Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Marathon Saga: Part I

Last Sunday, I ran, and finished, my first marathon. Needless to say, I have a new appreciation for motor vehicles and Advil.

Arriving at the race site at 6:00am, there was already a energetic buzz in the air as thousands of runners in a variety of outfits were going through their pre-race routine. Some were packing their running belts with their energy gel, chapstick, asthma inhalers, ipods, cell phones, etc. Others were stretching, restretching, and stretching again doing all they could to keep warm in the chilly air, trying to calm themselves of the nervous energy that comes from anticipating at a long run that was still an hour away. The most popular pre-race activity, however, was hitting the port-o-potty. I, myself, must have used the bathroom 4 times in the 45 minutes prior to the race. Anticipating long lines for the bathroom along the route, I didn't want to run the risk of not reaching my goal of 4 hours 30 minutes because of standing in a long line to pee.

About 15 minutes before the race, we took our place well back from the starting line where the elite runners line up. My training partner (if you can call what we did "training") and I lined up at the 4:45 group. Although we would not run the race together, we did want to start it together. I'd run up to the 4:30 group, he'd drop back if needed. At 6:55am, 5 minutes before the start, we were packed in like sardines all along the wide road. People were making their final adjustments: getting their wedgie undone, queuing their ipods, and getting one last good nervous puke in before the race.

At 7:00am, the race began with a canon firing in the light of dawn with fireworks filling up the sky. Me and my 13499 friends began cheering. The race was on. I could see far ahead the solid mass of runners moving up the course. I looked left, right, and behind me--people every where. My section moved up slowly, walking. We were still well back from the starting line, but we were pressing up and crowding in. I thought about getting trampled to death. I thought about lemmings marching to their own death. I started my ipod to take my mind off it.

Five minutes after the canon, I crossed the starting line. The computer chip on my shoe crossed the sensor, and my official time began. After a short descent, the course to an immediate climb up a decent grade over a 2.5 mile span. With the adrenalin flowing and fresh legs, I said goodbye to my running mate and zig-zagged my way up the hill, avoiding other runners and flying clothing that was already being shed. At times, I had to run on the sidewalk just to avoid stepping on the calves of people in front of me. Being my first marathon, I wondered as I zipped up the hill if I'd be regretting this act of hubris later in the race, if I'd be seeing the people I was now passing later in the race, as they past me. The tortoise and the hare entered my mind.

Once I passed the the 4:15 group, I fell back into my usual stride and cruised comfortably, taking in sounds, smells, and sights of Austin, Texas. The most unusual sight (and smell) was the numerous male runners who pulled off the course wherever it was convenient to drain their bladders. In a different time, on a different day, the sight of dozens of men peeing along the side of a road would cause quite a stare, and the whizzers might even be fined, if not arrested, but on this special morning, as thousands witnessed the symphony of splashes, these men barely caught the attention of the more focused runners. In fact, I think the idea was catching on, as I saw a couple of females squatting by a tree. I guess losing your modesty is a small price to pay for shaving a few minutes off your time, minutes otherwise wasted standing in a long port-o-potty line. I began wondering if the elite runners even took the time to peel off the main course to relieve themselves, or if they just did their thing in stride (the top three finishers were within seconds of each other.)

I'll continue the saga tomorrow. Right now I'm going to go explore a great idea I have: a "runner's catheter" with an "ergonomically designed, form-fitting catch basin" that will have to be easily distinguishable from a water bottle.

Gotta run.

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