Start as a team…
Some days you beat the clock. Some days you beat other runners. Sunday we just beat the heat. And what a battle it was.
T- and I did the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half. This was her first distance event two years ago. This was mine last year and my first event after standing up my 2008 Miles of Hope campaign last year. We did the race together last year and we vowed we would do it together this year.
We checked in on Saturday and got our bib numbers (and tried to boost the Virginia Beach economy at the expo). We had a great pasta dinner with fellow wheeler David Swaim and his family. We got back to the motel and I managed to get to bed early. That seems to be a rare treat lately. It didn’t seem to do much good. It seemed like I woke up every 20 minutes.
At five AM we were pulling out of the motel as we had planned. A quick check of the weather forecast had shown that it was expected to be warm, sunny and breezy. At the race start I got loaded onto my bike. Everything was going too well. I got into corral 16 along with T- and awaited the start.
As I rolled across the starting mats about 7:30 I remember thinking that this was going to be a different race than what I have become accustomed to. Being seeded into the middle of the pack puts me in an area where it is more difficult to maneuver. T- and I had previously decided that when we got to Pacific Avenue, I would go on ahead to make up for some of the time I would inevitably lose on the Rudee Inlet Bridge.
So as we started everything seemed OK. The sun was starting to climb. Amidst the throngs of runners there had not been much air circulating in the corrals. Now that we were moving, it didn’t seem quite so hot. As we turned onto Pacific, I checked with T- and went on ahead for the bridge. I made my way over to left side of the street to get a glimpse of the lead runners as they returned. It looked like a real race going on between the women runners as they flew past.
As I tried to move through the crowds toward the bridge the spectators and other runners were very supportive. Only the self-deafened runners in iPod-induced comas proved to be a problem. Even though I shouted at the top of my lungs, “passing on the left,” often other runners had to nudge these zombies to get their attention. Wheels yield to heels, but, please folks, keep the volume down on those things.
The heat is on
At the bridge, I got down in my lower gears and started grinding up the hill. T- caught up about the time I was halfway up. She was looking good. On the downhill side, the iPodders, again, prevented much passing in the crowd. Another Team Hope For The Warriors runner passed me. Most everyone was sweating buckets. The humidity was oppressive. After a little more weaving through the crowds I caught up with T- at about mile 2.5. The heat & humidity were starting to take their toll early. Surprisingly, not on me but on T-.
My wife/teammate had hoped this would be her first half marathon. Some pains in her leg curtailed her training earlier in the summer. Sunday she took post as our support crew at Bird Neck Road; about mile 3.3. As we approached, I felt pretty good, but T- was hot. I felt I didn’t need any ice for now. T- took a big handful of ice and put it under her Shamrock finisher cap.
We trudged along General Booth Blvd and everyone seemed to be in good spirits. Our 5K split was about on par for T-. At about miles 4 and 5 T- was having problems. At the water stops I got her to drink the energy drinks and pour the water on her. About 10K I saw Ann from Kale Running. T- was probably off her time for that distance was still gutting it out. Ann was probably wondering what I was doing so far back in the pack.
Several folks from previous races recognized me and offered support. One was Leila from the Crystal Coast Half Marathon. We joked about it the dry, sunny weather and how you couldn’t buy a breath of breeze (read the post to get the joke). I saw another one of the participants from the City of Oaks race too.
At mile 7, T- was fighting a tough battle. We stopped at Lake Road and I got her to drink some PowerAde I was carrying for her. Her stomach was queasy so she could only drink a few sips. No point in pushing it. I got her to take a few more sips over the next few miles. At the water stops, I would roll past and wait on the far side while she took the energy drink and doused herself with the water.
We were gradually slowing down. I’m not a fan of this year’s course changes. I find the scenery within Camp Pendleton a bit dismal. I much preferred the additional run on the boardwalk last year where there were more spectators. By mile 8.5 T- was hurting. She was hot and nauseous. She had drunk about ¾ of the PowerAde so I wasn’t worried about her hydration or electrolytes or carbs. She was just plain hot. I knew she could do the distance because in her training for the upcoming MCM, this weekend she was scheduled to do a 20 mile run.
Exiting Camp Pendleton, we met my wife/teammate at Bird Neck Road again. I still felt like I didn’t need any ice, but I think T- put some more in her cap. As we went north on General Booth, I told T- I was going to break out ahead for the bridge so she could catch me as I got slowed down on the incline. She told me to go on to the finish without her but I felt like if I left her, she would DNF. I could tell she was not happy. I pressed on ahead to the bridge, occasionally having to run off the road to avoid running into the incoherent iPod zombies. By the time I got to the top of the bridge, I expected T- to have caught up. She was nowhere in sight.
I rolled down the bridge slowly because I had good visibility behind. I kept watching for T-. At the bottom of the bridge I pulled off the course and waited. I started playing through the scenarios in my mind. She might have decided to DNF. She might have passed me on the bridge and I didn’t hear her. She might have slowed down even more. It made sense to me to wait a bit longer because the third scenario was the most likely.
When she was still not in sight after a few more minutes, I decided to press ahead in case scenario 2 was the case. I knew I had my other niece and my sister ahead among the spectators. When I found one of them, I would find out if T- was ahead or behind. I pressed on northward on Pacific and saw Jerry, who had finished long ago and was heading home. All the way north along Pacific there was no T-. As I turned south on Atlantic I saw my other niece, K- so I got out of the runners and stopped. Since K- had not seen her, we knew T- had to be behind me. After waiting a few more minutes, another runner passed by and told me T- was not far behind. That was a big relief.
…Finish as a team
As T- passed, I could tell she was in big trouble. She was slumping over and had that “get this over with” look in her eyes. Atlantic was the hottest part of the course. The buildings blocked the breeze and by now the sun was getting high. T- kept grinding along. I have to give it to her. I’m not sure I would have hung in there.
We finally made it to the boardwalk. I knew the energy of the spectators would keep her going now. I managed to get a few smiles out of her as we passed the cameras. Crossing the finish line was just as much an accomplishment as a record time would have been for T-. What I witnessed was nothing short of inspirational. For ten miles she battled heat, humidity, and nausea and yet gutted it out to the very finish. It took every bit of 3 hours and 8 minutes. Not our best times…but at least we finished. We beat the heat.
T- was a bit bummed out by our time and by a feeling she had held me back. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Next year I may start with the chairs instead of seeding in. Sunday it just felt good to finish. As a team.
Monday morning I saw T- at breakfast. It seems after we ate dinner Sunday night, she felt a lot perkier. T- went down to the hotel’s exercise room and put in another 7 miles on the treadmill. She got in her 20 mile run after all and did a lot of repair to her ego.
I hoped to stop at the Dismal Swamp trail and put in a few miles on the way home. We ended up getting too late of a start to do that. We made the five-hour drive home and had pizza and beer for supper. Afterward, I got on my handbike and did laps through the neighborhood. I redeemed myself by grinding out 13.1 miles in 1:32.
Several anecdotal observations on the heat: Even the Kenyans seemed to have been set back by the heat. The winners were off their expected times a bit. Some of my co-workers that took part talked about how the heat and humidity drug them down. “When you realize your pace walking is the same as your pace running, it’s time to walk,” my boss commented, disappointed on his run. “I’ve never been so hot,” observed another. I saw one ambulance on the course and during the thirty minutes or so we recuperated on the boardwalk after the race, I saw another three ambulances carrying people away.
Neither T- nor I have anything to complain about regarding Sunday’s RnR Half. Our times were nothing like we had hoped, but our goal was to finish—together. We did just that. And T- did it battling an intense personal struggle with the heat. I don’t know why it wasn’t me suffering from the heat, but I’ve been there before. It’s pretty ugly. In the end, she gutted it out all the way to the finish.
Nice job, T-! Wear that heavy metal medal proudly.
Next on the schedule: the Army Ten-Miler. Wish us luck!
Check back soon for pictures.
Hope For The Warriors is an official charity partner of the Virginia Beach Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon. Please support their mission with a tax-deductible donation.