I did it! I did it!
And now you can relive the glory with me, mile by mile:
Wide awake. For no particular reason. The alarm will go off at 6:00. Which means I get to run 13.1 miles on four hours’ sleep. Assuming I can get to sleep. ACK!
I’m driving down Lake Shore Drive toward the Museum of Science and Industry, waaaaaay on the other end of town. The race starts in an hour. I feel pretty good, considering I’ve had four hours of sleep and my tendonitis has prevented me from doing any training for a week. But I have a Power Bar in my gut and prescription-strength anti-inflammatory drugs in my veins, and I’m ready to rumble!
The starting line
The race will wind through parts of Hyde Park to Lake Shore Drive, run up the Drive a couple miles then turn around and retrace itself back to where it started, eventually turning the start line into the finish line. Unfortunately, whoever put up the banner with “start” on one side and “finish” on the other did it BACKWARD—meaning we’ll start under the finish sign and finish under the start sign.
The mind boggles.
We’ve barely reached the point where the crowd spaces itself out and we can start running at our regular individual paces. Suddenly a cop with a bullhorn drives by, sternly warning us to stay on the left side of the road because the race doubles back this way at the end and the early finishers will need to get through.
Right. Because even though the best half-marathon winners do 13.1 miles in a little over an hour, we’ve managed to seed our race with runners who can cover that distance in FIVE MINUTES.
Obviously, this was also the guy in charge of hanging the start/finish banner.
A female runner makes a pretty big scene of working her way across the pack from the left side of the road to the right side and heads for the bushes. Of course, we all follow her with our eyes to make sure she’s not hurt—and our runners’ altruism is rewarded with a shot of her squatting indelicately behind a tree, spraying her unused Gatorade all over the ground.
There are port-a-potties like every 10 feet along the course, and she has to pee behind a tree (actually, only kind of behind a tree) like a common housecat. Classy.
Hyde Park—at least the parts of Hyde Park where we’re running—is amazingly lush and verdant and beautiful. There are trees and rolling hills and landscaping and well-maintained roads and even a giant gilded statue of a benevolent woman holding implements whose symbolism is lost on me (all of which I’m guessing is left over from the 1893 Columbian Exposition, which initially developed this area of the city and gave us the glorious building that now houses the Museum of Science & Industry). I should really come down here more often.
We’re out of the aforementioned lush neighborhoods and pounding our way north on Lake Shore Drive.
An old man running in front of me lets out a mighty grapefruit fart—juicy and multi-sectioned—without even looking around to see if anyone is behind him. Sheesh! Everyone knows the cardinal rule of run farting is to at least give the impression of discretion.
Wasn’t Impression of Discretion an ’80s hair band?
I pass a woman standing on the side of the road with a hand-lettered sign that says, “Run Tamara Run!” I want to stop and tell her that the race is TODAY, but I don’t think she’d get it.
Um … this mile is kind of a blur. But I’m pretty sure I did it.
59:38 on the timer. Which means almost exact nine-minute miles. I’d originally hoped to beat this pace—the pace I always do—but I’m just thankful my tendons are so graciously allowing me to run at all today. I’ll take the nine-minute miles.
The turnaround on Lake Shore Drive. A kids’ drum corps is pounding out a funky cadence beside the road to keep us motivated. The air is warm and summery with a hint of fall in it. The trees around us are just starting to turn color. I have flashbacks to my late-summer marching band rehearsals in high school. I’m soooo glad I’m not carrying my trombone at the moment.
My knee hurts. Bad. And not in a what-you-should-expect-after-8-miles kind of way. But my IT band and my hip flexor are still pretty pain-free.
There are faint footprints in the concrete on Lake Shore Drive—a ghostly signature from one of the myriads of forgotten workers who’ve built and paved this road over the decades. It’s not something you’d ever see from your car, which makes it kind of a secret hello from one of the privileged few who get to traverse this tiny little section of the city on foot to another.
An egg-shaped man passes me at a pretty healthy pace. He’s running kind of funny, though, and I notice he’s taking short, rapid strides using only his toes and the balls of his feet. He looks, quite frankly, like a mincy little queen. Or a victim of Japanese foot binding.
And he’s kicking my ass. I choose to find this amusing.
I hear “Hi, Jake!” as familiar-looking guy passes me and smiles. I say hi back—and once he’s out of conversational reach, I remember he’s one of my ex-boyfriend’s friends. I haven’t seen him in two years. I barely recognized him, but he was able to recognize me and remember my name—from behind. I suck.
My IT band is NOT happy. In fact it is all but literally screaming in pain. I press my fingers into my right hip and go the next mile as though I’m trying to encourage my fellow runners to join me in a rousing chorus of “I’m a Little Teapot.”
An open letter to the people who clap and whoop and cheer and hold signs along the routes of long races:
You people ROCK. You rock more than porno sex. And Sibelius’ Second Symphony. And the lobby of the Palmer House. And hot guys in jeans and flip-flops. And springy new running shoes. And Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. And those little molten chocolate soufflé desserts served with vanilla-bean ice cream and perhaps some sprinkles of candied ginger. I love you.
The home stretch. I am NOT feeling so good (physically, that is—I’m emotionally still in the game) and I probably look like a horse that needs to be shot. People are cheering and whooping along the side of the road and the runners are jockeying for space to do their final sprints. I’m just hoping my leg doesn’t fall off and cause a scene.
The finish line
Nobody got the sign turned around, so I finish my epic journey under a yellow banner that clearly says START. I’m just so happy to be done that I cross the finish line, let the nice chip lady cut the timing chip off my shoe and limp over to something sturdy so I can stretch my IT band without falling over. About five minutes later, I suddenly realize I never looked at my time.
Thankfully, the miracle of the Internet has it for me by the end of the day: 2:03:13, which is my chip time—as opposed to 2:03:50, which is my final time. (Shouldn’t my chip time be my official time? Anybody?) So my final pace is about 9.4-minute miles, which is not bad for a crippled old horse (I almost typed “whorse” there for some reason … hmmm …) who hasn’t run in seven days.
Real races reward you with tasty, sugary treats and other fast-acting carbs: cookies, granola bars, bananas, sports drinks, more cookies. Not here. The cop who hung the start/finish banner was also in charge of the post-race food. Which is why we get dinner rolls (just one!), flavored sparkling water (just one can!) and potato chips (just one bag!). ACK! I challenge you to find me one runner who craves—or can even choke down—potato chips after two hours of running.
Aside from the friend of the ex-boyfriend—whom I can’t find anyway—I know NOBODY at the race. So I eat what little there is that isn’t chips and sparkling water, stretch for another 20 minutes, and limp to my car.
And when I get home, I sleep like the DEAD. The very, very happy dead.