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My First Half Marathon


Well, I did it, I finished the One America 500 Festival Mini Marathon in Indianapolis over the weekend. I by no means broke any records, as I took it slow and easy for my longest run to date since I began running last year. I’m not going to state my finishing time just yet, for there is a story to tell first.

The story begins on a windy evening in Indianapolis, Indiana. Friday night at the Mini Marathon Expo, first on my agenda was to pick up my race packet, and right after doing so, I was approached by a young man and woman. He said he had followed me all the way from the entrance because he was so interested to know about what I was wearing on my feet. So I told him about my Vibram Five Fingers, briefly, and he seemed quite intrigued with the idea that no padding and support strengthens the feet, etc etc. I felt like I should have some sort of business card to hand out with the VFF website or maybe even Birthday Shoes’ site. Or, oh yeah, my site. Of course, I told them I wasn’t running the next day in them because I hadn’t trained enough yet, but that people do run full marathons and longer  in Five Fingers.

Team In TrainingAfter wandering around the Expo for an hour, including a short stop at the Sketchers ShapeUps booth and display, I headed off to the Hilton for the Team In Training pasta party to load up on mostly leafy greens, a little pasta, and nice helping of steamed veggies. And a big chocolate chip cookie. Loaded up on inspiration, too, from the blood cancer patients and survivors who have struggled through much more than I could ever imagine.

A half marathon ain’t shit.

I slept rather well Friday night, my nerves cool, jitters mostly gone, and there are few things more comfortable than a solid king-sized bed in a strange rented room with the wave-like sounds of traffic from I-70 right outside the window lulling me to sleep. I was out of bed at 4:45 the next morning, passed on coffee and woke up with a shower instead.

I arrived downtown by 5:30, then met with the TNT group at the Hilton once more, where I ran into a team member wearing a pair of VFF KSO Treks for the race. He had been running in VFFs since last August and completed a full marathon with them in October. He said the knee pain he had before in traditional running shoes is non-existent now with the Five Fingers. Awesome, I can’t wait til today’s race is over so I can get training more in mine, I told him.

Before heading out into the wind and cold, I stretched and stretched. I emptied my bladder, for it would be at least an hour before I stepped across the starting line, and over two hours after that by the time I finished the race. I had studied the course map and knew where all the Port-o-lets were located, but I hoped none would be necessary.

Indy Mini Starting Line

Indy Mini starting line. See the glass structure way in the back? I started just in front of that.

I was assigned to corral Q, though I can’t remember what pace I registered with. Instead of starting there in the front 65%, I dropped back to V because my confidence was slightly scattered and because I wanted to run with a couple friends, who were also TNT teammates and fellow half-marathon virgins. 30,000 participants crowded Washington Street in front of us, from in front of the Theatre all they way up to the starting line at West Street, and about 5,000 people waited behind us. Um…wow…that’s a lot of people with one goal.

The race began at 7:30, but we didn’t reach the starting line until 8 o’clock. By this time, however, I was beginning to feel an annoying need to empty my bladder again. Apparently, one doesn’t need to hydrate quite as much as I did on a cold, windy race morning.

It didn’t take long for me to realize the drawback of starting so far back in the field – having to find a way around the insane number of people in front of me, many of whom were walking the entire Mini in groups of three to five people abreast. We had to jump on the curb or sidewalk many times to keep from coming to a walking halt, as the mass of human bodies was too thick to cut through anywhere else.

I passed the first row of Port-o-lets at mile at Mile 1.5 because the lines were long, but by the next row of little blue outhouses at Mile 2.5, I figured it was now or never, that I’d run the rest of the race much more comfortably, though I hated to lose the time. I stood in line for 15 long minutes.

So I get out of the loo and look at undulating stampede coming towards me, and I swear I can see the bus way down the street behind all the people, waiting to pick up the poor souls who couldn’t keep up the required 18 minute/mile pace – like me because I stood in line for 15 minutes! So I dash of into the fray, running in and out and around people, still unable to really run at a comfortably consistent, faster pace due to the human obstacles. Next time, I noted to myself, I’ll start further ahead in the corrals, and I won’t over hydrate the morning of the race.

I peeled off my hooded sweatshirt at the Mile 3 Gatorade station and tossed it aside because I was finally starting to get warmed up in that cold wind. I was feeling good, though the left heel, that cursed plantar fasciitis, was beginning to flare up. Around Mile 5, I slowed to consume an energy gel – I still don’t know if you’re supposed to chew or simply swallow these gels since they’re just viscous enough to seem chewable – then onward to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The racetrack seemed colder and more windy than the streets, but it was the best running surface of the entire course – nice smooth asphalt. Despite the wonderful surface, this is were I fell.

Yes, I actually fell, wiped out, but with style – or so I like to tell myself. During the first turn on the racetrack, the running course narrows to a sidetrack instead of following the banked curve of the main track. It was on this narrow track that I tried to go off into the grass to run around walkers and stepped poorly on the edge of the track and turned my right foot sideways, tumbled to the ground shouting an obscenity, rolled no more than twice and popped back up to continue running – slightly faster so as to leave my embarrassment behind me. A small scrape on my elbow and one on my knee, but otherwise I was fine.

I still felt good, and confident, coming out of the Speedway, and I now only had about four miles left to go. Back on the streets, I was feeling the heel even more prominently now, and something new, too – the right Achilles tendon? Crap. But it wasn’t enough to stop me, though I took it as a warning and didn’t push as hard as I wanted to in that last four miles – I still wanted to finish, and the fear of blowing apart kept my pace in check.

Approaching Mile 10, I saw a familiar face – Doug, the Team In Training coach from South Bend – and he ran with me for the next couple miles, offering encouragement and concern. I found those miles went by rather quickly, as I had someone to converse with, taking my mind off the nagging aches and pains I was feeling. Doug got me over the New York Street bridge right after Mile 12, turning back to search out other team members to encourage. From that point, it was all downhill, and though my mind was screaming at me to bust it all out for the last mile, my body said No way, this pace is fine – any faster and you’ll need a morphine drip at the finish line.

Mini Medal

Indy Mini finisher medal.

And so I finished. I wasn’t even breathing heavy when I finally stopped running. My official chip time was 2:46:52, which, if I subtracted the 15 minutes in line for the bathroom, I would have finished in 2-1/2 hours, the goal I had set for myself. Overall, the race wasn’t as difficult as I imagined it would be, and the minimal training beforehand was enough to get me through it, but it was not enough for me to do as well as I could have had I actually followed the training regiment every day.

For a first half marathon, the One America 500 Festival Mini Marathon was a great race to run. With that 13.1 miles under my feet, I now look forward to more races, including another half in the fall. And I also look forward to the complete transition into Vibram Five Fingers, in hopes that I can curb the plantar fasciitis, and now it seems, the Achilles tendon issue, if there is one.

Pain is temporary, but the finisher medal, well, it’ll take a really long time to rust.

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