The Dexter-Ann Arbor Run was my second half-marathon. My first half-marathon (which was also my first official race) was the Capital City River Run in Lansing, MI on September 26, 2010. For my first half I did a lot better than I expected and finished with a time of 2:08:51.
I have to admit that I didn’t do as much training for the DexAA run as I did for my first half in Lansing. I guess that’s normal (but not always recommended) as the second-time around you have a little bit more confidence and know what to expect. My ultimate goal is to run a half in less than 2 hours but going into DexAA I knew I wasn’t prepared for that. But in the back of my mind of was hoping to finish faster than my previous time (at least a little bit).
I carpooled with my sisters who both were signed up for the 10K. I should have known there was going to be trouble when my one sister told me, “We’re going to meet at the park n’ ride at 7AM. You will have PLENTY of down time!” Um, yeah.
Since I was doing the half-marathon I needed to ride the shuttle from downtown Ann Arbor (where you park and finish the race) to Dexter (the starting line for the half-marathon). The 10K, which my sisters were doing, started in downtown Ann Arbor. So my sisters dropped me off while they found a place to park (apparently there were some issues with that which I missed out on) so I could pick-up my bib and hop on the bus. Are you confused yet?
I had just spent about 30 minutes riding in the car and I REALLY had to use the bathroom. The line for the porta-johns was quite intimidating, so I figured it was probably a good idea to get in line for the bus instead (they stop running the buses at a certain time). My decision was confirmed when I noticed that everyone standing in line for the potties was wearing a 10K bib and everyone waiting in line for the buses was wearing bibs for the half. Surely they would have potties at the starting line, right?
So the line for the bus is moving pretty quickly and I’m literally stepping up onto the first step of the bus when I hear a familiar voice yell frantically, “AMANDA!!” I move out of the way so people can continue filing onto the bus and I see my sister Marlene with a frantic look on her face. She runs up to me and says, “DO YOU HAVE YOUR CELL PHONE?” A little stunned and perplexed I respond, “No” and she replies, “OK, never mind, get on the bus!” What??
So I continue getting on the bus wondering what in the world could have possibly happened during the past 3-5 minutes since I last saw them. As I find my way to a seat I hear someone outside say to my sister, “I have a cell phone!” and her reply of “Oh you’re a saint, God bless you!” So at least that made me feel a little less guilty as the bus pulled away.
In the seat next to me is a women around my age who looks to be in REALLY good shape. She is definitely a runner and has done this a few times before. I’m intrigued by the GOO packets she has holding in her hand. VANILLA GINGERBREAD. I wonder if I would like that better than the other flavors I’ve tried? I still can’t force myself to get down the GOO. In my back pocket is a baggie filled with Chewy Lifesavers.
I ask the lady, “So have you run this course before?” She smiles and says, “Yes, I’ve done it several times before! I’m glad they changed the route back to the way it used to be. It’s a great course…lots of nice, rolling hills!”
“Oh, rolling hills are always fun!” I tell her, “This is my first time doing this one.” I spend the rest of the 5-10 minute ride trying not to think about my bladder and wondering what my sisters are up to. Why did Marlene need a cell phone? I was also trying to figure out what to do with my race t-shirt. Since I was dropped off and didn’t have a car I didn’t really have a place to stash it. It was a nice one and I wanted to keep it. But first things first…I needed to find a potty.
So the bus drops us off at a school and I’m on a mission to find the potties but there’s none to found. What??? By now it’s a little after 8AM (starting time is 8:30) and I work my way into the school where there appears to be a very long line that zig zags and turns down every hallway. I ask, “Where’s the end of the line?” A lady answers, “Over there” so I go over there. Once I get over there another lady says, “Oh if you’re looking for the end of the line it’s over there.” and she points to where I just came from. What??? I hear someone say, “Let’s go use the portajohns” and I decide to follow the voice like a lemming.
I was really excited to see the portajohns until I realized there was only about 20 of them. The lines were long but at least I could see the end. I had hope. I decided if I didn’t make it near the front of the line by 8:20 it was time for Plan B: Find a bush. (I’m not above that sort of thing.) So I get in line and I start listening to the two people behind me have a conversation about running (go figure). If it wasn’t for the fact that my bladder was about to explode I would have liked to participate but at that point I just really needed to concentrate on my mission: bladder relief.
The man and the woman behind me having the conversation apparently had just met. The man was telling the woman how he has run over 20 marathons and the woman was telling the man that one day she would like to run a marathon. The man was full of helpful advice and tips that he was giving the woman. Here’s a couple:
1. Do not drink any fluids leading up to the start of the race until just a few minutes before and then swig down about 16oz. of a sports drink.
2. Carry packets of salt with you and add them to your water or sports drink at the hydration stations. Salt will prevent you from getting cramps and will aid in muscle recovery after your race.
Are these good tips? I have no idea. I also learned that the woman is worried about her parents who do not live a healthy lifestyle but she is excited that her husband decided to participate today and walk the 10K. (I think she wanted to make sure that the man knew she was married).
As stimulating as this conversation is, I really wish the line was moving faster. I begin scoping out locations where I might be able to discretely squat behind a tree or bush. Heck, at this point a discrete location doesn’t even matter. A lady’s voice announces over the loudspeaker that the race will begin in a few minutes. I keep hearing my sister’s voice, “You will have lots of down time!” I turn around and see LOTS of people standing behind me in line. Gee, what are those folks gonna do?
A strange time warp happens and I find myself next in line for the potties. PRAISE THE LORD. After that order of business is taken care I’m feeling MUCH better, both physically and mentally. I make my way to the start line and look for the pacers (I was told there would be pacers). I see two people holding signs, 10:00 MILE and 9:00 MILE, but they don’t look like runners. They are just volunteers holding signs. Interesting. So I stand in the middle of the two signs. I get the strange feeling that there will not be pacers actually running the race. I’m feeling a little bummed. At the run in Lansing they had pacers running the course for every 30 second interval, wearing obnoxious costumes and holding huge signs. I started to miss the pirate who kept me motivated during my first half. Apparently I was on my own for this one.
I still didn’t know what to do with my t-shirt….finally I pulled it down through the leg of my shorts and let the other half hang in front. Good enough. I could live with that for 13 miles. I normally don’t run with an iPod at home and I didn’t run with one during my first half. But I wanted to try it out for this one. But instead of going to my RUNNING playlist I just press SHUFFLE. I like not knowing what’s coming next.
I also start looking for my friend Lisa that I recently met on Facebook. We had wanted to run together since we both have pretty much the same pace. I sort of have an idea of what she looks like but I don’t see anyone that resembles her. Apparently our hopes of meeting up at the start line were a little optimistic. I hear a trumpet start playing the Star Spangled Banner. This is a good sign.
And off we go. We run under an arch of green, white, and yellow balloons. Some people run around the arch but I intentionally run under it because I see that’s where the electronic device which activates the timing chip in our bibs is located. As soon as I step on the timing mat I start my watch. Now it’s official!!
I love how happy and energetic everyone is at the beginning of the race. There is lots of laughing, skipping, and high-fives. I wonder how these people are going to feel in about 6-7 miles. It’s hard to say.
The first few miles are pretty uneventful. One thing that I hate about races is that they post each mile with huge signs so it’s impossible to ignore them. MILE 1….MILE 2….MILE 3….MILE 4….I understand why this is necessary but sometimes ignorance is bliss. I try hard not to look at my watch after each mile but of course I do anyway. I start to notice that around Mile 5 or 6 I’m starting to make REALLY good time and I start to get a little worried because maybe I’m running a little too hard. There are still a lot of miles left.
My iPod is a wonderful distraction and whenever a song comes on that I don’t find motivating I skip to the next one. I make sure to drink water or Gatorade whenever it’s offered. I have to admit when I did my first half in Lansing I only used two of the water stations. But that was on a cold September morning. This was a hot morning in June and my body could definitely tell the difference.
When you run a race you tend to latch onto people that you try to catch up to or keep pace with. For my first half in Lansing my sister Mary ran it with me and I spent the entire time trying to catch up with her. She was just out of eyesight but I knew she was up there somewhere! Between her in front of me and the Pirate pacer behind me yelling ARRRRGGHHH!! every 10-15 minutes I fell into the perfect groove. But today was sort of a free-for-all.
Around mile 7 or 8 I really started to notice the heat. Whenever there was shade on one side of the road everyone would sort of shift to that side. It was also around this time that I stumbled on the old-couple. They had to have been in their 70s. The woman was tiny but under her wrinkles she was ripped. They were both a little hunched over but that didn’t slow them down. I decided to keep pace with them. Ironically, the mile I ran behind the old couple was the mile that went by the fastest. But after mile 9 I couldn’t keep up with them anymore. Off they went. Apparently they had done this a few times before.
I decide to take a break from my iPod and even though I’m running amongst a rather large group of people no one is saying anything. The only thing you can hear is feet shuffling and heavy breathing. I begin to wonder, what in the world are we all doing?? What is the purpose of this?? Is everyone feeling as miserable as I am right now? It sure seems that way. What would happen if I just stopped running? I try not to think about it too much.
I started to notice the hills more at mile 10. I have lots of hills around my house so I’m pretty much accustomed to them, but I was beginning to worry about this BIG HILL I had heard was at the end. Was it at the VERY end? Or just NEAR the end? At this point I was wishing I had done a little more research. We had just climbed up a hill that was difficult but didn’t seem TOO bad. Was that the one?
I also begin to realize that my time for each mile is beginning to get longer. And the sun is starting to get hotter. A guy pushing someone in a wheelchair runs past me and I heard him tell the person, “Did you hear what happened to Parker? Yeah he didn’t make it. He didn’t drink enough water.” Oh dear. At this point I remind myself that I should be grateful for my health and the body that God has blessed me with. No more whining.
Now things are starting to get confusing. There are signs and clocks everywhere for the 5K and 10K runners who have already finished. But it’s a welcome distraction. We ascend another large hill. Are we done with the hills now? I come up on the sign for Mile 12 and I look at my watch. Wow, this is going to be REALLY close. We start running down what appears to be a main road. I’m not from Ann Arbor so I don’t know the name of it, but I know the finish is as close as it’s ever going to be. I search for one of my favorite running songs: REQUIEM FOR A TOWER.
By now I’m not really running anymore, it’s more like a shuffle. I start to realize that we’re all running on an incline now and the hill is gradually getting steeper. It’s not one of those obvious hills that you can spot in the distance. It’s the kind that sneaks up on you. I look at my watch. Wow, this is going to be close.
Where is the finish line?? At this point I know it has to be close. And then in the distance on the tippy-top of the incline I see it….the balloons!! This is the time to DIG DEEPER and reach down for whatever you’ve got left. TO THE BALLOONS!! I look at my watch. I’m about 30 seconds away from beating my time. I can do this!! And my lazy shuffle turns into a run again.
Then, as I get closer to the balloons I realize something awful. WHERE IS THE TIMING STRIP?? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? THIS IS NOT THE FINISH LINE??? WHAT??? Were the balloons a mirage??
I look at my watch as I run under the balloons and it says 2:08:something…oh no!! there’s still SO FAR to go as now I see the REAL finish line complete with timing strip farther down the road. But by now I have NOTHING left in the tank and my run turns back into shuffle. I think I hear my family yelling my name but it’s hard to tell. I manage to carry myself over the finish line and the time on my watch says 2:09:something. WHAT?? Did that really happen?
I have to say, I felt a lot different after this race than my first one and it was definitely the heat. I experienced the worst charlie horses of my life, EVER. After the race was over, I drank some water and inhaled an orange slice and a banana. I just needed to keep moving but my calves and feet started seizing and having spasms. It was so weird you could visually see the muscles lock-up. PAINFUL! I began to wonder about the man and his mysterious salt packets.
I typically don’t complain too much so I think it sort of scared my family when they saw that I was in a lot of pain. After I had recovered slightly one of my sisters asked, “So will you ever run a marathon?” and I quickly answered “NO!!”
(BTW–my sister who needed the cell phone was trying to call the sister who was driving to tell her that the parking garage was closed. Apparently she got out of the car shortly after I did and didn’t want Mary to get stuck trying to park. Drama!)
I also learned that the woman I sat next to on the bus placed #8 amongst ALL women. Impressive! I could tell she meant business! Her time was 1:26:27.
So, after all that, my official chip time was 2:09:04. Just 14 seconds short of my personal best. Ironically, I estimated that it took approximately 14 seconds to drag myself from the evil balloon arch to the official finish line. I wonder what my time would have been had it not been for the (mis)placement of the balloon arch. We’ll never know.
But I can’t wait to do it all over again soon.
Next up: Grand Island Trail Half-Marathon (or Hungry Duck Half-Marathon if I’m feeling brave).