December 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

I ran a half-marathon last Sunday, the first race I’ve ever run.

It had been raining and miserable all week, but on Sunday morning it was clear, warm, and beautiful—we couldn’t have asked for better weather. The bus wasn’t convenient, and it was too early in the morning to ask our wives for a ride, so Kevin and I decided to bike there: 5 miles for me, 9 miles for Kevin. We left my house at 7:15 and got there on time. It was a big crowd, 1200 runners, people of all ages and shapes (but not all sizes). The starting gun was at 8:15; with everyone lined up, it took us 30 seconds just to get to the starting line. They had the streets blocked off, with traffic cones, police directing traffic, mile markers, and so on.

The route started at Adidas’ North American headquarters, went up to Pier Park at the northern end of Portland, and then turned around and came back. My map omits about two miles of squiggles they added at the beginning to get the requisite length, but you can see how it goes along the cliffs to the east of the Willamette, past the University of Portland campus, under the St. Johns bridge, and past Pier Park. From the cliffs, we could see all the way to downtown. I was surprised at how far away it was; we’d started the day on the far side of downtown, and come the distance on our own power.

About two thirds of the way to the turnaround, the lead runner passed us coming back—so he was going about twice as fast as we were! Kevin and I ran at our own pace, and even walked a bit when we felt like it. Many more people passed us, including plenty of little old ladies, than vice versa. But it’s a race against yourself, not some random person next to you.

Every so often they had a station set up where you could grab a cup of water or a packet of sugary energy goop. Water is obviously a good thing; I ate some goop about half-way through, and it definitely helped.

At roughly the half-way mark, we passed one woman standing off to the side throwing up. Later on, she passed us! Don’t you think that, if you’re throwing up, perhaps you should slow down?

We finished in 2 hours and 10 minutes, roughly a ten-minute mile on average. I’d been expecting to take between two to two and a half hours, so I was happy to be towards the faster end. I bet we could have done even better if we hadn’t biked. After we stopped, I felt fantastic—my heart and lungs were saying, “Piece of cake!”—but I could tell that if I didn’t keep walking around, my legs were ready to cramp up in a way far worse than anything I’d ever experienced before. I did keep walking, and things were fine. (Well, “within expectations” would be more honest.) At the finishing site there was more water, free soup, cornbread muffins, and… free beer! Kevin had a bowl of soup and a (pretty big) cup of beer. I had a bowl of soup. I started a beer, but my stomach said, “EVIDENTLY THERE HAS BEEN SOME SORT OF MISCOMMUNICATION”, so I dumped the beer under a bush.

Biking back, it rained on us a bit, but not with much sincerity. I was grateful for the essentially perfect weather during the race. Vivienne had french toast coming off the griddle as we walked in the door; Kevin stayed for a quick bite, and then biked the rest of the way home.

I had a great time, and I definitely want to do it again. I’d like to beat 2 hours. I have no interest in doing a full marathon.

Why did you run? Were you chased?

I was both chased and led, by the usual things.

I can’t honestly claim that fear of heart disease played any factor in the decision, although it should have. I haven’t lost weight. It hasn’t helped my sleep as much as switching pillows. And I don’t think it has helped my concentration. Some people say exercise brings a general sense of well-being, but, aside from the occasional bout of black despair, I’m generally pretty cheerful on my own. And I do go down stairs clutching the railing like an old man, after a longer run.

But I turn out to be immune to equipment fetishism. And I seem to be able to avoid the sorts of competitive feelings I find ugly.

I think the real reasons are these: It had aspects of a dare, mostly against my self-image as a pale geek who’d gotten used to being the last pick at school by third grade. And once I’d gotten started, I found that it felt really good, in a way that nothing else I do does; there’s surprising satisfaction in knowing that you can handle it. And I enjoy Kevin’s company.


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