This was how I decided to run the Ann Arbor Marathon today. (Keep in mind that if you had asked me when my next race was, say, yesterday at 5:00 in the afternoon, I would've said Lehigh in September.) I skipped the group long run yesterday, for no other reason than that I slept in because I was still tired from my very long work day in Kalamazoo on Thursday. I told myself I would go to Lifetime and do the elliptical, but I never did because shopping for clothes sucked my soul out of me and the only things I had energy to do were eat crappy food and drive around looking at houses. So, okay, I was going to do the group run on Sunday. Well, this week there wasn't one, everyone ran on Saturday instead. Still learning the local group. So yesterday evening I was sitting at home wondering where I would run and thinking maybe two loops around Stoney which would only give me twelve miles. And I didn't even want to do that because that stupid nagging hip pain was still going on (has been ever since that ill-advised charge across the trampoline at Sky Zone during trampoline dodgeball).
As I was sitting idly at my computer, knowing deep down I was not going to do a damn thing on Sunday except sit around eating and possibly mow the lawn if I got really ambitious, I thought, when was the Ann Arbor Marathon again? I looked it up and found that, oh, it was tomorrow. I thought, I wonder if they have race day registration? thinking, no, of course they don't, no marathons do. I checked on their website and, guess what, race day registration was available. Okay. I thought about it and thought about the pain in my hip and knew, because I knew myself, that I would NOT take time off to let the mystery injury heal; I would keep running until it either repaired itself or else blew up. If it was a real injury, maybe it would blow up in a marathon faster than it would in the 30 miles or so a week I'm doing now. Okay, let's let it blow up, then, and if it doesn't, I need to stop being a pussy about it and quit complaining.
This morning was beautiful -- cool, overcast, not humid, a perfect day for running. I drove the 45 minutes to Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor is one of those places that I have been to a disproportionate number of times considering how short of a time I've lived here. I love everything about it, the downtown, the lush green hills and tree-lined streets, the powerhouse University, the beautiful Huron River, everything. About the marathon itself I knew nothing except that it was hilly. Well, of course, you couldn't have a flat marathon in Ann Arbor; it would be like having a flat marathon in San Francisco, can't be done. But I didn't know exactly what the elevation changes were or where the hills were because I couldn't get the pages to load at 9:00 last night on my computer. So I went into it totally clueless.
It was absolutely perfect weather, the kind of day you never, ever get in the desert. Nice cloud cover but with just enough sun behind the clouds to color the sunrise clouds pink and orange. Just one day like this is good preventative medicine for missing Tucson too much. There were supposedly around 1000 people in the marathon. It started at the U Mich stadium. I paid my registration at 6:10, walked into and out of the porta-potty line in under 5 minutes, and strolled casually up to the very front of the start line because the crowd was so sparse there was no reason not to. The race director was introducing one of the runners, a guy who, at 85 years old, was running his 150th marathon. He had started running when he was 50 and overweight. Anyone who says "I'm too old to run!" needs to look at this guy. Anyway, after she introduced him we all took off. This was a small marathon but it still had pace teams for every 5-minute goal time. I had no plans to run with any pace group because I had no goal time. I just wanted to run moderately hard or as hard as my injury would let me.
The first few miles went through campus and then down a beautiful residential street, and I do mean down. There was so much downhill that I stayed right in front of the 3:30 pace group for the first 4 or 5 miles, and I was not even breathing hard. I wasn't trying to stay ahead of them, just trying to run at a comfortable speed. Then we came out onto a path that ran along the river. The river was beautiful, huge and slow and lazy. It invited fishing or kayaking or swimming or picnicking or just about anything you would want to do on or near a river. I felt so good on that path I was doing 8:00 pace with no trouble at all and having very enjoyable flashbacks to the way it felt to be in top shape and to know I was going to shatter my PR and qualify for Boston with time to spare. I even dared to think maybe I would qualify for Boston today. I had no idea what the hills to come would look like, but I knew I liked a course with some hills as opposed to a completely flat one, so maybe...? I mean, if I felt that good it was certainly a possibility.
We left the path at Mile 8-ish and came out onto a big out-and-back, Huron Parkway. It was uphill on the way out and mostly downhill (but with a headwind) on the way back. It was boring, but I was still well-ahead of the 3:40 pace group (although I had lost sight of 3:30 by now and 3:35 was in the distance ahead of me). The weather was still perfect. I have often thought that the cool air out here tastes so delicious it's almost like you can drink it like water. (Or slice your throat open with it in winter, but I digress.) Once we were done with Huron Parkway, we got a long, boring uphill back to campus, during which I lost some enthusiasm and was passed by the 3:40 pace group. Oh well. I really didn't think I could BQ today anyway. It was nice to be back on campus. There was a lot more to see there. Especially when the course turned onto a beautiful, shady dirt trail that was also a screaming downhill. I think it went through the Arboretum, or something? That party ended when the trail began to go as steeply uphill as it just had gone downhill and I ran out of energy and walked. It was still pretty, beautiful even, but steep.
The trail spit us out on campus again and I managed a slow jog. We came out from campus onto State Street and here the course turned to crap. It was the longest out and back yet in a boring, deserted commercial area. I felt like it was sucking my soul. I wanted to walk the whole thing but couldn't shake a feeling I was doing moderately well and should keep running unless I had a physical reason to walk, which I didn't. (No nausea, no pain, just a messy blister forming on the bottom of my right foot, but I could run through that. So I did.) The sun was out now (though only briefly, thankfully) and I was not the only one who was visibly short of enthusiasm. I saw one girl puking and a whole bunch of people walking. We were headed uphill and could not see the top of the hill, only that wherever it was it was a looooooong way in the distance.
Finally we reached the top of the hill at Mile 21 and ran down the other side of it. The course then circled a shopping mall for a mile. There were no cones blocking the lanes and I watched a runner almost get hit by a bus. I had picked up company by now, this girl who was as pissed about the suckiness of State Street as I was and, also like me, did not object to throwing around the F-word to communicate the extent of her displeasure with everything about this part of the course -- the hill, the scenery, the lack of safe traffic controls, everything. Bitching made the mile around the shopping center fly by, and then once we made it around the shopping center and started on the "back" part of State Street, I felt better just seeing all the runners still on the "out" part. I guess I am just a bitch. Because as much as I hate "outs" on the out and backs, I love the "backs" even more. Something about seeing other people suffering like I just was, but now am not, gives wings to my feet.
There was a good amount of both steep uphill and steep downhill in the last six miles. This made it harder, in my mind, than Flying Pig, because at Flying Pig the last six miles were nearly all downhill. I had not been passed by the 3:50 pace group and also hadn't looked at my Garmin in a long time. I finally looked at it with half a mile to go and saw that it was on 3:45, which meant under 3:50 was not only achievable but mandatory since I was so close and felt basically okay. I came across the finish line at 3:49-something (after having to slow for that last sprint across the field to the line because a very slow, very wide line of half-marathon WALKERS was spread out right in front of me).
I felt fine at the finish but not quite up to doing justice to the great spread -- pizza, cookies, giant muffins, smoothies, all kinds of stuff. I had a banana and half a piece of pizza, which I chewed on until my stomach gave me the "Not This" message and then I spit it in the trash. Believe me, sitting on my deck writing this I would happily eat the whole freaking pizza right now, and may just do that later. I am very happy with my time. Ten minutes faster than at Flying Pig a month ago, on a harder course. I am proud of myself for being able to get out and run a decent marathon with less than 12 hours notice. And I am hopeful for my September marathon being my Boston qualifier!
(Marathon #26 and State #19, for those keeping count.)