About halfway through my 50th trip around the sun, I ran into my friend, Chris, who is slightly older, much thinner, and far wiser than I am. In spite of these traits, I like her very much. I had no idea she was a runner – a runner/walker, actually. She had this vest on from a recent marathon; I knew she was a cyclist and vegetarian, but a marathoner? Hmmm. Food for thought.
About that same time, I was watching an episode of Malcolm in the Middle where Hal decides to take up racewalking and, remarkably, has a natural talent for it. As stupid as he looked in his racewalking gear, I thought, hey, maybe that’s what I should do. I’m used to looking like an idiot.
I had this self-competitive urge lurking which hadn’t been exercised in, oh, I don’t know, about 30 years. And it was looking for something significant to do. Running had always been in the back of my mind, along with getting back down to my dainty “wedding weight” and dragging out the ironing board.
But ten years earlier, one overly ambitious month of running had led to 18 months of plantar fasciitis rehab and an overabundance of hobbling and anti-inflammatories. Nope, not gonna do that again.
But racewalking? Maybe. Just normal walking? No. Unless it’s on a beach with someone very handsome and a glass of something yummy like rum, on a warm day, probably not. Hiking? Only when forced.
So this racewalking thing had been ruminating in my mind like the kale in my refrigerator; sure, it’ll happen someday…and then I put another unused head of it in the trash and realize that someday still wasn’t today.
So one day in August 2006, I put on the baggiest shorts I could find (there weren’t many left, as I was about 25 pounds heavier than I should have been, thanks to my eighteen months of hobbling), along with my generic pseudo-running shoes and cutesy cotton socks and headed out the door.
My husband, Gary, the ex-marathoner from 30 years earlier, just shook his head and sucked his teeth. For once, he didn’t have much to say.
I ran 30 steps, walked 30 steps and proceeded to repeat that for a mile around the neighborhood. Parts of me jiggled that I didn’t know I had and still deny. It wasn’t pretty, but then, you knew that.
I am always full of energy and ideas on January 1. I drag out calendars and paper, make crazy lists and promises to myself that I rarely keep. I know I am the only person who does this.
In the midst of all of that über planning, I admitted to Gary on January 1, 2007 that I really, really wanted to run a half-marathon. He made that sucking sound with his teeth again and feigned a smile.
Fast-forward 15 months later. I’ve survived shin splits and stuck with it. I’ve lost weight. I’ve bought my first pair of real running shoes, non-cotton socks, and several different styles of uni-boob running bras. Damn those girls; they’re not where they used to be…
I’ve religiously run/walked three days a week and even made it up to 13 miles once. I have run all of my training miles with Henry and no one else…
I’ve read Runners World cover-to-cover every month, as if it were really written for aging, unathletic women like me. I have an autographed poster of Deena Kastor in my office. We have so much in common; we both have had a broken foot. And we both love to cook. And, I have a running shirt just like hers:
We head to Seattle to run the Seattle Half-Marathon 2007 the weekend after Thanksgiving with Gary’s son, Mike and his wife, Gina. Mike has run one half before and plans to run with Gina. It’s her first time too. We’re both nervous.
The Day Before: After going to our first race expo, we met some friends at one of Tom Douglas’ restaurants in Seattle, Serious Pie. In the spirit of gourmet carbo-loading, we indulged in chanterelle mushroom and brie pizza and pork belly with green pea puree. Alcohol may have been involved. But it was seriously delicious. I have a fairly cast-iron digestive system, so I chose to ignore the advice about not eating anything weird or new the day before a race. Silly me.
Gina and I took off to drive as much of the course as possible. The pork belly took its revenge on us about halfway through. It wasn’t pretty, but we found a gas station, just in time.
More enjoyable carbo-loading was had at dinner with a few glasses of wine. And then not much sleep. “What the hell was I thinking?,” kept running through my head. I tossed and turned which I now know is perfectly normal.
Up at 4:30 am, I got dressed and scoured the house for food. Mike, with his vast experience of one half-marathon behind him, knew what exactly his pre-race meal would be: Red Bull and a Rice Krispy treat. I opted for something less, um, stimulating. The Starbucks Doubleshot worked its magic and we made on our way to downtown Seattle.
The Seattle Half is a pretty big race, around 6,000-7,000 people run just the half. We got there early –early enough to see the marathoners take off and get premium spots in the porta-potty lines. It’s something to do…
The weather is really nice – high 30s, sunny, and calm. This is my first experience with race-start adrenaline. Mike and Gina wave off Gina’s running coach and the rest of her mommy running group and we take off through the heart of downtown Seattle.
I have read just enough running books to know that I need a realistic PLAN for how I am going to run this half-marathon. I had a first-generation running watch that was set for 4:1 run/walk intervals. I felt GREAT. But suddenly I felt like I could run like this forever. My plan went out the door with my kale. I said good luck to Mike and Gina and took off…channeling Deena Kastor.
I blew by every aid station too, of course. Thirsty? Nah. Who needs it? I could do this all freakin’ day!
Things were going great until around mile 7. At my first water station, it occurred to me that I had abandoned my well-thought-out-and-researched plan. Perhaps I should get back with the program. So I waited for my watch to beep and started walking.
Bloody hell. My legs have never run 7 straight miles before and now I’m asking them to walk? I’m in some serious trouble here.
I don’t mean to date myself here, but if you remember this photo of John Cleese, you’ll get the idea that my sudden attempt at walking didn’t go so well.
Both running and walking are now very bad ideas. I settle on an alien form of hobbling. My watch battery dies at about mile 11 which should give you a pretty good idea of how long I’ve been on the course. I consider it a sign from the Running Gods that I should stop immediately and check myself in to the nearest day spa.
I wonder if I have that ancient Vicodin prescription with me. Nope…just some weird-ass kiwi/peanut butter/bacon energy gel that I got on sale at REI. More than anything, I want to take a nap.
The last two miles are quite surreal, not to mention totally miserable. I alternate between lurching and staggering, along with several other very miserable-looking newbies. I am hallucinating as I head into the stadium toward the finish; I am neck-and-neck with Rocky, running up the steps:
I return to reality and somehow stagger across the finish line. Two medics dash up and ask if I am OK. Oh, yeah, I’m f—in’ great.
Mike and Gina cross a few moments later. I’ve wrapped a foil blanket around me and can’t stop hobbling and shivering. If I stop, every muscle in my body will cramp up and someone will force me to eat that hideous energy gel. We slowly stagger inside for post-race hot soup and my first attempt at sitting. It did not go well. You can see that Gary and my oldest grandson, Jackson, are getting a big kick out of my self-induced pain.
Later, back outside, we all appear to be human while Gary takes some photos:
Beeline to Mike and Gina’s house for the longest, hottest shower ever, serious anti-inflammatories, and an epic nap. And then an amazing, guilt-free seafood feast to celebrate.
John Bingham, the Patron Saint of Older Runners, says that you’ve succeeded if you finish a long-distance race accordingly:
- The same day you started…
- …and wanting to do it again!
After several, and I mean several, glasses of cold chardonnay, Gina and I agreed: We’ve got to do this again! It was SO much fun!
To this day, more than 8 years later, I still wonder what a “runner’s high” is. I have never felt endorphins while running.
The only thing I know about running is this:
The further you run, the better it feels when you stop.
Oh, and it’s more fun than eating kale, by a long shot.
Thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.