Editors Note: This is going to be a long post, so grab a cup of coffee, sit back and relax with your feet up. Tell your secretary to hold all calls and ask your boss to come back at a better time.
I stood with the huddled masses, shivering at the start as the rain drizzled down around us. It was 41 degrees and I was leaning close to the other runners, soaking up as much of their heat as I could. As we breathed into our hands and bounced to keep warm it struck me as ironic that only a week ago runners in Chicago were faced with overwhelming heat and not enough water. In Denver there was so much water it was falling from the sky.
I was stuck at the back of the pack on account of my bladder deciding that it was too full just minutes before we were called to the start. I can see the 9 minute pace corral way up ahead of me but I can’t get to it. It’s OK because my race strategy is to run at a slower pace for the first 4 miles and put myself 2 minutes behind the required pace for a sub 2 hour half marathon. After mile 4 I intended to pick up the pace and make up those 2 minutes over the next 9.1 miles.
The gun goes off and a minute later I’m shuffling towards the start I put my headphones in and select my Denver Half Marathon playlist. I eventually cross the start and immediately find myself leaping over discarded sweatshirts, pants, rain jackets, ponchos, trash bags with arm holes, and even a pair of underwear. I guess they were chafing someone. It only takes a mile for me to become completely soaked which is a relief. I enjoy running in the rain, it’s just the initial getting wet part that sucks. Now that I’ve got that out of the way I can focus on my race.
At 3 miles I check my watch and find that I’m already 2 minutes behind the pace for a sub 2 hour marathon so I begin to increase my tempo. At this point I’m quite happy about the slow start as I have NEVER been able to start a race slowly and then speed up, I’m apparently more of a start-quickly-and-fade guy.
Having already run through the first two water stops without taking any liquids I decide that I had better grab some at mile 5 despite my bladder’s continued pleas to be emptied. By mile 6 I’m running through city park, where I am no longer sheltered by the high rise buildings. The wind is biting through my wet clothes and I pretty sure that my nipples could cut glass at this point. I check my watch and I’m only 1 minute behind a sub 2 hour pace, which means that I’m making up time nicely. I reach out to take a Clif Shot and the girl hands me three. I glance at the flavor to see what I’ve been handed and it’s Vanilla. It may sound stupid, but cold and wet and 6 miles deep into a half marathon I felt like it was a sign. It was like the sun was bursting through the clouds and angels were singing “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” Only there was no sun, only rain. I downed one of the shot gels, put one in my pocket for later and tossed the third one back towards the girl who’d handed it to me.
By mile 7 I wasn’t paying attention to my MP3 player, I wasn’t thinking about how cold or tired I was. I was simply weighing the pros and cons of peeing my pants. The fact that running can put you in a situation that allows you to even consider this as a viable option is probably grounds for quitting. My shoes were already soaked, and if my shorts would have been wet enough to hide it I would have probably just peed myself.
I reached mile 8 and had almost dropped back to 2 minutes off the pace again. I was extremely disheartened and began to doubt my ability to finish in under 2 hours. Mile 9 had a couple of tough uphill sections and I felt sure that my pace had fallen again. The rain and cold got to me and I decided to stop and pee in Cheesman Park. Hoping to take no more than 15 seconds I found a nice bushy tree, I ducked under the branches and... Holy Shrinkage Batman! 45 seconds later I was back on the course and feeling much better.
‘Come on Vanilla’ I told myself, and yes I actually said Vanilla instead of Ian, because I was trying to remind myself that I’d have to blog about how I failed. I don’t know if it was the fact that I was carrying 7 less pounds of urine or if the 45 second break recharged me, but I was running strong. There was a hill at mile 10 but I didn’t even feel it, I was passing people like they were volcanic lava. I passed mile 11 without looking at my watch, it didn’t matter, I was just running. I grabbed a Gatorade and splashed it up my nose and down my front, it didn’t matter. I was running, I was Forrest Gump.
At mile 12 I did look at my watch: 1:50:06. All I needed was a 9 minute pace. I felt like I was on the verge of achieving my goal. I was willing myself to the finish. With less than a half mile to go I was only conscious of my legs as those weights beneath my hips. I crossed the finish line and stopped my watch at 1:59:42. Initial feelings of disbelief turned momentarily to elation and pride before giving way to uncontrollable shivering and icy pain.
Tomorrow I’ll have some more pictures and more on the post race thaw. Update: Here