I was nervous during the week leading up to the race. My last long run went very well. I did another six mile run the following Saturday, followed by an easy three mile jaunt the next day that included my first taste of gel packs, those doses of instant fuel that could keep me from hitting the wall at the end of the race. I followed the "don't introduce anything new on the day of the race" mantra and tried one. The vanilla flavor was delicious; it went down easily but took time to get out of the package; most importantly, it didn't upset my stomach.
It was a week to taper, according to my plan, but I ended up doing nothing. Yoga was cancelled due to Columbus Day. I didn't run at all, because my wife was in the midst of a cold for the entire week, as were my co-workers. Disease was all around me! I was concerned about waking up on race day with a whopper of a cold that would put me on the sidelines. So I went to bed early every night and hoped that my immune system would fight the good fight.
Race Day dawned bright and cold. Temperatures were below freezing overnight. What to wear? I decided to run in shorts and forego the tights. I had an Under Armor shirt with the half-marathon long-sleeved t-shirt over the top. I wore the same baseball cap that I'd done all my training in; no hat over my ears. I heeded the "no changes on race day" advice and ran in my minimals. I was determined to not give in to sneaker fear. My one concession to the cold was gloves. That turned out to be a very smart thought.
We drove into the city, parked in the convention center garage, and walked over to Bushnell Park. We had time, but there wouldn't be too much standing around. I was in line, right next to the "9 minute mile" sign, with only twenty minutes til race time. The crowd was shoulder to shoulder. Would the start be as viscous as the Manchester Road Race? It only took me two minutes to cross the starting line, and I was running comfortably right away. I hit the start button on my stopwatch and fell into my cadence - ninety right leg strikes per minute. The full and half marathon groups ran in one pack at the beginning. My biggest concern was taking a wrong turn and getting lost. But that turned out fine. There was a big sign at Main Street telling full marathons to turn left and half marathoners to turn right. After that, all I had to do was follow the crowd.
I didn't feel warm for the first mile or two, but everything was calm and relaxed. My breathing was smooth and comfortable. Nothing hurt. There was a Gatorade stop around mile two. I decided to take a cup at each stop to make sure that I didn't dehydrate. I didn't hurry. I'd stop, take the cup, gulp it down, and then head off. Drinking and running don't mix any more than drinking and driving do. I made sure that all my paper cups made it into a bin. The street was covered with crushed cups and spilled Gatorade. The volunteers would have a big cleanup job.
The training plan works. There were no official mile markers, but I got the idea that I was maintaining a nine-minute per mile pace without any strain. When I ran under the halfway arch the clock read 59 minutes. It was the first time I thought that I could actually break two hours. I noticed a woman wearing a yellow shirt that said "2:00 finish" on the back. She was the pace keeper: as long as I could stay with her I'd have a chance of meeting my time goal.
I was ahead of her when I entered Elizabeth Park, but some gentle slopes slowed me down more than I realized. I could see the Travelers tower ahead when I ran down Albany Ave past the eleven mile marker. The pace lady was within sight but ahead of me, surrounded by suffering acolytes who hoped for the reward of a two hour finish time. I had to decide: settle into a relaxed pace, call it a nice effort, and miss out on a two hour finish, or pick up my cadence and catch her. It was uncomfortable, but I decided on the latter course. I heard her say "You wanna bring it home?" as I passed her. I kept going until I couldn't hear her voice anymore. Less than two miles to go? That was all I could manage when I started this journey 16 months ago, but now it was easy. I pumped my arms and legs the whole way, under the Bushnell arch, into the chute, and under the finish arch. The clock read 1:59. My watch said 1:57. My average speed was a shade under nine minutes per mile, which was better than any training run I'd done.
I surprised my wife. I walked along like a veal calf to pick up a medal, a water bottle, and a bag with a banana and some other snacks. She sounded surprised when I called her on my cell phone. "Are you done?" she asked incredulously.
I enjoyed both the journey and the destination. It's so satisfying to say that I managed such a thing at my age. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, so much so that I'm happily thinking about another run in November.
Most importantly, I've made myself into a runner. What other transformation can I undergo? How else might I remake myself again?