Monday, April 27, 2009

Country Marathon and Half Marathon in Nashville

Some Tennessee people asked me "what's it like running 13 miles?" Well, for one it is 13.1 miles, and I guarantee 0.1 miles makes a difference! Real living is to put health and stamina into your life. That is what I try to do, that is, take a talent that I have been given and make it something to look forward to and enjoy. So what is there that makes an agonizing run something enjoyable? I guess that is a matter of definition. I can't say I really enjoy the "pain" while on the 13 mile course. Normally, there is no actual pain. It is all simply hard work and sweat. Isn't that what we must do to live? Life is full of hard work and sweat. Some say, "no pain, no gain". Well, I go for that. Running in competition is running for self improvement, not to "beat" someone else, but in retrospect, I always compare myself with others to benchmark my own performance. I never set out to "beat" the time of anyone.

This time around, the race was not local as in my past races. I went to the third largest marathon race in the country - Nashville, Tennessee. They call it the "Country Music Marathon and Half Marathon". And that it is! Music that is. In its 10th year of existence, there was a country band on stage every mile, and added to those, there were private bands of bars along the way, also playing for the runners and spectators. And were there specators and runners!! 31000 runners on the course and no telling how many spectators! The streets were lined with them the entire half marathon, during the time I ran. We were cheered by high and intermediate school cheerleaders (in competition themselves), families and residents along the way. Many wanted to give "high fives", and I accomodated them. It helped push me a little. Some said "almost there" - big lies, yet I tried harder each time to get me quicker to the finish line.

Managing 31000 contestants could not possibly be an easy task. There were 32 corrals each containing about 100 contestants, leaving the start line about 2-3 minutes apart. Some people had to wait an hour to start the race! I was in the sixth corral, determined by my projected time to complete the course. At the start, there was a sudden energy rush, knowing that it had actually started. You are now on the clock I thought. I watched my heartbeat rate and keep it under 170. My doctor says to keep it under 160. I don't tell him that I factor up his limit. Maybe he already knows that, but I think I am pulling the wool over his eyes. So I press the button on my watch to start monitoring the heart. It starts a little high because of the adrenelin, but settles quickly as I pace myself as I had trained on the little hills of The Woodlands.

I looked ahead of me and behind me - a sea of humanity. There was no end to people dressed in shorts and funny looking stuff for as far as I could see. That is where the big question was asked - "What have I got myself into?". Too late to stop! Shortly into the race, I ran up on two guys wearing long stockings and asked them directly "what is the story behind those things?" "We lost a bet with his mom. We have to wear her stockings as a result." Sorry I asked. Thought I might learn something... Now ISG, grind it! Let's get on with the race. One foot ahead of the other. That is what I was told. What I was not told was much more important however. Tennessee has real hills. Now that translates to real pain! Why am I telling you that anyway? I guess to justify the outcome. I have to set expectations here. It would be silly to let you think I was going to be a real athlete, be awarded a prize, be on TV and all that stuff. OK, now that you know I did not win the race, I will be more apt to tell the truth.

Geez. I found out there were people running with me from all over the world. I am running in a world class race? Yep. $20,000 to the first one who crossed the finish line first. Well, one thing I know for sure - that aint gonna be me! Maybe a Kenyan, maybe an American lady. The ladies were given an 18-minute head start to compensate for the normal capability differences between genders. As it turned out, many women passed me about mile 10, and I started getting a complex. Some 2000 women crossed the finish line before me. As it turned out, the Kenyan outraced everyone. I saw him heading towards the finish line a little after I arrived halfway in the half marathon. There were two Kenyans at that time running and accompanied by a motorcycle in front of them with a camera mounted on the back of it for the media. That made me feel like an athlete? NOT! There was no cameraman in front of me or the 5000 people ahead of me! Just imagine that. Cameras zooming in on the grimace on my face and the panting with my tongue hanging out!

I have to say, I enjoyed the bands along the way. You could probably see me on local TV dancing to the music like some crazy fool. I can't help it. I like to dance! Well, maybe I should confess to mile 9,10,11,12 and 13. I know I did not dance in front of those stages. I don't even remember hearing the bands. I remember the water stands and the fruit and that refreshing water being sprayed by the residents, but music? I remember the hills really well along those miles. Three of them won! I could not run to the top of those steep inclines without walking, especially those in downtown Nashville. I have never walked in a running race before! How embarrassing! Felt like hiding from everyone.

Sadly, there were contestants who did not fare as well as I. One literally did not live to see another day. A 25-year-old soldier competed in the half marathon with me and collapsed after crossing the finish line with a heart attack. This was a very difficult course under challenging conditions. The young man died in the hospital a short time after being carried there by an ambulance. It was the first fatality ever in the history of this 10-year-old event. He crossed the finish line after I did, so I was completely unaware of his family's tragedy until the evening concert. I witnessed one young lady, twenty something, also who had collapsed on the course. An ambulance was summoned. I said a little prayer for her. The temperature was in the 70s, about 15 degrees higher than expected. I felt it and was totally cognizant of that fact throughout the race. Even though I was highly hydrated the day before, the race obviously dehyrated me at a rapid pace. I drank at the water/energy drink stations, consumed fruit where I could, everything I could think of to cool myself and maintain some sort of momentum. Yet I nearly collapsed at the end myself.

I hate to admit this, but when faced with the cameras at the finish line, I went into full stride at full speed so that I would look good on camera. It was the 400 yard dash! Now I imagined what it would be like to be the first contestant to break the ribbon and cross the line. That is pure ego of a dreamer, is it not? Sure, I passed a few people while doing that, but face it. That made no real difference at all and only threatened my health. As it turned out, there was little space to cool off, so I was faced with overcoming the consequences of that little act in very little space. I am going to complain about that. What were these people thinking anyway? I need to jog for 0.1 miles to cool off, but I had to abruptly stop right after the finish line! Even my tongue felt like it was going to cramp. My calves were cramping and thighs wanted to cramp as I searched for a place to stretch out the muscles. This sensation with the tongue was completely new. I immediately started to think my throat could cramp up, and I could lose the critical ability to breathe. Trying to eat was also a risk it seemed, so I tossed the bagle and ate only fruit. I wanted desperately to have a free beer, so I got in the only long line I could find. Turned out to be the exit line to rendezvous with family and friends. After exiting the runner protected area, a contestant could not return. Wish I had asked what line I was in. I just assumed it would be the beer line! Oh well, now I could go home without my free beer, but where was the truck? When I got there at 5am, there were not 1000's of cars in the parking lots and all I could think about then was racing. Geez! But I got lucky. I parked close to the exit and found the truck without any trouble at all. Got in the truck and wham! Immediately one of my calves locked up in a cramp. Dangerous I thought - to drive in this condition. So I took the keys out of the ignition and waited for another 30 minutes (with stretching) until the muscles stopped their insane twitching and cramping.

Was it worth it? It was! I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish and got to enjoy much of the race and the included concert that night. OK, time to brag! Even with all the issues, I still finished in the top 15% of my age group among people accustomed to running on HILLS! Of course we could be extra egotistical and say fame and excellence is just a part of our expectations, but that would be a little white lie. I was pleased at finishing number 33 in my age group of the 220 contestants in that group. I also can say finishing number 5112 of the 31000 runners was also not too bad. Now I can say I did enjoy it and it was worth the while.

All in all, counting the children, there were 36000 runners in this marathon. Running with predominately local Tennessee folks was a privilege and a pleasure. I love country people and these folks were friendly as well as polite on the course. If you get the chance, take up this challenge, meet these people, run this race. You will be liv'n as I am, with great satisfaction of accomplishment among folks who respect you and what you are doing. I once thought it would be impossible for me to do this. My recommendation? Do it! Make a realizable goal and work until you reach it. Then make another goal. Eventually and in not much time at all, you will be able to do the same. Also, do it safely. Make sure the doctor gives you a physical in advance but not far in advance of the extreme exertion dictated by running competitively. Take precautions and monitor your vital signs. I do not receommend listening to music. I recommend listening to your body when under extreme exertion.

Related Links
1. Family Athletics Blog - notebook of keeping fit
2. Newspaper report on death of sargeant
3. Official site of the marathon race