Thursday, April 3, 2014

Shamrocks, Leprechauns and Old Friends

Race days are something I enjoy far more when they're in the rear view. For reasons inexplicable, I get really worked up before a race, even the short 5K races I run. It's all so complicated. First there is proper training, then a race day plan, packet pick-up at the convention center the Saturday before, eating and hydrating properly pre-race, then leaving hours before your wave, making your way to through the throngs to the starting line, getting out to use a porta-potty, finding your way back, waiting, waiting, waiting, then finally the blast! Horray! Then five minutes or so later, I cross the start and begin to run.

With regards to training properly; I’m not looking to set any records, but I like to finish feeling good about my performance. I run about three times a week, two two-mile runs and one three mile run. And that's about it. I keep trying to extend those miles but when I do my body says, “Hey WTF? This isn't enough?? OK then.  How about some weird pain in your legs, back or shoulders, or perhaps a little tummy cramping to put you back in your place?!?”

Today's race day plan was fairly simple. The girls were coming with us and we were driving to to a Max park-n-ride, then taking the train downtown. We were sure that leaving by 7:40 a.m. would put us downtown in time for Boots' race at 8:50. She was running the kid's 1K Leprechaun Leap. We arrived to the Max in record time but that was all eaten up by our twenty minute wait for the train. I was wondering where the train would put the mass of racers waiting with us. Crammed in with the other anchovies rolling through downtown, I watched our can pass and be passed by the same people walking along the sidewalk three or four times. I couldn't take it anymore, we peeled back the lid, squirted out of the can and swam to the starting line. Charley and Boots just barely got in line before horn sounded for her race.

While Gabs and I were waiting, we decided to use the porta-potty and queued up. The line was a standstill. Then someone poked out from behind the bank and said, “There’s no line over here!” Sure enough there was another bank backed up to ours free and clear. We jetted over and much relieved headed back to wait for Boots and Charley.

Boots rocked her race. She ran the entire 1K distance at a pace, then sprinted the final stretch. That's my little leprechaun. She proudly wore her shirt the next school day. Printed on the back says, “Large, Loud and Legendary”. She read it and said, “That's just like me!” Indeed.

Due to an abundance of butterflies I always mess up the pre-race eating. I'm hungry, but too jittery to want to be full, and definitely don't want to feel sloshy. By the time we get lined up to race, I'm ravenous and thirsty. I brought a gel and water, but neglected to use them with the shuffle.

At this point I got some texts from my friend Sara who was going to run with me today. Sara and I grew up together in the same small town, in the same small school, on the same small sports teams. I had seen her only once since graduation. I was looking for the same tiny girl with bright blond hair, and this taller woman taps me on the shoulder, “Hey, Amy!”

“Sara, holy cow! You're taller!” were my brilliant words to my old friend.

“Um, yep, I grew a little bit,” she said. A long time ago, she thought.

The race was delayed while the cleared out the 8K people, giving us time to catch up with her while taking selfies on our phones, while shivering, dancing to the music, throwing up a wave, and other things they did to keep us entertained while we waited. Finally the horn blasted and we were off! Well sort of.  We were walking, toward the starting line, which seemed like a long ways away…

Due to the crowd, Sara and I lost track of each other right after crossing the start line. We both did a lot of zig-zag running, my watch says I actually ran 3.2 miles, the extra tenth of a mile was all people dodging. It was difficult finding my rhythm for that first mile, then things opened up.

It's on now.

Most corners have people ringing bells, cheering, school bands playing, cops intermittently looking serious and waving at the runners, along with an occasional bewildered pedestrian wondering how they're going to cross the street and not get swept away by the green river of runners.

It is such a rush running in a group like that. So much so that I generally start feeling a little lightheaded around the two mile mark. I hear myself wheezing, so I remember to breath deep and puff out my chest, and carry on.

Then when I'm starting to feel fatigued, the street lifts up in a cruel climb—OK, it's really a pretty gentle climb but it feels cruel at this point. Then the downhill, around the corner, around another corner—yes! the finish line. I turn on the afterburners and I’m surprised to find that I have pretty good juice left.

Then it's over. I stop my watch and check my pace.  8:40 m/m. Whew. Pant, pant, pant. Where are my people?

There they are. All the stress of everything is washed out and I'm grinning. Grinning from endorphins, grinning from the air, grinning from the energy of the crowd. I picked up a crying Berzo from her stroller and we beeline to the chowder and the beer garden. I didn't wear my beer socks for nothing!

The first time I ran the Shamrock Run three years ago, I couldn't imagine wanting a beer after just finishing a race. The thought of it was awful. Reluctantly, I followed my people to the beer garden, got my pint and took a tentative sip. My eyes widened in wonder. It was delicious. The rich flavor warmed and filled my growling tummy. The warmth spread throughout my body, releasing the tension and increasing the feeling of post-race euphoria.

Charley's friend Chris was there after running the 15K. I admired his finisher's medal, a bottle opener—so cool—and tried not to be intimidated by the fact that he ran three times my distance… We sipped and visited, and too soon my beer was empty. We headed out and walked my friend back to her hotel room. It was fun catching up with her. As we said good-bye, I felt a momentary longing for my home and all the people in it. There's this whole other side to me, that is buried under my current life. It was wonderful to unearth that old life and live in it a for a few moments.

The moment passed and for the rest of the day I floated on a cloud. I wore my tee-shirt as proudly as Boots. After all, I have been running regularly through sticky heat of summer, sicknesses, rain, and pain. I got to hang out with 30K of the coolest Portlanders, soak up the glow of my little leprechaun racer, drink the magical post race brew and catch up with a good friend. I'm even happy with my time and placement. Not a bad day, indeed.

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