Memorial day weekend has become a two-day pilgrimage for D and me with a solid set of rituals: Saturday is the village-wide garage sale, so we each spend the morning scouring our town for bargains before we leave, planning our convergence for noon.
Inevitably I run late, but since I drive D must wait for me (ha ha!).
We throw our bags of running stuff into the back of the Versa (oh, how I LOVE our new car!) and we’re off. The trek to Buffalo is uneventful and we make record time, arriving at the Hyatt to pick up our race packets. As usual, the Hyatt lobby is chaotic: a line for check-in snakes around nearly into the bar/atrium. D and I smirk smugly and go straight upstairs to the expo–we will NOT be putting up with the Hyatt’s incompetence this year.
Once at the expo, D and I cue up: she at the marathon table, me at the half. I have a fleeting pang of something hard to identify; it’s like a yearning for the “real” marathon, a bit of shame for not being in the line I should be, a bit of embarrassment maybe that I’m only standing to get a red half number (the scarlet number!) rather than getting that black one. The feeling is fleeting, however, and when I get my goody bag and my bib the general excitement of a race overcomes me.
We trek to the Catholic church to stuff ourselves with spaghetti and meatballs. Somehow this simple meal is the best-tasting pasta I’ve ever had. D and I eat slowly, watching other runners wander in to the bingo hall, identifying those we remember from last year. I recognize a woman, probably in her 60s, who passed me last year near mile 22.
Our check-in at the Days Inn several blocks north of the starting line is uneventful; our room is exceptionally clean and the staff friendly. Our only disappointment is that the continental breakfast does not open until 7, which is gun time, so after we scope out the room and settle in a bit, we venture back out to a grocery store for some cup noodles that we can prepare in the room with the coffee maker. We return to the room and watch Forrest Gump (a great inspirational running flick!) and retire early, around 10. I sleep amazingly well.
Race morning we walk south to the starting lines; the weather is perfect, overcast and cool but not cold (about 65, if I remember right). I am only unhappy with the way my shorts are behaving. They are threatening to creep into my crotch and I must yank them down every-so-often. The marathon and half-marathon start lines are one block away from each other, so I walk D over to her start and give her a big hug. I am briefly melancholy as I leave her, but as I join the runners at my own starting line, and as the Canadian national anthem begins, I realize that a runner in a race like this cannot possibly be lonely–there were 500 people standing in the street with me, all of whom would undoubtedly have a kind word and a smile if I approached them.
As the gun goes off and we make our way slowly across the mats, I focus on my “strategery”: run ten minutes + walk one, concentrating on light and quick foot turn over. I have not really trained for this race, save for a handful of slow three milers as I let my knee mend. But I haven’t had any pain for a couple weeks, and I’ve promised myself that I won’t do anything dumb and re-injure myself during this run.
And then I begin to pick out runners that I will beat.
The couple whose green T-shirts say “Bride 2 be” and “Groom 2 be.” Surely they are running this race as a bonding ritual and are not planning to PR. The man who has many gadgets and wires attached to his person: his mp3 player, gps, camelpack, heart rate monitor. Surely all the alarms and appliances will require his attention and hold him up.
The first 4 miles are uneventful; I average between a 10-11 minute mile, even with the walk breaks. Running along the lake and through the marina is pleasant and I distract myself by looking at the sailboats and watching for D. The first time we pass one another she is oblivious to my cheering (“Moose! Moose!”) and I nearly collide with another runner.
The course has changed since last year, and so once we come out of the marina instead of running north we run south, still along the water, through an industrial district and then adjacent to a nature preserve. Along the way I chat briefly with several people and choose more people that I will beat: a woman wearing a pristine white tech shirt and pressed-looking black wind pants who’s hair at mile 7 is still completely unmussed and her armpits dry. A pair of women who, at mile 9, have a mini-celebration with themselves because, “Holy F&*#! We’ve never run *this* far before!!” A guy whose heels scuff the asphalt at every footfall, and whose Under Armor get-up looks a little too put together.
Seeing the wind generators along the lake warmed the cockles of my heart. And that sounds goofy, but I’m very serious: seeing the large swooping blades of the turbines quickened my pulse. The same way I’ve been culturally positioned to feel fear and dread at the site of nuke stacks, the sight of wind generators makes me feel peaceful and happy.
Somehow I missed the mile marker at mile 10, and so when the mile 11 marker came it was like a special gift. Delirium is not really a factor in half-marathons, so I did not have the urge to kiss a sweaty stranger as a result, but it was exhilarating nonetheless.
I skipped my last walking break and ran the last two miles straight through, passing ALL my targets in addition to several people I hadn’t seen in miles.
It. Felt. Amazing. The half-marathon is a perfect distance: just enough to push and test, but not so much that the body is a crippled mess at the end.
Official time: 2:21:50 Average pace per mile: 10:50.