I ran my very first official race last weekend, the 11th Annual Trinity River Levee Run. Inspired by my 57-year old uncle who ran in the 2014 Chicago marathon, I accepted his challenging invitation to run in a race too. So, I started training for this Trinity race. Although I have been running since February 2014, I started training more seriously than ever as soon as I got home from Chicago in 2014.
Using a Polar heart rate monitor, Runkeeper for tracking my progress, and Gipis for a suggested training plan, and later Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art for instilling self-motivation, I got to where I ran in this first race. The race was purely against me. I didn’t compare myself with other runners. I knew I wasn’t as serious about running as the serious runners are. I just wanted to see if I could make myself go out and run systematically and perhaps improve my pace. I think one thing the made the idea of running long distance seem possible to me was when my uncle explained the paradox that in order to learn to run far and fast, one must run slowly with a slow heart rate of no more then 150 beats per minute (bpm). This seemed very attainable because I knew that I could maintain such a pace for a long time, even if I were dragging myself at first through the distance.
I am proud to say that since I got on the Gipis plan in November, I did not miss a single planned session except for a couple of weeks in early January when I was horribly ill with a cold, and then the very last session before the race because I feared heart problems after the previous session where likely due to lack of sleep, I think I overstressed my heart to where it fluttered longer than it ever had, not that it flutters often, to where it caused me to cough for a good 10 seconds. Other than that, not even snow precipitating stopped me.
The night before the race, I attended a gong meditation session. If I had gone to sleep right after it, I probably would have slept enough, but I stayed up latter than I had planned. There also was a late e-mail stating that the course got altered due to impassable conditions caused by the recent wet and icy weather on the original route, so the race was fewer than 10 kilometers.
By morning, I was still sleepy but when the alarm clock went off at 6:30, I did not hesitate to get up as I told myself, “I trained too hard to show up late for this.” I had a good breakfast of my usual daily Lukasz Goulash, a cereal of Barbara’s Shredded Wheat, Fiber One, some Flax Seed mix from Sam’s, honey, over a generous amount of blueberries, and milk. I put the running bib on my shirt, packed a change of clothes in case I wanted to stay longer at the festival surrounding the run, strapped on my heart rate monitor. I couldn’t find the gloves I wanted to wear during the race protect my hands from the cold 0° C weather, so I got my nicer leather gloves instead and went out the door about 20 minutes later than I had planned, which was still over 40 minutes before the starting time, which was not a problem because I lived about 15 minutes from the starting line.
The drive to the race was a little discouraging because my GPS kept directing me to go over the Margaret Hunt bridge that was closed off for the race, so that made me loop around a few blocks a couple of times before I finally got myself on the street I needed to be. I should have paid closer attention to the driving directions provided in the e-mail from the race organizers. At this point, parking was very full, and I had to park about half a mile away from the starting line. It was 7:50 by the time I left my car to head towards the starting line. I wasn’t completely certain where I was supposed to be, so I ran in the general direction of the starting line. It was cold, so I thought it would be a nice warm-up to jog; however, probably due to my stress due to cutting so close to the start time, my heart rate was already around 170 bpm, so that was disheartening.
Once I got to the starting area, I saw a lot of runners not even close to the starting line. I recalled that there was a sprint across the 400m bridge that was to occur prior to the race, so I was under the impression that was the first event, which it probably was, except it happened at 7:45, not 8:00, like I misunderstood. I also didn’t quite understand whether the 5k race was to start at the same starting line as the 10k race for which I signed up, so I stood back from the starting line.
The fire department was to have a fire truck sound its siren instead of a starting gun, but the truck was not ready and there was no siren sound at the start of the race, and meanwhile, I am still about 50m away from the starting line. All of sudden, I heard the announcer say something like, “…you don’t just get up in the one day and run six miles. You train for this,” which is when I figured out the 10k already started. So, I ran up to the starting line and just ran through it while I started recording with my heart rate monitor and set my phone to start recording Runkeeper data. To my disappointment, my heart rate was already over 165, sometimes around 172, which I worried was way too high to finish the race. Fortunately, the race started on a downhill slope. I wasn’t sure what to make of the entire crowd far ahead of me, so I just focused on my pace because as it turned out, the crowd meant nothing since each person is measured individually based on personal start time.
I didn’t socialize with anyone during the race, though it seemed like almost everyone around me was socializing. After the first kilometer, I had to pee. I hoped there would be porta-potties on the route, but there weren’t any. Some well trained runners passed me who I overheard talking to other runners that they had started late due to a late arrival, so apparently, it’s not a huge deal to start late.
The morning was beautiful, with the sun shining through haze over the water grassy river banks, and the air was brisk. I felt a little cold at the start, but I was warm by the third kilometer. By the fourth kilometer, I took my gloves off and held them in my hand. There were race marshals directing traffic for folks who ran the 10k to separate them from the 5k runners on the same path, so one had to pay attention to instructions while running.
The altered part of the route was on a service road that was rather scenically boring, running along a levee with no view of the river and some unattractive houses flanking the other side. I ended up running very near a lady who must have been in her seventies who ran at my pace. Or, maybe I should say, “I ran at her pace,” since she’s been alive longer than me. I wanted to tell her “good job,” but I chose to stick to my code of silence during this race. I could tell she was in a little bit of pain as she had a hobble and hunched. I kept checking my heart rate as I ran beside her, and my rate was too high to accelerate my pace, so I paced myself with this lady for probably three kilometers. Eventually, she slowed down or traffic on the trail just kind of forced me to navigate with acceleration, so I left her behind and didn’t see her again. I hope she did well because I was proud of her.
As I ran past near the starting line and vendors, there were finished runners standing on the route obstructing the running path, which I thought was both, highly inconsiderate and poorly organized to allow that to happen. There still were no bathrooms that I noticed, so I kept going; however, in actually I had run past them at that moment.
I had put my gloves in my pocket, and eventually one fell out of my pocket without me noticing. As I ran past a trash can after I had noticed I was missing a glove, I threw away the other glove. I liked those gloves, but I urged myself into detaching from this material item, the glove, whose weight was only going to slow me down henceforth and obviously had very little value without its mate. I needed a good excuse to get new leather gloves because these caused a rash on my hands to break out a little bit from some dander to which I am allergic to in these gloves that were getting old. This was the best excuse to get rid of them that I could think of.
By the eighth kilometer, the traffic was very sparse. I stopped a couple of times to stretch briefly and retie my shoes. After the last turn which put us onto the dramatic crossing of the Margaret Hunt Bridge, I started to feel my achievement. My heart rate was over 180 by this time since I just completed climbing and onramp. There were several families walking five or seven people wide obstructing passage as they were part of the simultaneous charity walk. I did my best to navigate around them but loosing some time.
At one point, I stopped feeling my body. It felt like I was running on a cloud without any pain. I checked my heart rate monitor to see if that affected anything, but it did not. I simply could not feel pain or fatigue, but my body was clearly working very hard. After about 30 second of this sensation, I felt my body again.
I took in a little bit of the beautiful architecture as I ran under the suspension structure of the bridge since I felt I deserved to take in the moment. I thought through my achievement: I made it this far by myself. No one told me to run. No one would get upset if I didn’t run or missed a training session. No one was there to hold my car keys or ID. There weren’t any self-organized cheering sections for anyone really, not like what I saw in Chicago, mile after mile of people cheering on strangers as they looked for their loved ones. At that time I didn’t know how many cumulative miles I had run since February 2014 or October 2014 as I don’t think about things like that, but I knew I had run further than I had ever run in my life before.
Then, with fewer than 200 meters remaining, I dashed sprinting for the finish line. My heart rate monitor displayed “out of zone” as I maxed out at 198 bpm. Crossing the line was very anti-climactic. Folks there were there for other people. There were no race organizers to tell me where to go after that. There was no place to sit that I could find. I finally found some water and free bananas. I used the bathroom, and then listened to the band play Beatles songs, which made me think of how I play those songs in a band back in Tulsa. They sounded slightly better than we do, so that means for professionals at a major city event, they sounded like the Beatle songs were too difficult for them.
According to my Runkeeper data, I had run 9.16km at 1:10:20 with an average HR of 170. I achieved three new records: Distance, Duration, and Calories Burned.
I stuck around the festival in case I saw someone I knew for the ‘yoga on bridge thing’ that was to happen later, or just to see who I would run into. I didn’t meet anybody. Only the RFID readers at the starting and finish lines knew that it and my bib with its RFID chip and I had crossed the starting and finish lines. I walked back to my car with soreness starting to settle in my tendons around my knee caps. There was a Saturday flea market near where I parked, so someone followed me to my car in her car to take my spot. Then, I drove home to rest, showered, and then I went to my favorite Sound Meditation class at noon, after which I went to see the new film Chappie in IMAX.
Later I checked online for my official time, which was 01:09:54 for a 9km.
Those 9 or 10 kilometers to the race were actually part of a long road for me to get there. They really were just the final stretch, less than 1%, of a much larger undertaking. To get to the finish line with these stats, including the race, I have ran 210 miles or 338 km since I started using Runkeeper in April 2014, not including hikes or walking. Since my pivotal trip to Chicago for the marathon, I have run 116 miles or 187 km. In 2015 alone, I have run 55 miles or 88 km. All these numbers mean is that it has been a long road.
This experience has taught me that I can do great things on my own.