A Note from Fatty: Thanks to the American Fork Canyon Half Marathon folks for providing me with several photos, posted here.
Whether you’re racing on bike or foot, there are a few observations I would like to submit as axiomatic:
- Being wakened by an alarm (I use the “Ascending” ringtone on my phone, just in case you’re interested) at 3:30am is terrible; since it’s not the time you’re accustomed to waking, your first thought is, “There’s an emergency.”
- One of the very best things about doing a local race is that while you’re waking up at a horrible hour, you’re at least in your own bed. Preparing for a race in your own home — as opposed to in a hotel or campsite — is really nice.
- The two hours right before the race is much harder to cope with than the race itself.
Here’s another thing I’m learning: It’s a lot simpler to prepare gear for a running race than for a bike race. Instead of thinking about all the special equipment that goes on you (shoes, helmet, gloves) and the special equipment that you’re riding (mechanical suitability of the bike) and the special equipment you’re carrying to eat and drink, you just pretty much need to get dressed in what you plan to wear when you’re running.
Please, however: do not regard the above as me taking a step toward preferring the dark (i.e., running) side of racing. I’m not. I won’t. Ever. I promise. In fact, I promise a lot.
Are we good then? OK. Let’s talk about this race.
I Don’t Feel Over-Prepared
There are certain ways I’m just starting to realize The Hammer and I are almost ridiculously well-suited for each other.
One of these ways is that we both tend to go a little overboard in our pre-race preparations.
As we sat in a restaurant the evening before the race, we were both being quiet. Occupied with our own thoughts. Finally, I said, “You know, until I write a checklist for tomorrow, I’m not going to be able to think about anything else.”
“I was just working on mine in my head,” she replied.
Relieved, we rattled off what we planned to bring. I transcribed the list on my phone: Shorts, Shoes, socks, Tech-Ts, Long sleeve shirt, Gloves, Hats, Blankets, iPods, Gels, GPS, After-run clothes, Coats, Bagels, Race Bibs, cheese wheel, Hand warmers, Body glide.
No doubt, you’ve noticed that there are a lot of warmth-related clothing items in that list. That’s because both The Hammer and I have been camping in the mountains before, and therefore know that it would be closer to freezing than not-freezing once we arrived at the start line and waited around for an hour or so.
Strangely (at least to us), it seemed like we were in the minority in thinking about how nights in the mountains tend to get cold. When our bus dropped us off at Tibble Fork Reservoir, it seemed like most of the racers were standing around in their tank tops and shorts, clutching themselves and bouncing up and down, trying to stay warm.
We put on all our clothes, wrapped ourselves in our blankets, and sat down, feeling comfortable, smug, and rather too smart for this crowd.
Naturally, however, I was only comfortable on the outside. On the inside, I was a bundle of nerves. No, make that two bundles of nerves, because I was nervous for the race itself, and because I had to give a speech soon. And I didn’t have any notes to crib from.
Clearly, there was only one thing to do: go to the bathroom.
I walked over to the line of porta-potties and, just as I was getting near, one of them opened up and a person stepped out. Before the door could close, I stepped in and took care of the things that needed taking care of.
I stepped out, feeling better. At which point I realized that I had just completely cut the line for the toilet. As in, probably cut past a ten-deep line.
Sorry, ten (or so) people I line-jumped. I was honestly so preoccupied I didn’t see you. Or so I claim.
A Brief Aside About Starting Line Porta-Potties
I’m going to get to the race itself soon — honest, I am — but I want to make another observation that I believe all experienced racers (bike, run, tri or otherwise) will agree with:
No race promoter, in the history of races, has ever provided enough porta-potties at the starting line of the venue.
My theory is that, every time a race director contacts a porta-potty vendor, the race director says, “I have a [bike / running / whatever] race coming up that’s [distance X] long. How many porta-potties should I rent, and where should I put them?”
The porta-potty vendor then punches in relevant data into a computer program, which spits out a total, as well as how far apart they should be.
Unfortunately, the computer program was designed by someone who has either never been to a race, or who has been to a race, did badly, and now holds a grudge.
So, race promoters, here’s a thought: when the porta-potty vendor tells you how many potties you should have at the start line, triple it and you’ll be about right. If that means an extra $5 on my registration fee, that is just fine.
Now, back to the race. Or at least to the part just before the race.
Fast Start, Good Company, Wet Feet
A few minutes before the beginning of the race, I was handed a microphone and told to say a few words. So I — more or less — gave the speech I had thought about the night before (and published when I woke up early that morning), but scrambled. As in, I’m pretty sure all the parts were there, but the order was a little bit haphazard.
OK, a lot haphazard.
But people were still cool about it and seemed to realize that — like them — I was amped up and wanting to get started, so they applauded. I gave back the microphone and got into my place in the starting line.
We then had an on-time start, which — for a first-time promoter, doing a first-time event — is a seriously impressive accomplishment.
The Hammer and I started together, with the plan being that I would do my best to hang with her in the canyon, but that after that (and before that, if necessary) she should feel free to take off and pursue a fast time.
Weirdly, though, I was the one who pulled ahead. Gravity agrees with me, I guess.
In moments, I heard laughing and talking behind me. Girl talk sounds. It was The Hammer, chatting with Jilene and RabidRunner.
The three of them caught up easily, and — briefly — I was unnerved. I was hanging with the Power Trio of running women. I had no business being with this group.
Then Jilene and RabidRunner pulled away, and The Hammer and I ran together. The buzzer on my new Garmin 610 [Full disclosure: I bought this myself and got no special deal on it] went off, letting me know we had done the first mile. I looked at the time: 7:08. I had just run a seven-minute mile.
“That’s downhill for you, I guess,” I thought to myself, but worried that I was setting myself up for an implosion the likes of which songs are written about.
OK, I just checked. I guess nobody writes songs about implosions. But they should.
During the second mile, The Hammer and I ran past where we got married. Unfortunately, the romanticness of this moment was overshadowed by the fact that we were tiptoeing across a flooded road at that moment. The river is running high right now.
One of The Hammer’s SuperPowers
The second mile went by. 7:28. Wow. The third mile: 7:12. Frankly, I didn’t know what to think. I had hoped for sub-8-minute miles in this very-downhill canyon, but this was wildly unexpected.
And then, as we were midway through the fourth mile, The Hammer announced, “I’ve got to pee.” (The Hammer was one of the people who didn’t get to use the porta-potty before the race started.)
This was a dilemma.
Ordinarily, it would not be a dilemma; I’d just slow to a walk as she surged ahead, and would keep walking ’til she caught me.
But on this race? I didn’t want to stop. I just didn’t know if I’d be able to recover the kind of pace that I had established (and seemed to be maintaining). So I said, “I don’t want to stop. I’m going to slow down a little when we see porta-potties; you go on as fast as you can and then catch me.”
And that’s what she did. She literally broke into a sprint as the aid station came into sight. By the time I passed the potty, she was inside with the door closed. Thirty seconds later, as I turned to look back, she was already back on the road.
One minute after that, she was back with me and we resumed our pace.
Our time for the fourth mile? 7:39. Which means The Hammer — if needed — can do a sub-8 mile including a pee break.
How many women do you know who can do that? For that matter, how many men do you know who can do that?
Go, Go, Go
We ran along together, and I began to realize I was having the best run of my life. Part of it was the elation I felt at being able to hang — during a race — with The Hammer. Part of it was the incredible realization that, even though I was going faster than I had ever run before, my lungs were not being taxed. I was taking big strides and letting gravity do the work.
Part of it was the comfort of being on a very familiar course. While I had only run in this canyon one time before, I’ve ridden it hundreds of times. It’s my favorite place to be, and I always knew exactly where I was and how much more was left of the canyon.
Part of it was seeing several groups of cyclists coming up the canyon, including a couple who called my name and gave me five as we crossed paths (and one guy who was even wearing a Fat Cyclist jersey — thanks, Jason!).
Part of it was that we could see the pace runner for the 1:35 group, and we were gaining on her.
We finished mile 5 in 7:01. Then, amazingly, mile 6 in 6:35. Mile 7 in 6:44!
Where were these times coming from? How was it possible that I was running this way?
Gravity. That’s how. Check out the elevation profile for this race, as reported by my GPS:
I had pulled ahead of The Hammer. I didn’t know by how much, but figured that in the same way she knew she should pull ahead if and when she could, the improbable converse of that equation also held true.
We broke out of the canyon with 5.5 miles to go. I knew that one of two things was bound to happen: I was either going to explode spectacularly within the next few miles, or I was going to finish a long time ahead of my best projection.
Go Some More
I ran along, no longer in a canyon but on a bike path winding its way through a golf course. My eighth mile shows I’ve run a 7:18.
I hear a voice.
“I’m just ten feet behind you, hang on a second!”
It’s The Hammer. While I thought I had left her far behind me, I have in reality gapped her by the enormous amount of ten feet.
I ease up for a second and we’re back together. I tell her the philosophy I’ve been evolving for the past mile or two. “This is the best run I’ve ever had or will ever have. I am going to absolutely turn myself inside out and get the fastest time I can today. If that means I’m sore or injured or puking my guts out the rest of the day and into tomorrow, that’s fine. But I really want to do good at this race.”
“That’s fine,” replied The Hammer. “I’m having only a so-so day, so let’s run together.”
We continued knocking out sub-8-minute miles. We run past Kenny and Heather, who are volunteering for the race, directing racers at intersections. Heather took this awesome picture of us:
Honestly, I’m just waving to Heather, although it may look like I’m warding off paparazzi. Or trying to spread my arms for maximum lift. Regardless, gotta love the cyclist tan lines on our legs, don’t you?
Anyway, at mile 11, we hit the only climb of any substance at all for the day, which gives us our only 8+-minute mile of the day — and that’s an 8:03.
As we hit the final mile, The Hammer says, “We’re finishing this together, right? No last-second surges?”
“Absolutely,” I reply, remembering the awesomeness of our Ironman finish. “We finish this holding hands.”
And then, with about 200 yards to go, The Hammer thunks me on the chest. I look to my left, thinking she’s directing my attention to one of my many fans. When I look back, I see that The Hammer has broken into a sprint.
Hornswoggled, I give it everything I’ve got, manage to catch her, and we do in fact cross the line together, holding hands.
1:36:56. Nine minutes faster than my stretch goal. Four minutes faster than her stretch goal. Only one minute slower than what I thought (and mistakenly reported) was her stretch goal.
I turned to her and ask, “What was that for?”
“Didn’t you see?” The Hammer replied. “There was a couple trying to pass us at the finish line. I couldn’t let that happen.”
And that, my friends, is why The Hammer is The Hammer.
Here’s something that’s amazing: The American Fork Canyon Half-Marathon was a first-time event, put together by a rookie race director with a rookie team.
And they knocked it out of the park. And I’m not just saying that because I was involved in promoting this race. I’m saying it because it went off without a hitch. The race went beautifully and on-time, results were being posted on the fly, and they were serving french toast, fruit, and Italian ice for racers at the finish line.
People were hanging around afterward, relaxing; having fun. This wasn’t just a big success as a race, it was a big success as an event.
You watch: Next year this thing’ll fill up even faster; it’s going to become one of the premier races of the area. Not least because it raised $55,000 for local cancer survivors to use to help pay for treatment.
I have to say, it’s nice when — once in a while — everything goes just right.
PS: If you’d like to geek out over the details of our race data, you’ll find it here.