I should start this whole thing off by saying: I’m not a talker. I tend to keep to myself unless I have something that needs to be said. I’m definitely not the type of person that starts conversation with strangers. During my last marathon, I spoke to two people and those conversations were brief. Somehow, during the MS Blues Marathon, I spent almost 5 hours socializing. Weird.
Walking up the hill from the fairgrounds parking lot towards the starting line, I met my first stranger. It was a short walk so we didn’t become lifelong buddies or anything but I did find out that we share a fondness for Saucony Kinvara shoes. I wished Kinvara guy good luck and made my way through the growing crowd looking for friends from work. Our company sponsored several relay teams and individual runners for this event and most of us were wearing our highlighter yellow team shirts. That made everyone easy to spot. Everyone, except Bryan and David. It was unfortunate that I missed them at the start because I wanted to wish them luck on their half-marathon and remind them of how much more awesome I am for running twice as far.
I found the men’s relay team at the back of the pack and stopped to talk with them for a few minutes before pushing through the crowd to join the 4:15 pace group. Yeah, I know…it’s a little delusional to think I could shave off 40 minutes from my previous marathon. In fact I even mentioned that to Will who found me just before the national anthem was played on electric guitar. Nice. Will was my first Runkeeper “Street Teammate” and we encouraged each other virtually before we finally met in-person at a half-marathon last year. Since then, we manage to find each other at the big events.
I usually run solo with headphones and ipod shuffle playing an eclectic mix of tunes, heavy on the Black Eyed Peas and Cross Canadian Ragweed. Did I mention eclectic? I decided to leave the headphones out for at least the start of the race and just take in the sounds of 3000 runners (and at least one clock-blocking non-runner) pouring through downtown streets.
As for the clock-blocker, I passed a guy at like .25 miles who was wearing a theatre mask that was already walking and barely able to catch his breath. I’m assuming he was on a relay team and wasn’t actually going 13.1 or 26.2 miles. That must have been a tough 5 miles for him if he was spent before making it halfway through the first one. Normally, I would encourage a new runner but this guy deserves my contempt.
After the race, I saw a picture of the starting line. It looked something like this: Elite, Elite, Elite, Elite, Contender, Elite, Contender, clock blocker wearing mask. Seriously, that dude lined up on the FRONT ROW, knowing he couldn’t run for a quarter mile. Uhh, mask-wearing-clock-blocker guy…see those Kenyans lined up next to you? They are racing for MONEY and every second matters. It’s bad enough that you are in the way of 2999 other runners some of whom might just miss qualifying for Boston by the same number of seconds that you held them up as the crowd was tripping over you. Those guys on the front row race for a living!
Barely into mile 1, I look to my right and see my neighbor. I navigate through the other runners and … introduce myself. Have I mentioned that I don’t talk? I’m not a bad neighbor. I wave when I see the family outside. I slow down when the kids are playing near the road. I’ve just never walked across the street and introduced myself. So, I introduce myself. “Hi, I’m your neighbor and I’m embarrassed that I’ve never bothered to meet you.” Something like that. We were running at about an 8:30 pace which is quite a bit faster than I intended but I knew she was running the half and would be splitting off on a different route at mile 3 so I ran at her pace until then. After seeing her finish time, I wonder if I didn’t actually slow her down. I wished neighbor girl good luck at the split and slowed down to around a 9:00 pace. Still too fast, even for my delusional goal.
The next few miles, I keep pace with some talkative out of towners. Noticing an Ironman tattoo on the calf of the guy in front of me, I start another conversation. We talked about simple stuff at first.
“Where’d you do your Ironman?”
“Wow! I almost drowned on a quarter mile swim at my first and only triathlon.”
Then we moved a little past the usual running talk and found out that we are both network admins at insurance companies. Creepy coincidence? What would you think if I told you that I have a tattoo of Barry Manilow’s face on the exact same place as triathlon guy’s Ironman tattoo? Now THAT would be a creepy coincidence!
About the time that triathlon guy dropped off the pace, I spot a Marathon Maniac that looks strangely familiar. Marathon Maniac shirt, running cap, narrow glasses, goatee…Ahh, I know…It’s blogger Paul from 50 is the new 30 blog.
Facial recognition is sometimes a problem for me. Robin gets frustrated when I confuse celebrities that look alike (to me, anyway). It’s no shocker that I thought one stranger whom I’ve never met was actually another stranger whom I’ve never met but I have seen his picture. I ask where he’s from, totally expecting him to say California. When he answered “Indiana”, I was seriously thinking “Ok, how can he be blogger Paul and be from Indiana.”
I tried explaining how I thought he was a guy from California that I’ve never met but that was confusing even to me. In this age of virtual Internet friends, I think we need a new lexicon. Instead of saying I “met” a blogger or Street Teammate or Facebook acquaintance, we could say something like: “I v-met a new iFriend today on” Or in this case, I COULD have explained: “You look kind of like an iFriend that I virtually met a few weeks ago through my blog.”
Luckily, we got past the awkwardness with shallow talk about pace and PRs and on to more interesting topics like his quest to run 50 marathons in 50 states before he turns 50 and eventually more personal conversation about family and such. At this point, not-who-I-think-he-is guy says “Well, we know the names of each other’s wives, I guess it’s time to share our own.” And so, not-who-I-think-he-is guy becomes “Todd.” I would run with Todd off and on for about half of the race, never at a loss for words.
About an hour and fifteen minutes into the race, somewhere around mile 8, The fog lifts and the sun comes out. It was nice to see the sun, but it was also warming up quite a bit. I start to feel uncomfortable hot spots under the arches of my feet This is unusual and I’m worried it is a bad sign of things to come.
Approaching a water stop at mile 10, I reluctantly tell Todd that I need to stop and adjust my shoes or I’m going to have to deal with major blisters soon. I step off the side of the road and remove a shoe and sock from one foot to check the situation. No blister yet but it’s unavoidable at this point. Even if my adjustments eliminate the friction, these spots are going to be blisters with 16 miles to go. If I’m lucky, they won’t burst. Adjustments made, I turn on the iPod for the first time and click off a quick mile to keep my average pace at 9:00 including the minute long stop.
At mile 11 or 12, I catch up to Todd again. He has his camera out taking pictures. We run together until mile 14.5 when he stops to take pictures of the lake in Eastover. I continue on but without Todd as a pacer, I fall into a routine of run/walking. The hot spots on both feet are now blisters but not bothering me too badly.
At mile 15, I’m still feeling pretty decent but I am starting to get tired and this is a pretty hilly section of the course. Random young runner guy pulls up beside and asks “Do you have any idea what mile this is?” I notice he is not wearing a Garmin watch. I guess I take mine for granted. He follows up with some more beginner type questions. “I have no idea how I’m doing or what pace I’m running. What time are you shooting for?” I answer his questions and confirm that this is his first attempt at a marathon and congratulate him on looking good up to this point.
The next few miles are mostly uneventful and even forgettable. Really. Looking at the map, I don’t remember running that stretch of road. I do remember walking the hills and running when I can to keep my average pace somewhere slightly faster than a jog. At some point on this stretch, I realize it is getting pretty hot and I pull my shirt off. Later, I would find out the temp rose to 80 degrees. Welcome to Mississippi!
Dad had already let me know that he would be looking for me around mile 21 and I figured I would also see friends at the Fleet Feet tent which was set up at the mile 21 marker last year. So, approaching mile 21, I picked up my pace and pretended that I’d been running the whole time. It helped that this section was also downhill! I give a wave to the “halfers” drinking margaritas at the FF tent and of course, they all stare in amazement at how much more incredible I am than they are.
Mom and Dad are waiting at the bottom of the hill with a camera so I continue running and looking as strong as possible. Truth is, I started the race with a stomach bug and every step I took, I felt the pain in my gut. I hand my shirt to mom, assure them both that everything is going great and start running again…and looking for a private porta-potty.
As I approach an aid station staffed by about 30 jubilant volunteers, I realize this is probably the last chance I have for a pit-stop. Unfortunately (for me and the volunteers), the porta-potty is located RIGHT NEXT to the table where the excited volunteers are handing out water and Gatorade. So much for privacy. I feel like I should warn everyone … If you hear a loud explosion, don’t worry about it. It’s just me.
Feeling much better, I proceed to run/walk the last 5K. Passing the JSU campus wasn’t quite as exciting as last year. I was looking forward to seeing the drum core from Jim Hill High School’s band. I ran the half marathon last year so I passed by the same spot about two and a half hours earlier. I guess everyone had packed up their drums and gone home by the time I arrived.
The last few miles of the route takes us through areas of downtown Jackson that I’m not very familiar with. I notice a few landmarks on the way though. The remains of the Iron Horse Grill that burned down (twice) in 1999, The Standard Life Building, Amtrack train station, Mayflower Cafe…Old Capital building…Finish line getting close…RUN!