Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Dallas Marathon, 2007, Part 2

Dallas Marathon, 2007, Part 2

Part 1 click here

Back in Dallas, race morning draws the curtain on a cold, windy, and rainy day. Just the day before the temperature was 70, and it was very humid. Sunday morning it is 40 and ominous, if not storming yet. We took an easy jog in the hot weather the day before and I figured it would be too hot to break 3:30 unless it cooled down. My quest to break 3:30 would have to wait for another day! Yes, it is frustrating. You train for months, spend a lot of money on shoes, race entry fees, and travel expenses, only to be thwarted at the outset by the weather. Such are the whims of race-day; weather can ruin your time before you even set foot on the course. That’s one reason why it is so difficult to predict how you are going to do in a marathon. In a short race the weather has a limited impact on your performance. But in a marathon it becomes a big random factor that can sink you. You hope for ideal weather conditions but adjust accordingly if they don’t materialize. You must bear your misfortune with stoic resolve, and press on the best you can.
But cold weather itself is not a problem. Cold is preferred, actually (to a point of course), so I was pleased about Sunday’s temperature at least. But cold, windy, and rainy are far from ideal conditions for a marathon. There was an ice storm that was pummeling Kansas City and Tulsa, and it was creeping closer to Texas and Dallas. Weather-wise it was out of the humidor, and into the ice box. But I could see from the weather channel that I was obsessively watching on our hotel room TV that so far, conditions were holding. This was good news. I also reflected that the poor weather might keep the crowds away. They would probably have preferred 70s and humid! That was unfortunate; crowd support was something I was looking forward to, having never really experienced it in any of my previous marathons. The weather was predicted to get worse and worse as the day got on, so by the end of our race conditions might be far worse than at the beginning. Of course it’s difficult to predict. No matter where you are in this country, it seems like there is someone who will tell you, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 15 minutes!” This statement usually accompanied by a self-satisfied smirk and a chuckle, like this is the only place in the country where weather changes quickly, and aren’t-you-in-a-unique-place as a result. Doing the math, I figured that the weather today could change on me no less than 14 times while I was out running. Hope you’re happy, you self-satisfied smirking sons-of-bitches! But so far, so good.

The race is to start at 8:00 am. We get up at 6:00 – no alarm clock necessary, as neither of us slept well the night before – get some coffee and bagels from the hotel lobby convenience store, and get dressed for the race. Even though the weather is forecast to be in the 40s, I dress in light-weight running shorts, a simple grey “Colorado Marathon” running shirt (represent!), a visor for the rain, and sunglasses. I put on my Louisville Marathon long-sleeve warm-up shirt for the walk down there, but I won’t run in it. I can run quite comfortably down to the upper 30s in that light get-up. There’s a bag drop at the starting area so I can retrieve my warm-up stuff after the race, no problem.

I apply a generous layer of “body glide” roll-on to my feet to protect them from blisters. In Louisville I managed to get an enormous blood blister on my big toe. It didn’t hurt during the race but it was rather nasty to behold. More body glide this time! I really slather that stuff on my feet and toes. Then on go the socks and shoes. I attach the RFID timing chip to my shoelaces. I’m wearing the same shoes I wore at Louisville, and I briefly entertain the superstitious notion that this pair of shoes is possibly unlucky, or even cursed, before I realize that these are also the same shoes I wore at the Boyd Lake half marathon. So the shoes probably don’t enter into the equation, other than possibly being a little worn out by this point.
I pin my race bib number to my shorts. It’s personalized with my name in capital letters. “SCOTT”; nice touch! Since I registered with the 3:30 pace team they gave me an additional “pace team member” bib to wear; at the race expo I marked it with a great big “SLUSH” with a blue Sharpie. Now I pin it to the back of my shirt. Then I pin 3 “Gu” shot energy gels to my shorts, and jam a fourth Gu gel and the hotel room key into a little pouch sewn into the waistband of the shorts. In Louisville I pinned 2 Gu gels to my shorts, and I wished I had 2 more. No regrets today; I’ve got 4! Due to the extra SLUSH pace team bib I’m a little short on safety pins, so I only use one pin per Gu gel instead of my normal two pins per gel. Sufficiently fortified and identified, I’m ready to go.

The hotel has shuttle busses transporting people the mile to the starting area, but we decide to hoof it down there on foot. A brisk walk is a good way to warm up. Past the Book Depository once again, I can’t help but steal a glance at the propped open window on the corner of the 6th floor as we join the trickle of other runners walking down North Houston Street to the starting area. I know George W. Bush ran a marathon; I wonder how JFK would have done at the 26.2? I also wonder which marathon George Dubya ran; probably a race in Texas, possibly the Dallas marathon even. I was already on the streets where time walked; would I also be running the streets that Dubya ran?

The race starts and finishes at a place downtown called “Victory Park”; thusly named due to its proximity to the American Airlines Center where the Dallas Mavericks and Dallas Stars play basketball and hockey. It’s some sort of upscale urban redevelopment “renaissance” area. It’s nice enough, but it’s all very crowded and chaotic. C_ and I mosey down towards the sports arena as I’d read that’s where the bathrooms are located. You always need to use the restroom one last time before a race; it’s tradition! Besides, you don’t want to waste time on a bathroom break during a marathon if you can avoid it; sure, it only takes a minute or two, but that could be the difference in making or breaking your goal.

The lines to get into the sports arena are massive, but thankfully moving quickly. We have to get inside, use the bathroom, find the “bag drop” for our warm-up clothes, make it to the actual starting line, and work our way up to our respective pace group leaders all in 15 minutes. It’s about this time that we realize that we have seriously underestimated how crazy and crowded the starting line area is for a big race.
Since the race is using the sports arena’s bathrooms, we actually have to go through a metal detector and past security to get in. My numerous safety pins don’t set off the metal detector, thankfully. But in reality the line moves quickly enough; we’re inside the sports arena with some time to spare. But once inside, we find more lines for the restrooms! About this time I think “sod the bathroom, I’m out of here!” I’m certainly starting to panic, and cast aside my normal pre-race routine. I get C_ to give me her warm-up stuff, and bid her adieu. I decide that I’ll go find the bag drop for both of us; that way she can just use the restroom and find the starting line. When push comes to shove, she’s got just a little more of herself invested in this race than do I, and I want to make sure she has every opportunity to succeed today. Leaving her at the line to the ladies room is not exactly the inspirational “good luck and goodbye” moment I was hoping for, and that doesn’t sit well with me as I wander around the arena concourse looking for someone who can tell me where I might find the bag drop.

I finally locate a race host, and get them to tell me that the bag drop is just outside the South-East corner of the arena. Excellent. It turns out I have to back-track to where I left C_ at the bathroom to get to the bag drop location, so I decide to wait for her at the exit of the ladies room first. Continuing that time-honored tradition of gentlemen and perverts everywhere, I loiter at the exit to the ladies room and wait. I stand there for about a minute – it seems like 10 -- and she doesn’t come out. A fresh new panic sets in as I think that she may have already left the bathroom while I was wandering the concourse. I can’t very well go in and ask for her; I mean I could, but a gentleman should remain and wait! But what if she’s really gone? Now how long do I wait before I cruise on out of here? If the lines are moving this quickly, maybe I should go to the restroom myself? Why don’t I plan any of this? Every moment of indecision is that much precious wasted time lost. I’ve got no clear plan in my head, I’m not preparing for the race at all. I’m actually anti-preparing at this point. I’m clutching two warm-up shirts, one pair of warm-up trousers, an mp3 player, two mostly-empty water bottles, and standing around somewhat foolishly, as C_ emerges from the restroom and rescues me from my self-imposed paralysis, and, thankfully confirms to everyone else my status as a gentlemen and not a perv. A gentleman waits, indeed.

We proceed out of the arena and back into the crowds. Next item of business, bag drop. We walk to the South-East side of the arena; at least what I think is the South-East side of the arena. No bag drop. Now what? Where is the friggin bag drop??? We’ve got 5 minutes, maybe, before the starting gun goes off. Sod the bag drop! We can a) carry all the stuff with us, or b) stash it somewhere and hope it’s still there when we finish. The marathon starts and ends at the same place; it’s a giant loop. So a bag drop is not strictly necessary. And we’ve got less than 5 minutes; we’ve got to get to the start! We quit looking for the bag drop altogether and make our way to the entrance of the starting line area. I’ve ran the Bolder Boulder so I know what a big race is like, right? No I really don’t. The Bolder Boulder is organized at the start like a bunch of smaller 1,000 person races. In Dallas, between the Marathon, the Marathon Relay, and the Half Marathon, there are probably 7,000 people jammed into a narrow street. This is like a sold out show at the Fillmore, and we’re behind the soundboard, and the stage is waaay up there. I’d like to be closer to the stage, if it’s all the same to you. At a minimum we’ve got to get up to our pace team leaders, or else we’re probably going to be stuck behind slower runners for the first 5 miles of the race. It could have a serious impact on our ability to make time. We see the “4:00” pace team balloons. I guess the pacers carry sticks with balloons on them, with their pace marked on the balloons, so you can identify them easily. 4:00. So we’re not too far back. We start weaving our way up towards the front of the crowd.

And I’m still clutching all our crap! I give the mp3 player to C_; can’t very well leave that lying around. She’s got a pocket so she can carry that. I tie my Louisville shirt around my waist, justifying that I might need it if the weather turns south on us. So far it’s holding; cold, the streets a little wet, but no rain. I still have C_’s shirt and pants, and two water bottles (seriously; why am I even carrying those??). We wind our way towards the starting line, looking for the 3:40 balloons. Thusly spotted, I wish C_ another, debatably even less inspirational farewell (“loveyagoodluckbye”), and I try to sidle up to the 3:30 balloons. After we part company I realize that we made no plans to meet up after the race. I’ll have to locate her when she finishes – assuming she doesn’t finish ahead of me – and if the finish is this chaotic that might be a challenge. Yet another bit of planning tossed casually aside in the chaos directly preceding the start of the race.
I get pretty close to the 3:30 balloons but I can’t squeeze my way up all the way to them. It’s really crowded in here, which is actually kind of nice since it helps keep me warm. Standing around before the start of a race is typically a chilly affair. Someone is singing the national anthem over the PA system so I know the moment is near. Jammed shoulder-to-shoulder with all the runners, I’m still carrying all the stuff; I can't run with this stuff, but I can’t very well leave it lying on the ground, someone will trip on it. I see people tossing their warm-up clothing over everyone’s heads onto the sidewalks from the middle of the crowd. I suppose I could do that with the clothing, but I’d probably tag someone right in the temple with a half-empty water bottle toss, so I decide to hang on to it all until the race starts, and dump it somewhere on course. There’s a good chance I’ll never see the clothing again. I mean what other option do I have? Some people are wearing garbage bags; clever! Just toss them off after you start; no worries about losing a garbage bag. Not as eco-friendly though.

Then it starts (click here for Part 3).

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