Saturday, November 23, 2013

My First Half-Marathon

i suppose the title implies that there will be others and i assume this much is true, though i still can’t seem to click on any Sign Up buttons just yet. my fingers always navigate away from the webpage before it can happen, likely encouraged by the lingering pain in my foot, the soreness of my shins and tightness in my hips that my body still feels almost a week after the fact. i guess this is what “muscle memory” is all about. but let’s go back to the beginning.

Vegas, baby.

my cousin, Gitella, and i had been talking about a girlie getaway for ages, finally solidifying plans this past spring to meet in Las Vegas for a weekend. i’m not sure how the Rock ‘n’ Roll Vegas Half Marathon made its way into our plan, which was, in her words, “to get away from men and children,” but it did. i agreed to it because i wanted to get into better shape, and a half-marathon seemed just the push off the couch i needed. so we signed up and started training.

about an hour before the horror show began.

well, her training started and (smartly) consisted of completing a few other half marathons in addition to the full Portland marathon. my “training” consisted of weekend hikes at my local trail with my dogs and intermittent jogging, but mostly walking, around the Rose Bowl. at no point in my training did i complete the full 13.1 miles involved in a half-marathon. the greatest distance i ever traveled at one time was eight miles and that was only once, with a handful of six-mile walks also completed.

view from the hotel room makes it look like i’m in Paris — if Paris had obese Americans eating at buffets in every hotel.

casual friday on the Strip

let the record reflect that i really hate Las Vegas. everything about the place reeks of unhinged gluttony and douchebaggery to me. the hotels are overpriced, gaudy and smoky, and the visitors seem hell-bent on creating a “whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” secret they can recount among their friends and future offspring to prove they had a crazy youth, when the reality is closer to a visit that produced more empty pockets and hangovers than wild tales (with the occasional side of VD). 

nothing like a saturday night in Las Vegas to remind me why i never visit.

trash-talking aside and included, it had been roughly 13 years since my last visit to Las Vegas, a long enough time to ease my hatred and make another trip palpable. more importantly, the half-marathon (and also full marathon scheduled for the same day) took place on the Las Vegas strip at night, a huge draw for my non-morning person self who didn’t want a 7am start time.

seen on T-shirts at the local fitness expo, where we picked up our runners’ packets and stuffed our pockets full of Power Bar samples. 

incredible dinner with the most tender filet mignon cooked medium rare to perfection.

we went to CraftSteak, the restaurant of famed Top Chef head judge Tom Collichio. the service was impeccable, wine amazing and portions giant. we left with stuffed bellies and several to-go containers after enjoying a night of girl talk and giggles. then we fell onto the hotel bed with pants unbuttoned and complaints about how much we overate. it was an incredible dinner, to be sure, the type you want to have on a Saturday night in Las Vegas, but probably not the type you want to have the night before a half-marathon.

the point in the weekend when i should have said, “how about we just go drinking instead?”

this will surely sound stupid but i’ll put it out there anyway: completing a half-marathon was a lot harder than i thought it would be. it’s not that i thought it would be effortless, but i did think that having two working legs would be enough to get me to the finish line. in theory, this proved true. but in practice, i grimaced through every mile and felt every step.

some of the colorful characters who raced alongside us.

in my “training,” my shins always hurt the first mile, and in this half-marathon, they decided to nearly cripple me during the first three miles, rendering me wobbly-legged, expletive-laden and slightly panic-stricken, as i worried i would have to bow out of the race during mile two. if only i had done my research and discovered a miraculous product known as a shin support, which runners often use since shin splitting is a common issue.

another T-shirt from the fitness expo that sums up what i was feeling throughout most of the half-marathon.

after i (heroically) Pushed Through the Pain of the first three miles, my left foot went numb, which was a blessing as that meant i no longer had to deal with the shin issue. naturally, i decided to start running because, at that point, i figured i was already tampering with my body’s wellbeing so why not just go for total annihilation?

the running was intermittent but helped us make up for lost time, taking our initial and pathetic 20 minutes/mile average to a slightly less pathetic 18 minutes/mile. clearly, my Cousin the Marathoner could have smoked me during this race but kindly stayed near my side offering encouraging words aimed at moving me the hell along.

Elvis greeted us at mile six with offers of a quickie wedding. i think we disappointed him when we told him we were cousins.

at mile seven, i ate some Power Bar booster thingy that tasted like apple sauce, hoping it would help me combat the nausea that seemed to intensify after every sip of Gatorade and water i took from nearby well wishers. (it didn’t.) instead, i enjoyed renewed energy likely due to a placebo effect. by mile ten, the energy had worn off, leaving me newly tired, still queasy and suddenly mute.

almost to the promised land.

though counter-intuitive, the last mile zoomed by. at that point, we had been making our way back toward the busiest and most lit up part of the strip, where crowds cheered us along, speakers blasted songs like “Bust a Move” (which now holds a new meaning for me) and the finish line was in plain sight. i felt a light-headedness bordering on delirium and let out a howl that sounded very much like a dying donkey when i crossed that finish line.

only in Vegas: medals modeled after poker chips.

four hours were given to complete the half-marathon (full marathoners got five hours), otherwise some shuttle of shame was said to drive by and pluck you off the path. i’m happy to report that Gitella and i made it in 3 hours and 56 minutes. {crowd applause} this averages to 18 minutes per mile. i realize that seasoned runners can complete a mile in a third of that time. whatever. 

the finishers area held a multitude of free treats that are commonly found at the end of such races, i learned, such as chocolate milk (oddly refreshing), apples and bananas, six packs of bagels, pretzels for nausea, bottles of gatorade and space blankets. we loaded up as much as we could carry and started the slow hobble back to our hotel room, where i proceeded to drop to the carpet to stretch my spasming muscles through gritted teeth. at that point, i felt a blend of pain, pride, foolishness and euphoria. (but mostly pain.)

thanks, Vegas. (sorta) 

i assured Gitella that i wouldn’t need to eat after the half-marathon, given my continued nausea and the bewildered state of my body that rendered a normal activity such as eating too complicated to imagine. she chuckled briefly before excusing herself for a half-hour — a time when i took a hot shower, put on my pajamas and collapsed onto the bed — and returned with pizza and ice cream, which we devoured quickly.

lying in bed afterwards, i’ll confess that whatever sense of accomplishment i felt was not overwhelming enough to offset the pain in my body. i probably could have spent my life never knowing what it felt like to complete a half-marathon and died just as happily (or sadly, depending on how things go).

a week later, i’m not sure my sentiments have changed. i keep telling myself i’ll do another one, one i actually train for so it won’t hurt as bad during and after, yet i still can’t manage to click that Sign Up button. maybe i need a few more weeks to help me forget because, right now, everything about it sounds like a masochistic idea. in the meantime, i’ll fit my workouts in between trips from the couch to the refrigerator.

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