Kathy and I got home from Sunday's San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon late last night. I can honestly say that was the hardest thing I've ever done.
We arrived at the starting line around 6:10 am. The 16,000-plus runners were divided into corrals based on their estimated finish times. Geoff was in corral 3. Kathy and I in 7. While walking to our corral we passed by an elderly gentleman wearing a Superman outfit. The "S" on his chest was replaced with a "26.2". He informed us that anyone else we saw in a Superman costume was a phony. "I am the real Superman," he said with his thumb pointing at his chest.
Everywhere runners were wearing belts with energy gel packs inserted into loops. Bandoliers of ammunition came to mind. Those empty packs would litter the entire route, spent casings expended in thousands of personal battles. The reasons for running were many. Raise money to fight a disease. For the challenge. In memoriam of a passed loved one. For fun. I just wanted to do it one time.
We were off and a polite and considerate crowd gently fell into the run. Earlier I had decided on a 9-minute mile pace hoping to finish within four hours. I would walk only to eat and drink. Within the first mile I was soaked in sweat. It was 60 degrees and slightly humid, perfect weather for the elite runners who would finish two hours ahead of me. Not so good for someone who's used to low humidity and low temperature. I knew I would have to drink at every water station and I did.
The first 13.1 miles went great. I was 3-1/2 minutes under the two-hour mark and I felt very comfortable. But that time in the bank wasn't accruing any interest. I not only had some late fees coming, but the repo man was to show up as well.
Along the way I saw or met some interesting people. One young man was wearing pink bikini briefs with the words "Awesome Dude" in black letters on his butt. That had lost bet written all over it. His friend was going to try running 200 miles in one week. Mr Pink bet him he couldn't do it. The loser had to wear the "Awesome Dude" pink bottoms in the marathon. There were also the Running Elvi. One hundred and forty-eight men and women were dressed as Elvis, setting a new race record. The wig alone would've killed me.
The third hour of running got tough. The rising temperature combined with the humidity began sucking the life out of me. It didn't take long for me to give back my savings of three and one-half minutes. The fourth hour turned into four and one-quarter hours. I kept running and walked only to drink, but each mile was more and more difficult. By mile 24 I was ready to be done. An encouraging group at the water station read my name on my race bib and yelled, "Come on, Hank! Be strong. You can do this!" Not that I wasn't going to. I just didn't want to at the moment. But I slogged on. I knew I wasn't going to finish in four hours. On a loop-back after the 25-mile mark I saw the 4:15 pace group was catching up to me. That didn't seem so bad to me and I pressed on hoping I'd stay even slightly ahead of them. At the 26-mile mark I was looking at the longest stretch of 200 meters I have ever seen. I finally got to the finish just after the 4:15 pace group passed me by. I finished about 30 seconds after them happy to be done with it.
Geoff came in almost an hour ahead of me at 3:18. Kathy wasn't far behind me at 4:37. My wife and my running friends tell me I will do this again. That now that I know what it's like, I 'll want to improve my time and possibly prove something to myself. They are wrong. Once is enough for me. That last hour was pure agony and I don't feel a compelling need to suffer like that again. Awesome Dude finished 30 minutes ahead of me. For me the bets are off. Looking through the standings I saw that the winner of the men's 70-74 age group finished 16 minutes ahead of me, right around my target time. Most certainly he was the real Superman.