A few general observations before I begin:
- Huntsville is a gorgeous little town. I would totally live there.
- I'm glad I grew the beard before the race instead of after, given the cold and rainy conditions.
- This guy was apparently trying to draft behind other runners, getting right behind them uncomfortably close. Not sure that did anything besides make people feel awkward. Run your own race, dude.
I left home at 5 to get there in time to board the bus. It was dark and rainy, and there was thunder and lightning at home. I worried that if that continued up in Huntsville the race would possibly by cancelled, but there was no way to know without showing up. So I make the hour and a half drive without incident. (It helped that I had done it the day before to pick up my race packet.)
I arrived at about 6:30, and it was raining in Huntsville as well. They had staff members directing us where to park. So I got my stuff together, which consisted of my belt with water and energy gels, and a bag with warmer clothes in case it was cold up the canyon where the race would begin. I wandered around for a bit until I overheard where the buses would load, then talked with some other people until the buses showed up.
We loaded up and made the hour-ish drive up the canyon to the starting line.It was foggy and rainy and cold up there at 9,000 ft. We were greeted by the long line of portable toilets that grace the starting line of every race.
They had put up a large tent for people to go in and stay warm until it was time to start, so I stood around in there for a bit and watched everyone's strange pre-race rituals. People were putting on clothing, taking off clothing, stretching, putting on some lotion that is supposed to prevent blisters, and just generally chatting. There's an interesting feeling of camaraderie among people before a race. You're about to have a shared experience, and everyone is at a different level of experience. It's friendly rather than competitive.
A few minutes before starting time we put our bags of extra clothing and such into a big trailer that would take them down and have them at the finish line for us. Then we walked to the starting line and waited for the last couple minutes. It was a small group, something like 350 people. The big races have thousands, which is a little much for me.
Then it was time to begin. It was raining a bit, but it wasn't too bad, and I enjoyed the first couple miles as it was all downhill. One of the organizers had said it was a 3,700-foot drop over the course of the race, so I was looking forward to a fast time. After about 3 miles I started to feel the downhill speed taking a toll on my legs, and I got a little worried that I would injure myself. But I kept going.
At the halfway point I was on pace to make it to the end in about 3 hours, although I figured I would slow down for the last few miles once we hit the bottom of the canyon. Every few miles was an aid station staffed by local volunteers, with gatorade and water and other snacks.
At about 16 miles I was starting to get tired. the rain had stopped for a while, and I was drying out. The constant downhill gave way to gentle ups and downs, and by mile 20 we were at the bottom of the canyon.
It was at this point that I allowed myself to give in psychologically. I had probably "run faster than [I had] strength" early in the race, which is something I have done the first time I race at other distances. I stopped and walked for a minute or so, then pushed on to mile 21. Then I walked again for a bit. That continued for the rest of the race, with the running periods getting shorted and the walking periods getting longer. Around mile 22 or 23 it started pouring rain, enough that my shoes got all soggy. There were a lot of people around, because they had started the half marathon, 10k and 5k a while after our race had started. Usually that motivates me to keep going, but I was pretty spend. As I came around the final corner and saw the finish line I started running again, determined to at least cross it while running. My parents had come, and my mom was cheering for me in front of the finish line.
I crossed the line, collected my finisher's medal, and grabbed a drink. Then I got the most wonderful surprise that I could have hoped for – Katie had brought the kids. It was pretty awesome, and I may or may not have shed a few tears due to emotional exhaustion.
We met back up with my parents, and my dad made me put on a warm jacket before I got hypothermia. It was still miserably wet, and there was nowhere to get dry. I sat in the cars for a while with the heat on, to warm back up. Then we discovered something fantastic. There was a barbecue restaurant right across the street from the park. So we had lunch, and then it was time to go.
My time was about 3:26, which is not objectively a bad time (about 7:52 a mile), but I felt like I should have done better. I was 5th out of 26 men in my age group, and overall #40 out of 335 finishers.
So I'll take some time to recover (I can still barely walk), and decide if I want to go through all this again one of these days. If so, I'll figure out what I can do to train better, and see if I can make a better showing of myself next time. It's not so much where I finish, but whether I can feel I gave it my best effort. And I don't want to leave anything out there on the course like I feel I did this time.