Just a heads up, this post is gonna be a long one.
Nate, would you go so far as to call it a marathon post?
Nah, I wouldn’t go that far. Maybe just halfway.
I think one of the reasons why sometimes I don’t enjoy running is that when I am, I’m constantly thinking about the process of running. While I’m capable of spending an hour in the shower, deep in thought (as any roommate of mine, past or present, can no doubt attest) I can’t really do the same when running. I’m thinking about the process of running, and as a result, make myself tired.
However, this past Sunday, I was in full analyze-anything-and-everything-about-the-half-marathon-spectacle mode, and as a result, wasn’t focused on the act of being tired. I was also in full blogger mode. I wish I had something to take notes for all the blog ideas I had, except for the fact that I was, you know, running. Until Sunday, my only exposure to distance running was what I’d seen on tv, and my suspicion is that with a few exceptions (shoutout to Robby Marathon, Nancy, Marielle, Jackson and any other distance runners out there) most of you are in the same boat, so I would give a detailed account of “what it’s really like.” With some liberties taken with regard to the whole “linear narrative” thing, here are some things I thought were interesting.
At start time, they have two separate lines, one for the elite runners, and one for the “others”. Accordingly, the first two km or so are suuuper bunched up, and if you want to pass anyone, it requires some weaving. If you run a full/half-marathon, you may feel like it’s in your best interest to be at the front of this pack (and get there early) to avoid the bunches. I would argue the exact opposite. Starting at the back of the back meant that for the first 10 km or so, I was continually passing people who were fading. Made me feel good about myself, even though I wasn’t going very fast. Interestingly though, after about 12 km, I stopped passing people, and no one was really passing me much either. Apparently, if you’re gonna fade, you’re probably gonna do it in the first 12 km or so.
From a pure amusement perspective, the first 3 or 4 km is the best part. When I was maybe 2 km into the race, an 8-year-old turned around and said “Mom, I’m tired.” OOPS, probably not the best call to sign them up. Not too long later, I saw two guys, wearing cargo shorts, on their cell phones: “hey man, yeah we’re at the water station. Where are you?” I found that hysterical.
Speaking of water stations, so absurd. So I know when I think about marathons that I see on tv, an image I have in my head is the speedy Kenyan who grabs the water without breaking a stride, and dumps it on themselves, also without slowing down at all. Admittedly, this is a pretty cool image. So cool in fact that many people felt compelled to follow these guys’ lead. However, when it’s a cold day, you’re 2 km into the race and you’re not going very fast, dumping water on yourself, probably not necessary. Also, there were literally recycling bins. Honestly, no need to emphatically slam your bottle onto the ground. At every water stop for the first 10 km or so, the ground was completely drenched, even though the rest of the roads were dry.
If you’re running a full or half-marathon for the first time, and don’t know how to pace yourself, my advice would be to look for the balding, white male with fancy running gear who is constantly looking at a watch, and seems to be going at a manageable pace. Chances are he won’t fade. Did I follow this advice? No, and accordingly I faded pretty hard at the 19 km mark.
However, I did unexpectedly find my rhythm midway through. I suspect this is probably true of a lot of runners. I felt really good starting at about the 10 km mark, and was able to manage a pretty decent rhythm.
Are you an American reading my blog? Are you annoyed by my use of kilometers instead of miles? Sorry. I just have to say, “I ran 21 km,” sounds better than “I ran 13.1 miles.” I’m sticking with it.
Now for the single coolest part about the race: the full marathon started at the same place as us (a half hour before us) and finished at the same place as us. They just had this segment in the middle where we made a U-turn, and they kept going on the road. This meant that we were both coming to the same finish line. I was at about 1:15 mark when I had finished 13 of 21 km (so 8 km to go). Meanwhile, the top runners of the full marathon were at about the 1:45 mark when they had finished 34 of 42 km (so 8 km to go). Again, since they started a half hour before us, this meant, at 8:15 AM, both the top marathon runners and I were on the same exact part of the course, both headed for the same finish line. It was absolutely phenomenal to see them blow by me, and know they were running this pace for a full 42 km.
I think this was an experience that is unique to running, and that I will perhaps never experience again in my life. I never be on the same basketball court as LeBron James, both of us playing basketball to the best of our abilities. I will never try to defend Lionel Messi. However, in those moments, the very top marathon runners in the world and I were on the same “sports field”, both trying to the best of our abilities to get to the same finish line. Pretty inspiring stuff.
Another source of inspiration was the finish line. It finished in Nyayo Stadium, one of the major stadiums in Nairobi. This meant that to finish the race, I went through a tunnel, entered into a stadium, and got to do my final few hundred meters on the track. Just for those moments, when I felt absolutely spent, I got to at least imagine I was an Olympian, coming into the roaring cheers of the stadium.
Also I achieved my goal (that I didn’t say publicly, for fear I would come nowhere close to reaching it) of finishing the half-marathon with a better time than anyone achieved on the full marathon. So at the very least, the Kenyans running the full marathon are not twice as fast as I am. So that’s reassuring!
As I hope this post conveyed, I really enjoyed my experience (or at least my remembering self does, not sure my experiencing self from kilometers 19-20.5 did). Part of me these past few days wants to cry whenever I see a flight of stairs I have to go up, and I’m by no means ready to run another one this next weekend, but I absolutely think it’s something I’ll do again at some point in my life.
Happy Halloween everyone! I plan on celebrating by watching “An American Werewolf in London” for the first. As an American living abroad in a former British colony, (like my homey Jake in Hong Kong!) it seems appropriate.