76 degrees, 90 percent humidity and a red flag at the start.
The days leading up to the Women’s Half Marathon were spent worrying about Hurricane Isaac, and runners were posting “what if” scenarios on the races Facebook page -- What if it rains? What if it rains a lot? What if there’s thunderstorms?
The what if we should have asked: What if the humidity smacks you across the face when you step outside the hotel.
L and I stayed at the race hotel, the Hyatt, and were happy to discover that the starting line was just outside the door. In its second year, the race is still relatively small (a couple thousand runners between the half marathon and 5K) and the start is very informal. It was actually more like herding svelte cattle into a corral and then getting them to move.
I am not a fan of these starts but understand that a corral system might require more logistics than the race can handle. Nonetheless, I will pause to make a public service announcement: Race directors, if this is your start MO please advise walkers and slower runners to move to the back. While I am by no means fast, I will admit to letting race excitement get the best of me and (mentally) curse people not going at my pace.
Back to the recap …
Miles 1-3 (9:10, 9:02, 9:09)
Just before the start, the race director announced that because of the temperature and humidity that the race was red flagged. Runners were participating at their own risk and should take care to go slow and hydrate.
The gun went off, and I moved excitedly across the line. I quickly found myself dodging groups of walkers and slower runners. I wasted a lot of energy as I tried to find in a space where I could go my own pace.
I knew that I was probably going too fast as we made our way past Lucas Oil Stadium and Indiana’s capital monuments. But I am me, and I knew my splits were on track for a sub-2 so I decided to hold on and focus on form.
Miles 4-6 (9:27, 9:40, 9:38)
I was so excited to finally get to arrive at the Hyatt on Friday night that I forgot my pre-race breakfast in the car, and I ended up buying a cinnamon raisin bagel at Starbucks pre-race to split with L. It sat heavy in my stomach but even still I was committed to fueling as I have been through training. I took two Swedish fish at mile 2 and another two at mile 4.
My fueling attempt at mile 4 went a bit awry, though. I ate my fish and a quarter-mile later I sort of ate them again if you know what I mean. It was quite obvious that the heat was already taking its toll on me despite my efforts to hydrate before and during the race – I stopped at every water stop, walking through to make sure I actually got water in my mouth.
And from there, well, things got a bit dicey. As we ran through the Old Northside District, an area of beautiful homes and tree-lined streets, I felt my stomach begin to grumble. It seemed like it was something that might ease so I took a chance and ran past the portable bathroom near mile 5.
We rounded toward the Indianapolis State Fairgrounds, and I cursed myself for passing up the bathroom. I gave real thought to turning around and finding it but pressed on, sure that there had to be another opportunity.
Miles 7-9 (11:55, 9:48, 10:14)
As we ran down a busy street, lined with retail such as Family Dollar and Walgreen’s, I eyed a portable bathroom just across the street. I looked for a break in traffic and darted toward it.
I have never had a scarier experience than using that bathroom. It must have been on uneven pavement because it shook as I stepped in and I had to brace myself as I sat down.
I made a conscious decision not to stop my watch because I didn’t want to know a split that might have been had my stomach been kinder. I’m pretty sure I managed to get myself together in about 2 minutes, which wasn’t going to make or break my time at this point.
And mentally, I knew that. If I hadn’t realized it before, I knew it then: This race was not going to be my race. My goals that I posted Friday were shoved aside and my hopes became to finish, not walk and, if at all possible, complete the course at a sub-10 pace. I relaxed my shoulders and did my best to stay strong as I saw woman after woman begin to walk and form suffer. I eyed a couple people to stay with and used them as motivators.
We were heading back to downtown Indianapolis when I saw Kim with her race buddy/college roommate. Kim has been doing some insane mileage – 50-mile weeks and 10-milers with her cutey patooty Leo – and had hoped to go sub-2. Like me, though, the weather had taken its toll. I chatted with her for a bit and then went on my way.
Miles 10-13 (9:45, 10:02, 9:58, 8:55)
The great thing about a women’s only race is that there are lots of male supporters out on the course. I saw lots of dads with kids, and I couldn’t help but think of seeing Miles and Mark along the course. The thought of Miles’ excited face, the one he gives me when I come home from work, gave me a needed boost as we went through the IUPUI campus and IU Medical Center.
Of course, my favorites were the younger guys – more than likely out supporting girlfriends – and their clever signs. “Go, Stranger, Go (& Courtney)” and “Worst Parade Ever.” I offered to throw that guy my remaining Swedish fish but thought best to keep a couple for mile 12.
Mile 12 was kind of a marker for me. I had mentally allowed myself to relax those last few miles under the pretense that at mile 12, I would kick it. I made myself do strides – sprinting to one light pole and relaxing till the next until we came into the final half-mile.
As we were about to head into White River State Park, I spotted a girl in a tutu about a tenth-mile ahead. I decided a tutu could not beat a Team Sparkle skirt. Not today. Not ever. And so I kicked it. Kicked it hard, apparently, because I found myself passing her far earlier than I anticipated. I then picked another woman, looking strong-ish, and chased.
I was nearing the finish line when I heard L and my new friends, Penny and Laura, screaming my name. I dug deep, channeling their energy, and pushed harder than I thought across the finish line. The final 500 feet were at a sub-7 pace.
Final time: 2:09:12.
I moved a bit slowly, grabbing water and a banana, trying to gauge whether my final effort would come back to haunt me but thankfully the nausea eased. Finishers were given a medal and a rose, and I found myself happy for the amenities of a women’s only race.
I met up with my cheering section, and we ambled over to the post-race party. I admit that I don’t usually stick around for these sorts of things and my only frame of reference is Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans. That said, this race brought it, and I think it will take something big to live up to the party.
There was chocolate milk, fruit, a taco-flavored warp, shrimp and beer.
And I’m not talking Bud Light. There were Indiana craft brews, and I celebrated making it through a somewhat disappointing but inspired 13.1 miles with a Razz-Wheat from Oaken Barrel Brewing Co.
It might not have gone the way I wanted but I’m already planning to go back next year.