You never know what to expect when it’s your first time, right? :) So I got talked into it by Monotrme the Great (MtG) on the promises that it’s beautiful and it’s all downhill (which turned out to be true for the former but only about 70% true for the latter). I got there the afternoon before, and we went to pick up our race materials and have some carbo-loading for the race day. There were lots of volunteers (and people somehow knew each other, kind of like one huge village :)) and everything went fast and smooth. Food was decent, and the place looked “colorful” (that’s the most descriptive word I could come up with ;)).
We woke up at 4 in the morning to get the early buses. The way it works is that buses take the runners from the city to somewhere about 26.2 miles far, and drop them off there to run back! I kept asking myself what was the reason I got myself into it as the bus kept driving further and further :) I doubt if I was the only one with that question. We got to the start point about an hour before the race, and it was COLD! I had a hoodie to keep me warm, but it wasn’t nearly enough (if you decide to do this, take my advice and put on many layers, you can drop your clothes off, and get it back at the finish line). There were rows of fire, and people were gathering around them in groups in their “Boston Marathon” gears, bragging about how many marathons they’ve run. I was, of course, too busy shivering to pay enough attention :) Shivering to the point that MtG had to pin my bib :)
The race started on-time, and we went to follow the 4:15 pacer, a kind nutritionist by the name Lorri, as planned. I got some support right there as one of the few first-timers :) As soon as the running started, the weather felt all right, and it was perfect all the way to the end of the course. We passed our pacer in no time, while MtG was busy casually chatting with other runners, but we kept a reasonable pace (probably a 4:10 pace). The mass kept running rather uniformly, and I felt everybody started at about the right pace. There wasn’t much of the early congestion that I’ve seen in other races.
There were some hills along the way (and each of them was curiously named “the last uphill of the course” ;)). I noticed we ran the uphills faster than others. Maybe the reason was that we had quite a bit of hills in our training. Or maybe it was the ol’ school music that MtG was listening to that made him rock the entire course, and made me chase him up the hills ;) I think I got blisters at about mile 9 (that’s what you get for not trying out new shoes for long runs :)), but tried to ignore them [Aside on blisters: blisters won’t kill, everybody knows that, but if you start changing your running pattern to avoid the pain, you soon get off balance and things fall apart… now back to the report…], which pretty much worked.
The course was a road through canyons and mountains, with spectacular scenery. A vast horizon with mountains and shades of rising sun… really beautiful. One advantage of running through nature is that you don’t have to wait for those small boxes to respond to nature’s call. ;) Even though we spotted occasional lines for the bushes along the way. :) Along the road there were lovely little signs like “Love You Mom”, “Run faster, Kali is sitting on me!”, “Whose idea was this?”, .... There were also packs of people cheering the runners along the way every few miles. All the aid stations were packed and well-organized offering Gatorade, water, bananas, oranges, Gu, vaseline, and pain-relieving cream. Again, lots of friendly volunteers.
I started feeling a little stiff at about mile 18, but tried to keep my posture. MtG never held back and kept me in a good mood with occasional jokes and comments. I started to count miles one by one up to mile 24, and then count block by block from there to the finish line. Boy, was I happy to see the white and red balloons marking the finish line :) We tried to push for a faster pace at the very end, which worked a little (I keep picturing our slow-motion attempt at running faster :), it was funny, I must admit, even though it didn’t feel funny at the time). We passed the finish line up and running, officially with no walk-break, which made me feel a bit proud. “Now what?” I asked. “Let’s get some ice-cream,” MtG replied; the perfect answer :)
We finished at 4:12 (which ranks 1894 out of 2827 among participating male runners) 3 minutes better than the planned 4:15, which clearly makes me happy. I think under the conditions, this was the best I could do (still far from the best that I will do), and I’m feeling painfully good :)