On Friday, I text-messaged Chele: "Have you signed up for the run yet? I still haven't - should we just do race-day registration?"
I was kind of hoping that she'd say no, she hadn't signed up; then I could suggest that maybe we shouldn't do the run after all, that if we really wanted we could just get together and run nine miles with no pressure or cost or early rising involved.
But no. She'd signed up. So I was in. Never mind that I'd barely run at all in two weeks - almost nothing besides a five-mile run the previous Sunday - and that that five miles was the most I'd ever run at once in my life. I was terrified. I was sure I wouldn't be able to keep up, that the entire race would shut down before I made it to the finish line. But I was in.
Early Sunday, Chele and her friend Josh picked me up and we headed downtown for the race. (What does one eat for breakfast before a nine-mile run, by the way? I was all in a dither - should it be a Balance Bar? Well, that might not be substantial enough, so maybe oatmeal? I should probably have protein, right? I settled on turkey bacon and bran flakes.)
After we navigated the hellish maze that is the Tower Place parking garage, we picked up our packets - and then when we went back to the car to stash our Mercy first-aid kits and coupons for Fruze juice, we had to battle a strange cascade of water that was dripping down the stairs, causing little showers on every landing. As we ascended, the water started to smell oddly of gasoline.
Let's fast-forward - past my panicked run back to the car to retrieve my iPod ten minutes before the starting time - to when the starting gun goes off. So we headed out, and Josh (a former cross-country runner) pulled away from us pretty quickly. Chele and I stuck together a bit longer, but she was pretty much gone by the time we hit Kemper Road. So I was by myself for most of the race.
Which was OK, actually, because there were so many other runners around me, talking to each other and giving encouragement, that I didn't get bored for a long time. Eventually, I put on my headphones and started an episode of This American Life, but I kept pausing it at the mile markers to listen to the peppy music. It really did give me a boost. So did the Flying Pig lady.
All right, let's rewind again - to the point on Sunday morning at home where I was checking the course map for Porta-Potty locations and realized that the race was even longer than I had assumed. I thought the course turned at Torrence and went up the hill, then turned around and headed back to the city. Turns out, you run past Torrence first, keeping on Columbia Parkway almost all the way to Delta, then run up and down the hill on the way back.
Guys, 9.3 miles is effing far.
Coming soon: the thrilling conclusion!