.

Miraculously, I managed not to get lost on my way to the Amphitheater shuttle lot (seriously, how do those of you who live in Virginia Beach ever find your way anywhere? Sunday afternoon I must have crossed Princess Anne Road another sixteen times getting to Military Highway. Maddening.) and onto a bus. Arrived at the Convention Center, where the start line was, and....it was still only barely six AM. WTF, over? (which was another contender for this RR's code name, for what it's worth.) So, I wandered around the runner's village aimlessly for a while, stretching and trying to wake up. Thought about peeing, but didn't. About quarter to seven, I decided to head for the porta-potties of doom, and turned around and ran smack into something orange and very solid. It was, in fact, our Gunz the K, who was annoyingly chipper for so early in the morning. He said hi, wished me luck, and I'm pretty sure I grunted incoherently at him in reply. I might not even have managed that.

Peed, got settled in my corral, a good half-hour from the start line, and waited. "To infinity and beyond" is not just the name of my corral because they ran out of numbers, but also because that's how long it takes to get to the start mat after the gun goes off.

When I finally got there, after a few brief minutes of wondering why the fuck I had signed up for another race, anywhere, ever, which is fairly standard for the first five minutes of a race, I ran some pretty ok, pretty solid and consistent miles. I remember thinking that, while generally slow, they were probably pretty fast for being my first two miles out of the corral. And I was right. I was taking my walk breaks, being mindful of my mechanics, and just generally having a relatively pain-free experience, excepting a very numb right foot because I was laced too tight. Coming down into mile four or so, I saw the lovely and effervescent (and, if possible, even oranger) Flex-meister tearing it up at mile 11. Partly exciting, because I hadn't clapped eyes on the man since MCM, but also partly horrifying, despite his 30-minute headstart on me. The next thing I saw was a lovely, chalk-white bit of graffiti on the pavement. Oh, how I love ON-ON. It is a sign and a wonder. And it was a good thing, too, because by the time I got to the turnaround and back to mile ten on the flip side, there was no beer, no hashers, no nothing, just a dent in the grass where their cooler had been. Speaking of signs, the best spectator sign by far was "Run Faster, Zombies Are Chasing You!" Of course, starting to feel the effects of running while undertrained and having been up since four AM, I was pretty sure we were the zombies. I chugged along the boulevard, slurping my beer, thinking lovely running thoughts and wondering if it was the alcohol that had me feeling a little warm.

It was not. It was the warmth. By mile 8, I was distinctly unhappy with the state of my internal temperature (and my surface temperature, Len.) The scenery was lovely, as this was the only part of the course on a winding, wooded country road like I'm used to, and the company was as grand as ever, but damn. I was not happy. The only thing that kept me propelling forward at my regular pace was that the three hour pace group hadn't passed me yet.

And then, between the water station that had run out of cups and made us drink out of pitchers (though the pouring it on our heads part was grand) and the turn back off of the base, they did. I pleaded with David to tell me he was actually ahead of pace. He wasn't, save for eight seconds. I said some choice words, mostly relating to reproductive functions, and limped along. My back felt pretty good still, but my innards were getting cooked. Humidity. Dry mouth. Nausea. Not fun.

Hobbled some more. Ran down the ramp pretty good, but then ran out of steam after it leveled out. Got to the boardwalk, and....well, notice I did not call it a boardrun. About a quarter mile out, in sight of the finish line finally (it's really hard to see past the mainstage when you're this short) I tried to kick it up. Couldn't. WTF, over? I looked at my watch and discovered I now had a new PW. Then, right at Mile 13, I said fuck it right out loud (startling someone's grandmother) and hobbled back into a survivor shuffle. Fuck this, fuck the other thing, fuck your mom, I am not walking across a finish mat. Ever. I will crawl across one before I walk it.

In fact what I did is more or less launch myself across a finish mat, straight onto the arm of a medic who decided that perhaps he needed to catch me before I face-planted right there in front of God, everybody, and Frank Shorter. I wanted nothing more than to put my head between my knees--or at least close to my knees--but got the "Oh no, keep moving sweetheart." (How about no? How about I hurl half-digested blackberry Gu up on you? Nothing personal, it just seemed the only response I was capable of at the time. It was, in short, what I had to work with.)  He escorted me quite a ways, hanging onto my elbow while trying to keep his shoes out of further Gu-hurling trajectory (I came up empty anyway) and feeding me salt packets. He decided I was well enough to leave when I asked him if he happened to have a wedge of lime in his pocket too. He allowed as how he didn't have any tequila either. So we parted ways, and I wandered onto the beach looking for my free mediocre beer. Instead, I found the Dailymile group sign, complete with my own personal Where's Waldo, the once again randomly appearing Gunz. I mean, he does live there and everything, but still. Enough with the leaping out from behind random people and appearing, already. Hung out a few minutes, mostly squatting down as every time I stood up I felt like zombie ass. Got to finally get a bear hug from Flex-o-rama, which was probably (sadly) the high point of my weekend, got yelled at to "drink, woman!" whenever Mike noticed I was not face-first in my water bottle, and eventually wandered dizzily over to gear check. In the process, I lost both guys, but immediately my thoughts were otherwise occupied as their friend Rich picked that moment to pass completely out. Knowing I couldn't help catch him, I did the only thing I could think of: grabbed his beer before it spilled. He woke right back up, I poured some cold water on the towel around his neck, and he decided to stand up again. A brief game of rock em sock em robot in reverse ensued, as he went down two or three times in a row, scaring the crap out of me, his friends, and the two medics. It turns out to have been a blood sugar plus heat plus standing around in one place in the sun for too long thing, which just goes to show that even an experienced runner can sometimes be an idiot in new and fascinating ways.

After we got Rich squared away, I felt like I could leave (not only was I not about to leave a friend of a friend--or even a complete stranger--who was in medical distress, my gear-check bag was propping up his feet) and made my way back to the shuttle. At this point I was feeling physically better, but my brain had developed a pretty good case of zombie ass too. I couldn't figure out my next plan. So I drove to Nicole and Brian's for a shower and a nap, having already checked out of my hotel room (at four am. Just had to get that in there one more time.)

Leaving town I got turned around (not quite lost, but not quite not-lost either) no fewer than three times (which I confess led to a very rude text to poor Mike asking him what the fuck was with the people who designed these roads) and then proceeded to get pulled over on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. The worst part of this was not the humiliation, nor was it the fact that I am on a grad student budget, nor was it even the fact that I was not the only one speeding--in fact, I was merely keeping up--but the only one with out-of-state plates in my fleet. No, the worst part of this was he took twenty-five minutes to write up my ticket. While my thighs and ass were there calcifying. Also, six hours. PA. Morning class. Lecture notes. Caffeine. Coherence. Ringing any bells yet?

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful except for the realisation of how long it's been since I used to drive out to Indiana to see my boyfriend in the nineties and would always start the road trip with the Indigo Girls catalogue. Just for nostalgia, I did the same on this trip, and even round trip I wasn't able to make my way through the entire thing. I still have two albums to go, and I didn't even do rarities, B sides, live albums, or other miscellaneous crap. I didn't even used to be able to get across Pennsylvania before I got to the end of their discography. Weirdness. Old. I has it.

Got home, pried myself out of the car without use of a shoehorn, opened my front door and found that one of the cats (I'm looking at you, fuzzy black kitten) had not only dug in, but crapped in, a houseplant.

Some races are just like that.