Saturday, February 16, 2008

Gearing Up

Tomorrow is the big race day, 26.2 miles through the beautiful rolling hills of Austin, Texas. Last night, I drove up to receive my running packet, which included my bib number (complete with my first name on it) and my chip, which electronically tracks my progress during the race.

It was rather comical as my two running companions and I pulled up to the Palmer Events Center in the pouring rain, watching the multitudes of marathoners racing to the facilities to escaped the downpour. It was very fitting to see, but I wondered if everyone would be running to the building even if the weather was perfectly sunny. Is that just what runners do? When in Austin, do as the Austinites. The three of us joined the soggy throngs and galloped to the dry sanctuary of the Events Center.

Once inside, it was almost impossible to find the actual registration booth amidst the rows and columns of never-ending vendors, selling every thing under the sun (or rain) that runners need, might need, or think they might need. I once thought that running required NOTHING special, then I learned how important good socks and shoes were. Later, I discovered "wicking" engineered fabrics were not only better than cotton t-shirts and old gym shorts, but also more expensive. Eventually, I realized that a good ergonomically designed belt that supports a water bottle comfortably against the small of my back was a good investment for long runs. Then there's the skull cap, the running sunglasses that stay off your brow, the gel packs, gummy packs, energy bars, and power drinks, and the "glide" stick that keeps your rubbing parts from chaffing, and of course, the all important .mp3 player. But these are things I already HAD before I hit the showroom floor. There were so many gadgets and gidgets and widgets that were marketed as running accessories that you would think one would need to run pulling a wagon just to carry everything. And to think there were so many peddlers at a running event!

I ended up buying an "Nike" bicep strap with a neoprene sleeve to carry my cell-phone in during the race tomorrow. I figured it was money well spent, because it would not only make my muscle look bigger, but it would allow me to communicate with all my adorning fans who will be there to cheer me on at various checkpoints. I also wanted to have it in case I need to call "911." Either way, I feel it was a wise investment.

There were also a plethora of freebies given away: sample granola bars of every variety, armbands that had the pacing times for a desired finish time, stickers, magazines, more granola bars, teeny-tiny chap stick tubes, magnets, decals, bandanas, "livestrong" bracelets, and "better than granola" bars. After stuffing my bag with the complimentary wares, knowing that half of them would eventually end up straight in the trash can, we wandered around a bit and just listened to breakout conversations about marathon strategies, course topography, and hypothetical ingredients in the "better than granola" bars.

Eventually, we found the registration tables in the very back of the auditorium, strategically placed beyond the gauntlet of salesmen. I walked up to the booth that posted the range of bib numbers into which mine fell. "'Kevin Korpi', you say . . . " the man asked. "I have that bib down as 'Roger Hankins.' Are you sure you registered?" As I began to panic, another lady behind the booth came over after spying something written on the email confirmation form I printed out. "Ooooooooooh, you're a fuuuuuuuull marathoner. This is for the half marathoners." I felt like I was just scorned as if I were a self-righteous, pompous aristocrat. Having finally reached the correct table and social class, I finally got what I really came for . . . the free t-shirt. It was such a cool moment I thought could not be topped, until the man at the booth said I'd get ANOTHER shirt once I finished the race WITH a handsome metal to hang around my neck. "Hurray!" I thought. "Another free t-shirt, albeit a cotton one." My motivation to finish the race was complete.

After roaming around a bit more, eluding the preying salesmen and bagging more free stuff, we finally left the building. The rain had stopped, so we WALKED back to the car. We could have used a wagon for all our stuff. Overall, it was exciting just to be around so many fit, trim, excited people. There was an unspoken camaraderie in the air, one that comes from the communal feeling of "yeah, I paid $110 to run 26.2 miles." I can't wait to see all my "friends" again dark and early tomorrow morning, as all 13,500 crowd up to the starting line on the narrow streets of downtown Austin, Texas.

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