Yesterday, I counted myself among 2,600 runners who joined forces with three friends to complete the 26.2 mile course plotted between downtown St. Louis and some neighboring townships not far from my home.
Another 2,000 runners were registered to complete the entire course solo and 8,000 more hit the streets to cover 13.1 miles.
Despite covering a lot of familiar territory, this race course is a favorite of mine and carries with it a lot of nostalgia, as I have participated in some way every year since it counted as my first half marathon eight years ago...with the exception of the last two years (because even *I'm* not crazy enough to run a half marathon less than a month after delivery or while on bedrest).
This year, I was asked to run the 7 mile third leg of the marathon relay by three amazing women I know from my days at Washington University's PT program (PTO8!!)
As a relay team member, this meant spending more time hanging out spectating than actually running; which is actually more fun than you might think for four Physical Therapists. Let me just tell you, there is no one more entertained by a parade of 12,600 runners than a geeky physical therapist trained in the Wash U developed Movement System Impairment (MSI).
When it came time for me to begin my leg of the race, I gave my 9 month old a hasty squeeze and passed him off to my husband, patted my 2-year-old on the top of his squirmy head and trotted my way into a small crowd of runners.
The leg I volunteered to complete contained seven of the most scenic and steepest miles of the course. The year I ran the marathon distance -- after two completely flat Chicago marathons -- this leg was the one that tried to kill me.
The thing about joining a group of marathoners at mile 13 is this: your fresh legs will end up making you look like a total dick for at least the first mile or so. As I dashed past one runner and the next, settling into my pace, I was acutely aware of annoyed glances shot my way from fatiguing faces on all sides.
I was sans music, sans companionship, and free to spend the next 59 minutes inside the twists and turns of my own backwards mind.
Here is a brief synopsis of the thoughts that ran through my mind as the rest of me ran my portion of yesterday's relay.
- Well, here goes nothing.
- I feel pretty damn good considering my lack of 'training'
- When was the last time I ran?
- I think it was Tuesday ... Yeah, Tuesday ... Definitely a Tuesday ... In February ... ?
- Oh, right. Here's a hill.
- I know this hill. This hill isn't so terrible. It runs right past the church where I was married....where I also once had to make an emergency pit stop on a long run. God sure will go to great lengths to get me back into church.
- I kinda like this hill.
- I think I'm pissing people off. Better make some friendly conversation.
Me to random marathoner: 'Isn't it just so obnoxious when these relay-ers come in all rested?' (Pointing to my relay bib)
Random marathoner: 'I just need this hill to end'
Me: 'Don't worry, it gets better by the end of this leg. This is the worst part.'
Another random marathoner: 'Yeah, once you get to Delmar, it's pretty much downhill for awhile.'
Me: 'Totally' (trotting off happily because I'm only on mile 2 and they're on mile 15)
- Still bored. I need a race target.
- This blonde in the red shorts seems worthy adversary, she's been in my sights for awhile. I bet she burns out as this hill gets steeper.
- Oh, this pace group looks like they're having a nice time.
- Pacer: '...and now we're entering downtown Clayton...'
Me: 'oh, this must be the tour group.'
Pacer: polite laugh 'would you like to join us?'
Me: glancing at his sign that reads '4:30' and catching red shorts pulling ahead out of the corner of my eye 'Oh, I'm good, thanks.' To the group 'Don't forget to tip this guy' (more polite laughter. I am not funny)
- Damn. Red shorts is not f-ing around. She came to take care of business.
- Come on legs. Reach!! Lord, I need to stretch better/more. My stiff hips make me run like a damn cartoon character.
- Do my shoes really have holes in them? When did I buy these? Right. It was winter. Like, last winter?
- Interesting. This guy's shirt says, 'St Louis Ultra Runners Group'
Me: I didn't know there was a St Louis Ultra Runners Group...?'
Man: 'Yup. Dot net. Look us up!'
Me: 'I'll have to do that...although I could never hang'. (Ironically dashing ahead to catch up with red shorts)
- Okay, we looped north. Delmar has got to be coming up soon. Now I need this hill to end...or I need red shorts to stop and tie her shoelaces. This chick is fierce.
- Does she know I'm stalking her yet?
- Maybe. Or it's possible she thinks there's a freight train closing in on her. I should have run once or twice in March.
- Okay. I should call it. Brava my unknowing opponent. I am a new(ish) mom who's still kicking the latest bug her kids brought home and haven't had an uninterrupted night of sleep in the better part of a year. And I still haven't shaken off those last 3 lbs of baby weight. You look like you're probably 22 and your biggest responsibilities are feeding your Yorkie Terrier and making it to Crossfit on time.
- Nope. No. No way. That is not how you roll.
- You are not a quitter.
- You will not settle.
- This is the shit you live for!
- Go. Get. Her....and her little dog too. Evil cackle. (Yeah okay, I'm the wicked witch in this scenario).
- There. She's back in my radar.
- So...tired... ow.
- Okay, new rule. Keep her in my sights. So maybe I can't beat her, but I can at least hang at a creepy stalker distance.
- This is me...settling.
- Oh, thank God. It's Delmar. Finally. It's all down---what the?
- Another hill? What the F?
- No joke. This hill has got to be the steepest yet.
- Where's that chick that said it was all downhill on Delmar? I should find her and trip her.
- Alright. Dig in and get it. At least it will be over soon.
- Honestly. People are walking. This hill is bullshit.
- Oh crap. Where did red shorts go?
- Is that her? Way up there? She is hauling ass!
- Well, if I have a heart attack, I suppose this is as good a place as any to die. I had a pretty good life.
- What is that noise? Is that my breathing?? Yup. I am definitely about to die.
- Oh, for crying out loud...when does it end?
- Finally. I can see the Loop. Home stretch. Downhill. There is a God.
- Clock check: been running 55 minutes. Can I do this in under an hour?
- I think I have officially lost sight of red shorts.
- Wait. Is that her? Maybe...
- That crowd of spectators up ahead must be the relay station.
- Reach legs...reach dammit!!
- On the right! There're my girls! It's over!
Clock check: 59 minutes.
Pace: 8:22 minute miles.
Red shorts: long gone...probably headed home to walk her dog.
My phone rings. It's my husband. He is across the street with my boys and a smile.
Life is good.