It's a good thing I got all this together last night.
It was almost 6 a.m. on Sunday, and I was just getting close to leaving. Several last-minute things threatened to slow me down from leaving my house: The Garmin and Gu were still hiding from me, the iPod was charging and I still had to make a pot of coffee for Mrs. LB, my Sunday morning ritual.
But everything else was taken care of, and I was glad I didn't have to hunt down my headphones, shoes or car keys like I usually do. Careful not to make too much sound, I grabbed a Clif bar, a bag with all of my running gear and tiptoed through the hallway so as not to wake the sleeping females.
It was a little after 6 a.m. and I was on the road, wondering what to expect from the Holiday Classic. It was a 15K race and I was still struggling on what to set as a goal. 1:20? 1:25? Surely I can finish faster than 1:30, so how much of a goal would that be?
Brrr.... put your gloves on.
A flashing sign in front of a bank near the start line blinked 55 degrees, so I put my gloves on. I wore black shorts, a black undershirt and my pink Lopers shirt, and since the race was going to end for me a little after 8, the sun would definitely be out by then, so I didn't need a long-sleeve shirt dragging me down.
I went and picked up my bib and race t-shirt, stopped at the porta-potties (or Honey Buckets as they are known to Washingtonians) and went back to my car to toss the t-shirt in.
Glad I went before.
The Honey Bucket line was more than twice the size it was on my way out, and I counted that as a positive sign for me. It was near the start time, so I needed all the positive vibes I could get. I walked over to the start line and saw my Loper buddy Meriel. She looked upbeat but said she was not looking forward to the race. She still insisted I could run in about 1:20, but I was not as enthused. At that point, I just wanted to run a solid race and let the time take care of itself.
After the anthem was sung and some words were said by a few speakers, we were off. I started The Garmin once I crossed the start line. The first few steps were tough. We went straight into an uphill climb, went around several houses before we sloped back down.
There she is.
I'd lost track of Meriel in the pre-race madness, but I spotted her now-familiar gait and white shirt up ahead. It's familiar now because I usually fall behind her during our Sunday runs. I figured if I could stay with her, I'd finish in under 1:20. But it was clear from the start that that would be a challenge.
While a glut of runners clogged the otherwise quiet streets of Loma Linda, there was still room to manuever. I didn't need to run around too many runners. I didn't want to start too fast but finished my first mile in under 8 minutes.
I thought of my tempo run from earlier in the week and tried to slow it down. I struggled with that until the 5K runners turned off. The 15K route swung a familiar right, and suddenly the number of runners thinned out.
I wonder where Meriel is.
Usually, during our Sunday runs we take this very street that I was now plodding along on. Usually I don't have my iPod on and usually I'm talking to somebody about running or movies or families or whatever the conversation may be about. But this day, I was thinking only of a race.
I really can't stay - Baby it's cold outside
I've got to go away - Baby it's cold outside...
A smile flashed across my face. The steady stream of hard guitar riffs and gruffy voices on my iPod suddenly gave way to a jovial and festive song, and I thought of Kerrie T and Seattle. Kerrie had listened to some holiday songs during her half marathon just one wee ago, and I'd thrown on this song for her. I don't know if it was the song or thinking back to my Cedar River Run but that helped settle me down. I was just entering the middle portion of the run and my speed was not improving much, but it was steady. And at that point, I would gladly have taken steady.
Alright man! Good job!
Up ahead, I'd seen some flashing lights and as it approached I realized it was the pace car, and the first-place 15K runner behind it, so I said my congraluatory words to him and thought how it would feel to be able to run so fast for such a long distance.
Meanhile, I plodded ahead, trying to stay under 9-minutes-per-pile pace. Blowing air into my chilly hands, I crossed the four-mile mark but didn't see the turnaround quite yet.
I looked down at my wrist and The Garmin was not on. The batteries had apparently ditched me, and now was not the time to be left alone. Feeling naked and vulnerable, I cursed my misfortune and tried to keep my temper from getting the best of me.
I wanted to have a cruise-control option. I figured if I could just get my body to run at a certain speed and allow me to not think about my pace, that would be grand. I couldn't tell how fast or slow I was going now, so I had to do my best to concentrate.
Come on Luis!
I finally saw Meriel. She was smiling, moving effortlessly in the opposite direction I was headed. She'd passed the turnaround point and looked like she'd have no problem finishing in under 1:20. I smiled back at her and clapped my hands, though only a muffled sound eminated from my cold hands.
Finally, the turnaround was up ahead, a flew blocks down. As I approached it, I wondered how long I'd been running.
Time to Gu.
I had initially wanted to take Gu at around the halfway point so I got the Gu out. But I hesitated. I wondered if it would be better to Gu later, closer to the final quarter of the run. I decided that, when I saw the Mile 6 marker I would suck that Gu packet dry.
After what seemed like a 15-minute mile, I saw the Mile 6 sign and rewarded myself with a strawberry-flavored gooey substance.
I continued trudging along, hoping my pace was good. I'd settled into a rhythm but had no idea if it was too slow, too fast or just right. I figured that I should just concentrate on running a little more than I felt like running, because I was starting to feel the run in my legs, on my feet and, particularly, in my nipples. I'd decided against wearing tape and had cursed my decision now for a good three miles.
There were only a few runners ahead of me to target, but they eventually moved ahead and out of sight. I wondered how long I'd been running.
Okay, there you go. Must be the Gu.
I felt a splash of energy, most notably on thighs. I felt like my body had just taken a deep breath and I was ready to go once more. I chalked it up to the Gu packet and thought how it was the opposite of the third and final Gu packet I'd taken during the Cedar River Run, when I might as well should have smeared it on my legs as it would have had the same effect.
Since I wore my pink Loper shirt, I heard a lot of encouragement along the course because of it. This latest time, I smiled and waved at the well-wisher. At least, I thought I waved. I might have just moved my fingers around, but I was appreciative of the support nevertheless.
I sped past the Mile 8 sign and felt a surge of energy because of it. Once I saw the Mile 9 marker, I was flying. I thought about all of the races I'd ran this year, the huge race I'll run on Feb. 7 and of all the support I have from my blog buddies, my family, my Lopers.
Leave NOTHING behind.
I crossed the Mile 9 marker and figured that, since my race calendar had all of .3 miles left on it, I might as well leave everything I had on the streets of Loma Linda. I flew. My legs churned, my arms moved back and forth with ferocity. I could think of nothing but the person in front of me, and when I passed them, I thought of nothing but the next person.
I rounded a corner and saw the big FINISH sign. There was a runner about 20 or 30 feet ahead of me, slowing down as she neared the finish sign, but I was the opposite. I was just getting to my high gear.
The clock read 1:21:47 when I saw it. I was taken aback because I'd figured I was going to finish right around 1:25. That gave me the last bit of strength I needed and I passed the slowing runner down before crossing over the finish line.
I counted my unofficial finish time as 1:22, and counted that as a good time (once at home, I saw my time was 1:21:48!). An older gentleman congratulated me and held up a medal. I leaned forward and he swung the medal around my neck. I said my thanks, grabbed a water bottle and sipped it as I tried to catch my breath.
Nipples thundering with pain, muscles starting to throb and shout, I hobbled towards my car with a smile on my face.