I knew the moment would come, eventually. The moment when I would have to get off my bike and go run a half marathon.
No, wait. I meant to put run in sarcasm quotes in that last sentence.
By the time I finished walking (as everyone around me ran) to where my stuff was in the transition area, my back felt OK again. I sucked down my seventh Gu Roctane gel of the day (one every half hour for the whole race — I never felt empty or sick the whole day) as I put on my fancy new 3-Sum Altras, but with socks. because I like to live dangerously . . . but not too dangerously.
And then I began to “run” (There, I got the air quotes right that time). Which means that I moved at what was essentially a walking pace, but swinging my arms as if I were running. Allow me to show you what I mean:
Please do not mistake my facial expression for a smile. Thank you.
This Course Is Just Mean
The thing is, I was as prepared for this run as I have ever been for any run. Running this season in Altras certainly was part of it — the zero-drop thing has really worked for me. Being lighter has helped, too. And starting with low mileage and working s-l-o-w-ly up has made a difference.
But none of that mattered, because the running course for the St. George Half-Ironman is just brutal. This is the run profile, according to the race website:
But my Strava of the run — which, by the way, did not capture the first 0.8 miles of the run because my stupid Garmin 10 wouldn’t acquire a signal — tells a different story: 1241 feet of climbing.
Yeah, 1241 feet of climbing in a half marathon. At the end of a half Ironman.
And I’m inclined to believe the Strava record of the event. See, the out-and-back course was always either going up or down. I don’t believe there was a single piece of the run that was level.
Looking For The Hammer
But I made it a point of pride to never stop and walk. Even if I was going nearly as slow as if I were walking, I was going to keep “running.”
Because I suspected that if I slowed to a walk, The Hammer would smack me on the butt as she ran by.
I made it to the six-point-something mile turnaround, and began keeping a sharp eye out for The Hammer. I knew I’d see her soon; the only question was when. I figured if I got to mile seven — which would be her mile 5 — I’d have a good chance of holding her off ’til the end.
I reached mile seven. No sign of The Hammer yet.
A chunk of mile seven (also mile 5) is in a little detour the half-marathon takes your through the hilly (because the course isn’t already difficult enough, apparently) Pioneer Park. Before the race, this is where The Hammer said we’d see each other.
She was right.
“Lisa!” I yelled, and held out a hand for her to give me five as we crossed paths.
Instead, she laughed and threw a piece of ice at me. I didn’t mind. I had two miles on her, and fewer than six left to go before I reached the finish line.
Slowdown + Gratitude + Pain
Encouraged, I kept running. But — even more than before, somehow — my running felt less like running. It was a trudging jog, at best. And — except for steep downhills, which weren’t super-pleasant either — it was always uphill.
People passed me in droves. “It isn’t the course that’s the problem,” I realized. “It’s me.” I began to suspect that my lead over The Hammer was far from safe.
I told my legs to go faster. My legs failed to comply.
I made it to the bottom of the last big descent — just a couple miles to go. Then I got diverted (along with everyone else) onto a little side street, where we had a short run up (and I mean “up” in the most vertical sense of the word) to the local Elks lodge and then back.
I knew that if I saw The Hammer coming into this out-and-back section while I was still on it, she’d catch me. If I didn’t see her, I was — more than likely — safe.
As I ran I watched every runner, knowing that long before I could recognize any features I’d recognize her smooth running style.
I made it onto Bluff Street without seeing her. I knew I’d finish first. And with this knowledge came a sudden lack of urgency, and I slowed down further, so that my forward progress could be measured only by sophisticated scientific instruments.
I turned onto Diagonal Street: a — finally! — gently downhill grade leading to the final turn and the home stretch. There, a large man was standing in the street, holding out popsicles for anyone who wanted them.
I took one, briefly considering that in this era, taking food from a stranger in an event like this might not be wise. “I’m not going to live like that,” I thought to myself, “and besides, a popsicle sounds great right now.”
And it was great. Truly cold and sweet and wet and delicious. Just what I needed and wanted right then.
And then I got a monster of a brain freeze. Which at least kept me occupied for a minute or so and distracted me from the fact that everyone in the world was passing me at the moment.
I made the final turn. Now all I had to do was make it down the big downhill stretch to the finish. I heard someone call my name out, and turned around — it was Kenny and Heather. “Hey,” I said, happy to see they had come to see me.
The finishing line crowd was huge, and cheering for everyone. Dozens of people put out their hands for runners to give them five. I complied as best as I could:
Hey, let’s get a closeup of my legs in that shot:
I confess to having mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I think my legs are looking pretty darned good. On the other hand, there’s some very clear old-man-legs wrinkleage going on up there on my left quad. Ew.
As I approached the finish line, I thought to myself, “I need a finish line celebration.” Raised arms wouldn’t be appropriate — I knew I for sure hadn’t won anything.
But how about a heel-click? Yes, a heel click would be perfect. Which just goes to show exactly how addled my mind was at the time. Still, here’s the launch:
And here I am on my way toward the click:
And for those of you who — like me — have been waiting your whole life for a good shot of me doing a heel-click while wearing a super-form-fitting outfit as I cross the finish line of a half-Ironman, here’s the zoomed-in version of the shot:
Unfortunately, I haven’t been exactly training to do heel clicks when I’m completely and utterly exhausted, and I very nearly went down when I landed:
But I pulled it out and recovered my balance.
Meeting The Hammer
Now all I needed to do was wait for The Hammer to cross. And I didn’t have to wait long. In fact, I only needed to wait six minutes, during which I drank three bottles of water (no exaggeration). Kenny caught a photo of us moments after she crossed the line:
Yes, I was as salt-encrusted as I appear in that photo.
We sat down and recovered.
Yes, I really was that salt-encrusted.
Heather wanted a photo of The Hammer and me together, but neither of us was willing to get out of our seats. This was our compromise:
We were not actually anywhere near as sunburned as the above photo would suggest.
The Hammer Hammered
After a few minutes or possibly half an hour, we went to check and see what our various splits and times and whatnot were. You can look us up at the results page for the race (I’m racer 2261, The Hammer is 2076) but I’ll be more than glad to give you a quick snapshot for your consideration.
And here’s The Hammer:
You see what’s important there? Yep, The Hammer podiumed.
That’s right, The Hammer took fourth in her age group. And in fact had the fastest bike time in her age group.
So here she is on stage, getting her trophy:
And here’s the trophy itself:
I’m so proud of her.
And also, I’m so happy that I don’t have to run again for a long, long time.