Sunday, April 1, 2012

#400: Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon

An unlikely cover boy
The Run the Bluegrass was my second Half Marathon. Parts of it were easy and familiar to me, others left me struck with awe, admiration, or stupor, depending on the circumstances.

My pre-race routine is getting pretty set. In the days before a race, I prep as if it were a marathon. Ease up on the the training. Focus on fruits, veggies, and whole grains at the table. I always pickup my race packet early so I don't have to figure out what to do with a plastic bag full of coupons and swag half an hour before the race. The day before, I do the sleep math, counting backwards. On site about 90 minutes early. Travel time. Two hours to dress, eat, and use the bathroom before I leave. Seven to eight hours of sleep. An hour to pack my bag. Wherever that puts me on the clock, is where I start my countdown. This weekend it was 8:00 PM, Friday night.

This little bald lady is tougher than you
We finished our LIVESTRONG at the YMCA session with a half hour walk on the Legacy. The girls zoomed on ahead while I walked behind with F, who is the toughest man I've ever met. F has had cancer three times. He also has a rare wasting disease that is slowly erasing his muscles. And he has the heart of a lion. I've watched him grimace as he squats four or five inches, the most his legs will allow. I've seen him progress from pantomime bench presses, straining to simply move his clenched fists up and down, to knocking out 12 reps with a 9 pound bar. I watched him get thrown off a treadmill, take stock of his bumps, ask for a hand back up, then get back on the thing and finish his cardio. F isn't exercising so he can fit into smaller jeans. F is fighting for his life. He's one of the reasons I keep asking you for money. (You can do that by clicking the link, by the way.)

We finished at 7:30, and I booked it on home. Mrs P had a hard day, and had stopped for pizza and beer. I was tempted for a moment, but the thought of port-a-potties somewhere around mile 10 convinced me that I'd be better off with a bowl of granola for supper. Then it was time to pack.

Locked and loaded
For me, packing is a fairly obsessive process. I empty out my whole bag onto the bed. Don't need the swim goggles. Don't need the lifting gloves. One wet sock? Seriously? Get a towel. Extra towel. Three towels. You never know. Find the expensive running socks. Both pairs, in case of puddles. Which shoes? The new shoes, of course. My favorite compression shorts? My black LIVESTRONG running shorts? They're in the washing machine. Crap. Put them in the dryer and pray not to forget where you put them in the morning. (as if I'd forget to put on pants. Garmin? Charged. Timex? Run walk interval alarm set. Tape, Body Glide, Aquaphor, Band-aids? Check. Finally, I lay out my new dri-fit YMCA tank and pin my bib on. Mrs P managed to get the blood spots out from last weeks long run, but in my mind, I know they're still there, right over my heart. Pack and repack two or three times, just to be sure I haven't forgotten anything. Trim my toenails. Take a shower. In bed by 9:00, where visions of Bluegrass hills dance in my head. 

The dogs wake me at 2:00 to go out for a pee in the rain. The alarm wakes me at 5:00 and it's race day.

Weight? 254. Excellent. Heart rate? 58. Right on. One cup of coffee. One bagel with jelly. Wait for nature's call. Swap my jammies for the royal blue compression shorts and the black shorts. Mrs P is stirring in the bedroom, so I go back there to finish dressing. Grease up the feet with Aquaphor. Pull on the good socks. Double knot the shoes. Sun block. Slather the nips. Try to put 'Iron Man" cartoon band aids on them. Mrs P points out I've done that backwards, as the band aids fall off my lubricated chest. Finally, pull on the shirt and my YMCA Staff fleece to keep warm, and let my sweet bride go back to sleep. She promises to be there at the finish line with her camera. 

Nature finally calls, but only on line 1. I finally give up on waiting for line 2 to ring and leave, hoping for the best.

 "Is this heaven?" "No, it's Kentucky."
You know the final scene from Field of Dreams where miles and miles of headlights are snaking along the road in the dark toward the baseball field? That's what I see in my rear-view mirror as I turn onto Versailles Road at 6:00 in the morning. All these people. From all over the country. All coming to run these hills that I love so much. Last night's rain has left a misty, mystical fog on the ground and the air glows with pre-dawn light.

Something cool is happening at these gatherings. I'm meeting friends. These are people I've run with. People from the Y. People I know on Facebook. Faces from other events. A guy I used to go to church with. Ladonna, my fellow cancer fighter. Bob, who swore me to secrecy about his training, who has been preparing for this day since autumn. I'm one of them, now. I'm part of the community of idiots who get up at 5:00 in the morning to run. And they're some of the most supportive, generous people I know.

LaDonna reminding me why we're here
I wander around the crowd, taking it all in. Long sleepy lines for the bathroom. Drowsy bodies in warm up clothes stretching on the floor. A few of us trotting around outside to get the blood flowing in the legs. Slowly, 2000 people gather at the starting line. The horn sounds, and we're off.

Actually, the elite runners are off. We mortals are waiting in a line four lanes wide to filter through the starting gate. It takes my group about four minutes to reach the gizmo that will read out timing chips. I start my Garmin, and we're off. 

Target pace? 13:00/min. Must have been the Gatorade...
I told you all about the course in last week's post. We flow along the curves and hills, this river of brightly colored running clothes. Runners are stopping to take pictures. We laugh to each other as each new climb starts. I tuck in behind one runner after another as I fall into my 3:00 run/1:00 walk intervals. Many who pass me early, I catch later when their legs start to tire. God bless Jeff Galloway. Every two miles or so, a crowd of cheering kids holds out paper cups. "Water? Gatorade?" I stick with water for the first half, then switch to the sweet sticky stuff at around 7 miles. The last 3 miles are a celebration for me. I follow a group of friends, much stronger runners than I, who are joking and teasing and stopping every few hundred yards to take pictures. This isn't a contest, it's a festival, it's a holiday for loving life. I run the last two miles faster than I ran the first, and as I approach the finish line, there is Mrs P, always beaming, shooting pictures through tears of pride. I feel myself choke up a little too, but I'm not sure if it's from emotion or if I'm having a heart attack. 

He's with Stupid
At the end of the finisher's corral, a person whose gender I don't even remember holds up a blue and white checked ribbon, just like the colors Secretariat wore, and slips my medal over my neck. I float through the crowd dazed until Mrs P catches up with me. My friend Bob greets me with a bottle of water and a banana in his hand. We embrace, take more pictures, smile and laugh, then drift off toward the parking lot. When I look over my shoulder, I see Bob, standing still, watching the crowd. He isn't ready to leave. He's drinking it in. 

I don't really have an ending for this. On the drive home, a thought came to me: How much better would our world be if every now and then, we all got together on a Saturday morning and ran together? I think it might make a big difference.


Hey, don't forget to make your donation to Living Strong at the Y. It's easy, it's cheap, and you'll be a much better person if you do. Promise.


  1. Great post. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

  2. Beautiful. I was just behind LaDonna at the start - long enough to read and be moved by her shirt.

    It was a beautiful morning. Grueling, but in the most beautiful way.


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