Saturday, October 16, 2010

Race Day

My day today started at 4:30 am. I managed to recognize my alarm as something other than a dream, and rolled myself out of bed. Brush teeth, wash face, throw on clothes, fashion a pony tail. I made it to my friend's house by 5:30 as planned, and we set off for Baltimore.

The sky was just changing from pitch black as we found parking in a lot behind the Raven's stadium. We met up with one of our other teammates, and huddled in the bathroom for a little while, chatting, fastening on our bibs with safety pins, and avoiding the chilly morning air. Finally it was time for me to catch the bus to my relay point, half an hour before the start of the race. I sat on a warm school bus, listening to nervous chattering all around me, as we zipped through downtown Baltimore and up north to our start point. I looked at our line of buses, at least 10 buses long, and the crew of police cars and policeman escorting us, blocking traffic. And I couldn't help tearing up, feeling emotional. Somebody thought what we were about to do was important enough for this, for the hoopla. I inwardly laughed at myself, and wondered about how emotional I'd be at the end, if I was already crying (spoiler alert: I was far too exhausted to cry).

Our route through Baltimore took me through so many familiar areas, places I had seen many times, places I had been, places I had lived. Our buses drove right past the driveway to the Department of Biology building at Hopkins, the place where I devoted many hours and made many friends. Right past the new-ish building where M. worked, toward the end of his grad school experience, after his department moved out of their old, rusty, cranky headquarters. I saw the Stieff Silver building, the Maryland College Institute of Art, the Belvedere building. We almost, almost made it up to my old apartment building, a beloved brick building built in the 1920's with few amenities but lots of charm, until each bus, one by one, made a 3-point turn to back track and drop us at the exchange point.

My first thought, upon emerging from the bus, was to find a port-a-potty to pee... and maybe, ahem, do more (nerves, what can I say?). Some busmates and I looked around for the facilities and saw... a line. A very long line, leading up to ONE port-a-potty. One port-a-potty, for hundreds of people. Pretty sure someone screwed up there. Perhaps some of the 100 or so port-a-potties at the finish line were meant to be delivered to Relay Point #2? Maybe at least one or two were wrongly directed? Figuring out how to handle this situation took up a good chunk of the time I would have otherwise spent hanging around pacing and fiddling with my iPod. Never fear - someone managed to get in to one of the locked Hopkins academic buildings, and a steady stream of runners (including myself) made good use of their very nice (read: far superior to a port-a-potty) facilities.

By then it was about 8:30, and the race had been underway for half an hour. The relay teams started at the same time as the full marathon runners. I was expecting my teammate right around 9:00 based on her predicted pace. I spent some time stretching, talked a bit with a friend who happened to be running the relay as well (this was nice, as I wasn't expecting to know anyone), and then watched the front runners for the marathon pass by. The wheelchair participants were crossing by us (at mile 5.7) by 8:30 or so, and the leaders of the runners began showing up by 8:45. I was blown away by how fast they were running - not only was it uphill at that point (and a steep hill at that), but they still had over 20 miles to go!

I nervously alternated keeping watch for my teammate and checking my cell phone to see what time it was. The race transponder would only record one time for our whole team, so the only way to know my own pace was to figure out what time I started, and what time I ended. I glanced at my phone at 9:01, and about a minute and a half later, I spotted my friend. She ran uphill for most of her 5.7 miles, and looked DONE. I'm pretty sure she was happy to see me :-). I grabbed the transponder from her, tossed her my sweatshirt and bag, and took off.

The race itself was a) fun, and b) exhausting. The fun part was the beginning. After a slight uphill, it was downhill for about 3 miles straight. And not a steep, bone-rattling/knee-jarring downhill. It was fairly gentle, just the kind of hill I like to be running down. As I neared the Inner Harbor, I began to wonder when I would see M. and the kids. He had gotten them up and out of the house by 7 am, drove to a light rail station south of the city (think above-ground subway), and took the train in so they could all cheer me on. Luckily, my leg of the race circled down close to the finish line, so he could pretty easily see me at about my halfway point AND at the end of my leg, and we were still positioned pretty well to get to the finish line to cheer on my last teammate.

I managed to spot M. and the kids - M. tried to video me, but apparently didn't actually have the camera ON. At that point I looked perky still. The kids saw me, but looked a bit confused and didn't really get excited.

Then I continued on, excited to end the race and hang out with them. I had figured that seeing M. would be about the mid-point of my leg, but as I continued running on a road that was supposed to loop back around, and I still hadn't looped around yet, I began to realize that M. probably hadn't been waiting at the midpoint, he'd been earlier than that. And I couldn't find a mile marker for the life of me (through the entire race I never saw one, though I imagine they must have had them) to know how much further I had to go. AND, I was suddenly tired. My legs were numb - they had been from the start (the cold, maybe?). But now they were also tired. I was slowing down, in the face of what I was sure was a lot longer to go. And we were no longer running downhill. There were some uphills, though they were pretty gentle (and I really can't complain about them, as I have seen a map of the course elevation and I know my teammates had some hills that were doozies). I kept grabbing cups of water and trying to gulp some down, though I wasn't terribly thirsty. I would have preferred food, I think - at that point, my Cliff bar and Cliff gels that I had gulped down earlier were no longer giving me energy.

We finally cut across and started back toward our relay point. I tried my best to find a couple of bursts of energy, to move my legs faster. Sometimes it's easier to run faster - if you run too slowly, your mind focuses on just how slow you're going and tries to convince you to just stop. So I pushed on, intermittently, running a bit slower in between. I never walked.

After the loop around, I wasn't sure how much further I had to go. My perspective was completely confused. But then I saw one of my teammates, the one who had run the first leg of the race. I saw her, cheering for me and smiling, and asked her how much more I had left. She told me I was almost done (still wasn't sure what that meant), and that my next teammate was all set to take over. She ran with me for a little bit, then ran ahead to let our teammate know I was headed her way. I realized, then, finally, that I truly was almost done. I saw the Relay banner, and the crowds of runners waiting to take over. And I saw M. and the kids again, cheering for me, waving at me, encouraging me. I picked up my speed for the last little bit, suddenly renewed, and made it to my teammate. I shoved the transponder at her, gave her a hug, and looked at my cell phone: 10:21 am.

78 minutes to run 7 miles. Boo-Yah!

Just before the end, when I passed by M. and the kids the second time. You can see my friend running just ahead of me, getting ready to alert our teammate that I was coming. Excuse the lengthy rear-end footage, please :-)

The kids waiting for me to run by

Me and two of my teammates, after the race (our fearless fourth had to leave just before this was taken)


  1. Wow! I'm so very impressed with your running and spirit. . .loved the videos and hope you're home having a large glass of wine with r and r tonight! lots of love, Mimi and Papa

  2. so proud! you look like such a pro!

  3. I'm so impressed! You did a great job...does this mean a full marathon is in your future :-) Ha!

  4. Yippee! Awesome and congratulations!