Sunday, October 31, 2010

What a Difference a (Few) Second(s) Make(s)

The view...when you have finished the race
After my disappointing performance at the Dirt Dash half marathon, regardless of the why, I was hoping to run what I knew I was capable of, although my confidence had taken a hit. Confidence, for me, is the final piece of any race puzzle; if you have it on raceday you are rarely disappointed even if other factors like heat and wind conspire to slow your steps.

As Jennifer and I lined up for the Myrtle Beach Mini Marathon Half Marathon, I knew I was behind in my training, but felt I had put in enough work except for the long runs that my socket issues had sabotaged. This 13.1 mile race would test my mettle and the prosthesis; another disaster would mean some serious rethinking of my goals.


We had dinner at Pane E Vino, a place I looked up on Google that was close by. As usual, you can read a wide range of reviews, but given its proximity and menu we thought we take a chance there. After a short detour (getting lost via GPS), we found our destination. We were greeted by our server who looked like a super-sized version (taller) of a friend of ours. Both Jennifer and I tried the homemade spaghetti; homemade pastas are an art and can be rather disgusting if made without skill and love. My dad told me many years ago something he learned in Italy - try an unfamiliar restaurant's spaghetti first, because if they can't make it good then there is little hope for their more expensive dishes.

It was quite delicious and we were also treated to an accordion player's music. Very nice, very pleasant and relaxing, just the thing for a prerace dinner.


There were to be at least two wheelchair racers whom I wanted to meet at the race start and wish good luck, but was unable to see them. The runners were treated to a sword fighting display by characters from Medieval Times, a sponsor of this race and the location of the starting line. Not exactly my cup of tea, but the actors seemed quite adept in their skills. With the show over and the National Anthem played, we were down to business.

It was a little chilly so I was wearing a throw away shirt (ugly race tee) as was Jennifer. Off they go as we get ready to race...and...wait. Ten minutes. Finally the race officials get it together and we shuffle toward the starting line, close to 3000 runners squeeze down the narrow road with the usual fits and starts as everyone tries to get into their pace and out-of-place first timers find they are human speed bumps.

The first mile will be the slowest due to the congestion. Near the beginning of mile two I see a wheelchair athlete on the other side of the road, and I work my way over to say a few words. He is not in a racing chair and will have a long day ahead of him. Courage on wheels.

Although basically a very flat course, we run an overpass toward the end of mile 2. I am a little surprised that I run it under pace, and try to reel in my enthusiasm because I know what feels easy now will not be the same later.

Mile after mile slips by. I hear the sounds of the footsteps, bits of short conversations, and I'm grateful for kind words other runners give me. I overhear two guys discussing their music playlists; one is listening to Buffett and I can't quite make out what the other fellow is listening to. In my head I hear: what are you listening to? 


I am generally following the 9 minute pace group, but they took off after the slower first mile and I choose not to make up time in big chunks. Around the 10k mark I catch them as we make our way for the final miles. A woman strikes up a conversation with me, she says this is her first half marathon and says I look like I have been a runner for a long time...guess the RaceReady shorts are a dead giveaway. She is dressed in black tights and a long sleeve top and I want to ask her if she isn't hot in the garb, but in an amazing moment of self-restraint decide not to, because if she is uncomfortable this will likely make her feel worse.

Down the road and I am concentrating on holding form and pace. If you are a runner, no doubt others have asked you what you think about while you are out there huffing and puffing. For 10ks and under, I am usually under enough stress that few extraneous thoughts receive much attention. Even for the longer distances where the physical stress is less in the early miles, I carry on few conversations with myself. I did have a short one today.

I'm running along, thinking I am having a much better run, one that I felt I was capable of but not sure if my scaled back training due to socket issues would allow me to enjoy. My lack of long runs concerned me and I felt that would likely catch up to me in the last miles. For a few steps I think about the runner I once was, someone who would be at least a minute or more faster than this amputee. Well, he is gone, and this is who I am. Then I hear, no, I am not gone, I am right here running with you.

Well now.

Shortly after mile 10 we turn and run parallel to the ocean on North Ocean Blvd. I know we run for about 2 miles before the last turn and finish, only I did not know most of the last mile would be on a concrete walkway and then the boardwalk itself. I can feel myself slowing and feel the tug of Mr. Walker asking me to join him. No no no keep moving forward, don't you stop. My hip flexor joins the Chorus of the Disgruntled. I sling it out in front, relax it as best I can, and keep moving. Keep moving forward. I hear voices from the high-rise hotels, see people on the sidewalk, but cannot make out conversations as I concentrate on inching toward the finish line.

Boardwalk finish line
We make the last turns and hit the winding concrete walk. There are several runners around me so it is not possible to cut the tangents, and we weave to and fro like drunken sailors. In the distance I try to find the first sight of the beloved finish line banner, but it is long in coming. Dang this dog is tired!

Finally I see home sweet finish line while we hit the wooden boardwalk. I pick up the pace slightly and see the clock ticking just over 2 hours. I raise my arms - no looking down to stop my watch - and cross the line.
By the time I turn off my watch I am unsure I have hit my goal, a sub 2 hour half. In fact I think I have narrowly missed it, but know I ran a hard race and am proud of my effort and need to be satisfied with that fact. 

Finally the official results are posted:

Oh yeah! Sub 2 baby!

Finisher's medal / fridge magnet / bottle opener
Jennifer has a good race on what I'm sure she would consider minimal training. I am happy on several levels plus my adjusted test socket caused no problems. It will have one more long run test before I can give it a passing grade.

We meet up with Anna Gray from Floyd Brace, along with her sister and parents. We chat a bit and she gets a couple of pics, then Jen and I totter off to the awards area to hang out and finally catch the bus back to the starting line area.


My marathon is back on track, not the faster one I had hoped for but still one I can live with. I've had to adjust my expected finish time upward; I still hope to be able to finish running and not in the death march I have known in previous races. That is not a pleasant experience, and I am anxious not to endure it needlessly.

With two months of training to go and then the taper, I should be able to get in four 20 mile long runs. They won't be as fast as I need to run them, rather, I will be mainly getting the miles in. Best scenario will then be a nice cool raceday and a body that decides to have a good day to run.

I have been thinking the marathon will be the end of this first book by this amputee runner. The last page closed before another can be opened. I am looking forward to all that is to come; I have many miles to go.

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