I have blocked most of my experience at the Rocky Mountain Soap Co. half marathon from my memory. It was my first and only half marathon as well as the first organized race in which I ever participated. It was where I first observed an odd competitive streak in myself, and where I first reflected on how odd it is that we pay to participate in an activity that is otherwise perfectly free.
The sum total of my memories of this half-marathon are as follows.
- I sprained my ankle about two months before the race, badly. It was, I believe, the fourth or fifth sprain (now I’m up to nine!) and I fondly remember it as a time when my ankle would still swell and bruise when I sprained it. That’s not really important, though. What is important is that the sprained ankle threw a serious damper not only in my training efforts (which were mostly disorganized and uninformed) but also with my general efforts to stay active.
- It was during this time that I temporarily took up a sport that I hate–swimming–to try to keep my endurance up. While in the pool one morning, I was greeted by a member of our faculty who was kind enough to be sporting a yellow banana hammock . After that, I was never able to look at him in the same way again, and I put a moratorium on swimming.
- I didn’t look at the race course before running it and remained blissfully unaware of what awaited me.
- What awaited me was a course that commenced with a delightful downhill stretch but, as you might expect, ended up with a prolonged and epic hill. Now the race organizers claim that the course is “moderate” but let me tell you that climbing 300m over 3km after running 18km already does not feel “moderate” to an untrained runner.
- I got a sunburn. In May. Because who thinks to wear sunscreen in the Rockies in May. I lived in Banff at the time and had grown used to the fact that there is a 50% chance of snow on any given day in May. Somehow we ran the race on the one day in May when it was sunny and 23. Also, I am a ginger.
- I discovered an odd competitive streak (as mentioned above) in which I judge other runners around me as a way of motivating myself to keep going. Around 17km, as my exhaustion set in along with some lovely chills and shivers (which are, apparently, the first signs of heat stress), I began to seriously contemplate walking. This is where I fixated on another runner, at random, one who was ahead of me (at the time) and who I became convinced I should be able to beat (for no rational reason). I then proceeded to pour all my energy into catching up to and beating that person (which I did). It is the only thing that kept me running. As an aside, I did the exact same thing in my first marathon (look for a future post on “green shirt guy”).
- During these last four kilometers, as I chased my nameless/faceless random competition, I spent a lot of time thinking about how strange it is that people, including myself, were willing to pay $80 to run through town in herds. We could all run this run on our own, and even time ourselves, any given day of the week. What is it about organized races that appeals to people? Note: I have still not been able to answer that question despite continuing to sign up for them myself.
- I finished in 2:03, which was roughly the median time for this particular race.
- I avoided the entire post-race runners’ scene and all the obligatory questions like “did your training pay off like mine?” or “did you PR?” or “what was your time?” I think there were also pancakes, but does anything sound less appealing when you’re hot, dehydrated and sunburned? I even declined the swag bag, after determining it to be full of products in which I had no interest.
I remember everyone asking me if I would run another half marathon and me practically snorting as I said a big “hell no!” I may have signed up for other half marathons, marathons and ultras, and I may have even run a marathon. But I would like it noted that, strictly speaking, I have stuck to my word.