Almosts and Not Quites

What do you say about the runs that weren’t all they were supposed to be?  I’ve had a couple of them this week.  This is my ode to – well, let’s not call it failure…

Last weekend I ran a half marathon.  It’s one that I’ve done now for the past three years, and it’s relatively convenient and I like the place and the race.  I almost didn’t do this one because it’s gotten expensive and I also, frankly, didn’t know if I had it in me to do another half marathon two weeks post-Pig.  I almost signed up for the 8k, so that I would know I could take my time and enjoy the after party.  But no, I thought, go big or go home.  And I worked my butt off at it.  I gutted it out.  I could not believe my pace.  I had to pee, I didn’t because this was a pace that I didn’t want to lose.  I didn’t want to lose it so badly that I was willing to risk peeing myself to keep going.  (I didn’t pee on myself, I did keep my pace.)  I crossed that finish line with the second or third best time I ever had in a half.  Probably the best I have done since fall 2014, in ANY race.

My Garmin read 12.73 miles.  Then it became known that everyone else’s read between 12.7 and 12.8, too.  After some confusion, it was determined that the course was short – when it was set up there was a loop we were supposed to take, and we all missed it.

There was a lot of drama.  A LOT.  On the one hand, I understand.  It was an expensive race, even without the hotel, gas, food, etc.  And for people who were using this to qualify for Half Fanatics, corral placement at another race, etc., I don’t know what they do.  It was… almost.  So I hope they can be accommodated and their results not just voided.  But for me… I’m going with a big ‘whatever’.  I love this race.  I had a fantastic experience.  I felt joy.  Real JOY.  Everyone, from other runners to the spectators to the police to the hordes of volunteers to random people on the Boardwalk, stayed out and was so positive, even for those of us at the end (I did not finish last, however).  There was still food and free beer even when I crossed the finish line!  I know I could have gone on for another .4 miles or more, even, and I know my pace was pretty consistent and so for me, I’ll just add half a mile’s worth of time as per my average pace, to my finish time.  Know what?  It’s still a fabulous time for me, and none of it takes away from the experience.  (They have offered discounted 2017 race for those of us who were shorted in the half, which is wonderful and I’ll take it – but I would come back and run that race anyhow.  I’ve said it before… sometimes having a great time has nothing to do with the clock.)

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And then there was Sunday.  Sunday was not a race.  It was a training run that was supposed to have been a 18-20 miler.  I am three weeks out from my first marathon of 2016, and this is The Week For That Long Run.  And… it did not happen that day.  With luck, it will happen next weekend – a little too close, but better, I think, than not doing it at all.  It didn’t happen because… well, basically because either I was not disciplined enough, or because I wanted and decided to indulge myself on a rare Sunday morning (indulge means, coffee, the paper, the political morning shows, relaxing).  I didn’t get out early.  My stomach was giving me fits.  The dogs were really needy.  It was pouring rain.  Again.  But, I went out.  The first few miles are always bad, but these went a little better than the usual.  I decided it was earlier than I expected, and I could try maybe not for 20, but for at least 16 or 17.  It was crazy muddy and puddles everywhere, so I was slowed by a lot.

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This duck was one of a few hanging out in a parking lot because he thought it was part of the river.

And then just after mile 3, I saw a man hanging out under the train overpass.  And… I can’t explain it.  It felt weird to me, and I thought about the pepper spray I didn’t bring – for the first time since I bought it in March, I remembered that I had some – at home.  I realized that I had seen exactly one person on the trails that whole day so far – and that I was heading into an area with a swollen river, heavy vegetation, and the least populated part of the trail on a good day.  No one knew which paths I’d taken or where I was heading, and I felt… off.  Then thought, well, he could be a homeless person just trying to stay dry, in which case I feel bad – I would hate to be biased like that.  I was also feeling bad because I didn’t want to let fear win, and I was wondering if maybe I convinced myself to be afraid so I wouldn’t have to do the miles.  But whatever it was… I turned around and went the other way, following the trail to the waterfront park instead.

I ended up doing a little over 9 miles, which is still respectable, and in the pouring rain, which is still badass, but it fell far short of the 20.  And really, physically and mentally, I felt done at 7.

I’m not sure what to make of this.  In a way I’m proud I got out at all.  Two years ago I would not have wrinkled my nose at a 9 mile run.  But, it was still way short of what should have been.  I can’t dwell on it, can’t beat myself up over it.  I just have to leave earlier and do better the next time.  Which is… in five days.  Saturday.  Wish me luck!

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“That’ll do, Pig… that’ll do.”

(Do you remember this sentence, from Babe?  It’s on many of the custom shirts from the Pig this year, including mine.  I love it.  And my 3-way with extra cheese this year?  It’ll do… it’ll do.)

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Now we are post-Pig.  I am about to write an over self-indulgent post because I’m torn between the need to do a recap, and the fact that I’m still processing everything.  And just how does one do a recap of four races in 36 hours, 40-plus friends, and everything that the weekend entails?

It is still the most amazing race, to me.  Despite the running part of it, it’s a really happy place for me.  I’m relieved that it remains that way, year after year.  Even when I knew literally two people running this race, the race itself – and Cincinnati – were special.  The energy is special.  The race is special.  And then it became more.  Because of people, the friendships made, and sustained through the year, to be rekindled annually with the Pig.

This year.  It was actually the best year ever for me.  I think the only thing that wasn’t better than in years past, was the P&G giveaways.  The people didn’t disappoint.  The crowds didn’t disappoint.  The race didn’t disappoint.

First, I saw Leah.  She is where it all began, so it’s fitting.  At this point we have known each other longer than we haven’t.  We hung out.  We ate the Blue Ash 4-way.  (For me it’s a 5-way hold the cheese.)  We ate ein echtes Deutsches Fruehstueck at Katharina’s Konditorei and I got to speak German!  We did the expo and ate cookies, which is a Thing.

We did the Little Kings’ Mile on Friday night.  Meeting up with thirty of my running friends – some I only knew online, others I met last year – before the race, finding them after.  The wonderful group photo – the money shot!  Rodney, the bus driver who took the photo, and on whose bus we climbed to get to the start, much to his amusement and chagrin.  My time was slow, but it was okay.  (Marc, sauntering past – in jeans – looks over at me.  “You’re taking a lot of steps, there.”  Little legs!  I had people waiting for me at the finish line, and I was not last!  Dinner after. Getting to know people better and more.  I have a cadre of people I feel so very close to, and the odd part is we only see one another now online and at races.  I have a small nuclear family, and then I have a running family… and then I have my Pig family.  Leah, Marci, Cherie, Jim, Sri, Jesus, Jennifer, Marc, Crystal, Forbes, Heidi, Heidi, Tasha, Marsha, Marcus, Jason, Jason, Brian, Karen, Karen, Rhonda, Rhonda, Jim, Frank, Susan, Seyi, Cheryl, David, Lisa… I am really reluctant to name people because I know I’d forget someone I didn’t mean to, and that would be awful… because I have nothing but love for these people.

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(People… if we saw one another and talked, took photos… if you were in the tent pre-LKM, in any of the group photos, at Moerlein, the Gruff, Blinkers, if you danced with me, if we hung out at the expo or the finish festival, if we hugged and kissed and laughed… you know who you are.  You’re family.)

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Saturday… the 10k and the 5k, back to back.  I suppose really fast runners get an hour rest between the two, but I had to hustle.  The 10k was really the race that I was most worried about.  If I didn’t finish the 10k on time, then would my time count for the challenge?  Would I be able to start the 5k?   Jennifer promised to wait for me even though we weren’t being Elsa and Anna this time (my costume just wasn’t comfortable to wear through 9.3 miles), and we’d do the 5k together.  The first few miles of the 10k were a little difficult, and at the end, when you go by the stadium but then run (uphill) away from it and it seems so far – that’s mentally a challenge – but most of the race, I felt good.  It felt like it should. And it wasn’t the best time ever, but it was pretty close to a PR for me, and if I look at only the last two years, it was a PR for me.  I found my people – even though they are all quite fast, they were the party in the back for this one.  We took a nice walk, pretending to run for the cameras, but mostly dancing through the start and across the finish line, in the pouring rain.  (We came up with a 5k ‘race’ idea.  One you have to dance through.  That you can stop at different stations, and do the Electric Slide, Tootsie Roll, Macarena, etc.  Doesn’t that sound fabulous?)  I think we were perhaps twenty – I don’t want to list names lest I offend someone by forgetting them.  But that 5k was just pure love. Moerlein House was great.  In the bathroom, Heidi fashioning a headband for me out of flying pig duct tape.  Blinkers.  Seeing so many people, and being confined to a private room, was perfect.  Space, but getting to actually spend some time and chat with Brian, Marsha, Melissa, Cherie.  So many people.  So little time.

And.  I.  Did. Not.  Finish.  Last.

Sunday morning, one race left, go time.  Stomach not too happy with me, late to the corral (I think Corrals F-H were a 5k on their own!).  Getting sweet texts from Julie, who wants to know where I am RIGHT NOW (well, actually, the portapotty).  I guess she is finding pics from last year, when we did this together, and she’s remembering it and giving me support from afar – because she’s injured, and volunteering in Louisville, at the half there.  So glad to find Marsha on the way and Jason in the corral with me.  It didn’t start well… if yesterday’s 10k felt like everything was going right, this felt all wrong.  Rhythms were off.  Felt tired and winded.  Had to make a potty stop a quarter mile in.

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In my head, I knew I would be okay, just have to finish, and if you exceed 4 hours they’ll put you on the sidewalk but you can keep going and finish, it’ll be fine.  Still, felt stress.  People passing me all the time, it’s okay, just keep going.  30-30.  Cheering people.  The retirement home.  I love these people.  Didn’t feel comfortable, time-wise, to take photos or hug them this time, but enjoyed the signs all the same.

Bridges.  Ugh.  Bridges have inclines!  How did I not remember three bridges last year and the year before!  Well… back to Ohio.   And then, what might have been a push hard and get a 3:50 half, but what might also have been a slog and wilt and get a 4:10 half, completely changed.  Because Melissa found me.  And we talked, and talked and talked.  I thought she’s stick with me for a half mile or so, maybe a mile, and have a nice break and conversation, and then go on, because she’s a powerhouse.  And I asked her a few times, over the next ten miles, and she didn’t care.  She.  Didn’t.  Care.  It didn’t matter that we were way at the back (although not last, not by a lot).  It didn’t matter that she could go on ahead and speed it up.  We talked and took photos, and laughed and chatted.  It got really hot and humid and sunny.  Really really hot.  We saw Batman and some dogs.  We saw the F guy.  I love that F guy.  Melissa got a pic with the F guy.  We danced a little to Uptown Funk and sang a little with Elvis and posed for pictures – and Gilbert Hill wasn’t that bad this year.  At the top, we took pictures of the amazing scenery, and made another potty stop.  We walked a lot, jogged a little.  It wasn’t about the speed, it was about the time.  Time spent talking, and looking at the scenery in Walnut Hills and Eden Park.  Enjoying the children at about 8.5 who play the most ethereal and splendid classical music – violins, flutes… it’s a very unassuming station on the course, which had a lot of bands, drums, guitarists, this year.  High energy.  And this is elementary school kids playing classical music – and it is brilliant.  I really hope they know how appreciated they are.  How much we really like them.

At about mile 9, we hear just in front of us, very declaratively, “We WILL finish this race.”  It’s a woman and an older teenage guy, both walking, both very tall.  We told them that was a great mantra, and they explained that the guy wanted to stop in at the school and check on something, but no, they were continuing on.  And on we went, past the bars and viewing party, past the Catholic Church that had a sign that they are praying for us runners, past the split.  The downhill that we began to run down got really slippery between the general wetness from yesterday’s rain and the gels that people tried and dropped, so we went back to walking.  We kept meaning to switch back to 30-30… just as soon as it stopped being uphill!  Mile 10.  The football team.  This time they did look like high schoolers, and I gave them all a chaste high-five.  One of the players seemed REALLY glad to see me, though… Melissa even noticed that!  And this year, unlike last year, all the food was still there, all the water stops.  The Twizzlers, the Swedish Fish.  I ran through the sprinkler!  There was a sprinkler about 10.5 and I ran through it!  We continued on and aimed downhill, and began to run again.  And there is the F guy again!  I want my pic with him too.  Now, instead of “Get the F up the hill” to us, and to the downhill people, “Why are you so slow, you’re going downhill!”, he’s still on the loudspeaker, telling us we’re at the end, we’ve done it, we don’t have much more to go, just keep going.  I decided I wanted to have a photo with him too, and asked where his F was.  He said someone took it – I think he handed it off to someone to put it away since there was no more F to get up the hill – but he pulled out a little F instead.  We took a picture and he told me to keep the F!  I got five medals from the weekend, but the F is one that I am particularly proud of.  We see our tall walkers from the top of the hill, and as we pass, we tell them, “we ARE finishing the race!”

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And we carried on.  Down the hill, and – oh boy, I forgot about that huge zigzag we have to do.  And here’s the turnaround to head toward the stadium!  Have you ever noticed how LONG mile 12 is?  It never ends!   And there’s the chute.  Now we have to look for the beer.  I explain about the beer at mile 13.  And there it is at 12.9 and I hear “I have BEER for VALERIE!”  Whaaa?  I look over and I literally cannot believe my eyes.  It’s Julie!  Apparently the texts at 6:30 am and the photos weren’t memories from last year but her actually trying to find me because she came all the way to Cincinnati to find me and cheer me on!  So, at mile 13, we stopped.  Completely stopped.  Drank the beer.  Hugged and squealed, posed for pictures, talked and squealed and laughed and cried again.  Grabbed more beer.  And we continued a nice little jog to the finish swine – where we passed our friends walking from Eden Park.  I loved that we all basically finished together.  We DID finish the race.  Beer in hand, a smile on my face, laughing with a friend.  There is no better way to finish the race. (And we weren’t last!)

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Pig weekend is like summer camp.  Have you realized that yet?

Sometimes, having a great time has nothing to do with the clock.