Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Other Half

When Monika started planning our big reunion in Moab, she centered it around a half marathon event, reasoning that a lot of us, herself included, were all into running now. Back in the D Street days, there was actually a whole group of runners that did not include Monika or me: Geoff, Bryan, Curt, Tricia, Anna, Micah ... But despite the appearance of converging interests, Monika hadn't convinced anyone from the original crew besides her own husband, Paul, and another friend, Kati, to sign up for the race this weekend.

Luckily she was bringing a large contingent of her own running friends from California. And just before the race, Geoff and Bryan's girlfriends, Corle and Monica, signed up as well. Then we learned there were a few extra bibs floating around. Kati's sister forgot to train, and Paul had injured his ankle and couldn't run. After some grappling it was decided that Jamie would run with Kati's sister's bib, and I was going to be Paul. Thankfully for me and my anxieties about breaking rules, Monika had registered Paul under the name "Bubu," which I presume is a Slovakian-type spelling of the pet name "Boo-boo." Still, it was better to run as "Bubu" than "Paul."

Monika called me out of my tent in the frosty twilight of 6:05 a.m. I admittedly felt groggy and grumpy about the prospect of racing. After all, I had convinced myself I was finally going to partake in a completely lazy, sit-by-the-campfire kind of weekend, and now I was waking up before dawn, with a stiff neck and sore legs from churning through the sand with a mountain bike for 52 miles and 7,600 feet of climbing the day before, just so I could pound my poor shredded quads through another 13.1 miles on pavement. Why do I do this to myself? Even when I vow to relax, I can't.

As we huddled around the picnic table shoveling in instant oatmeal and coffee, two rather strange women — strange to the point of being creepy — walked up to us holding hands. They offered to "stretch" Corle and became insistant when she declined. When I asked if they were running with us, one replied in the most sing-song voice possible, "No, we don't like to run. We like to drink tea." Turns out they were friends of friends of friends who someone invited out to our camp late the night before, and were still up after apparently "drinking tea" all night long. Rudeness of inviting them aside given how loud they were all night and how many children there were in camp, it was reminiscent of the kinds of encounters that used to happen with humorous frequency when I was 21. I had to laugh about it.

The Other Half Marathon begins at the Dewey Bridge, north of Moab, and continues contouring the Colorado River corridor on Highway 128 for 13.1 miles to Sorrel River Ranch. Of all of the highways I've traveled, Utah Route 128 is one of the most scenic. Thirteen miles of desert scenery, combined with the silly fun of running with friends, tempered my reluctance to run so far on pavement. The more serious California runners lined up with their pacing groups, but six of us started off the back near a guy holding a 3:00 pacing sign. "Just stay in front of that guy, and you'll be fine," I said to a couple of the newer runners who were nervous about finishing. The gun went off and we started fresh at about 12 min/mile pace, still joking and giggling.

My original intent was to stay with my friends, shoot photos, and take it easy on my tired legs. But after a couple of miles I lost them in the crowd and gradually got a little more caught up in the running part of the half marathon. I picked up my pace until the mile-long climb at mile eight, and struggled a bit because quarter-filled paper cups of Gatorade every two miles do not provide that much liquid for a desert race, and I was slightly dehydrated. Near the top of the climb was the access road to our campground, and I admit I considered veering off and either heading back to camp or waiting for the others to catch up. As I approached the gravel road, I saw Kati running in a tutu, and as I pushed to catch up to her I noticed a large contingent of friends standing next to the road and cheering runners on. They were so busy cheering for Kati and her tutu that they didn't even notice me, even after I made a full stop directly in front of them and took their photo. Ah, well.

The headwind picked up speed until even the downhills felt more like climbs. The short-but-steep climbs and wind-blasted descents continued all the way to mile twelve. The final mile was downhill but directly into that fierce wind, and I was sorta done having fun with this half marathon. I'm glad it wasn't a full marathon. I rolled into the finish at 2:06, having come within a few minutes of catching up to some of the California crew. I was 501st out of 1,459 finishers, and 46 out of 83 in "my" class, which was males age 30-34. Monika also told me that this is Paul's half-marathon PR now. Since my only other half marathon was the Greifenseelauf in Switzerland one year ago, and my time there was 2:07, I think it's my PR too. Yay!

Beat, however, told me that because I'm a "runner" now, I really need to get my half marathon time under two hours. Boo. I really enjoyed myself in The Other Half, and I doubt I would have enjoyed myself as much if I made a concentrated effort to shave a half minute off of every mile. When Beat asked if I *could* have shaved at least a half minute off of some of those miles, the answer was emphatically yes (certainly in the first 8 miles, but not in the last five.) "So you're not really trying," he replied. "It doesn't count if you're not trying."

This gave me an idea for a future blog post — examining the emphasis on getting faster solely for the sake of getting faster, and why this value has to be a prerequisite to being a "runner." I'm never going to win and sometimes wonder why it's so important to pick my way up through the middle of the pack. I do understand the satisfaction of personal improvement and the competitive spirit, but I feel the need to examine just how much these increments mean to me, as an individual, before I commit to something like training specifically for a faster 50K, for example. Sometimes I wonder if I get caught up in the peer pressure of "faster is always better" without acknowledging which aspects of the running experience really mean the most to me. Or maybe, as Beat says, I'm just being lazy. :-)

Either way, I had a great time at The Other Half — excellent scenic-yet-challenging compliment to the rest of the weekend. Thanks, friends.