Race day

This is my second Go! St. Louis marathon. If you’re curious what it’s like to be a first-timer, you can read about the agony and the ecstasy of the first year right here.

So, the Go! St. Louis marathon came and went, leaving little but dehydration and paralyzing quad soreness in its wake. Consequently, I’m trying to convince my cat his kneading duties should take place on my upper legs today, but he seems to have more enthusiasm invested in working out the kinks in his cat tower. You’d think he’d be more supportive.

Anyway, the race followed much the same course as last year—starting in downtown St. Louis, we ran up to the Soulard neighborhood, through the Anheuser-Busch factory, back to downtown, through Forest Park, up to Clayton, down past the Loop and back through downtown again. Oh wait, maybe I can just provide a map:

Yep, that's where we ran.

The only major difference from last year was the heat. It was already 70 degrees when we started at 7 a.m. and 80-90 for the rest of the morning. That probably sounds ideal for most activities, but for a marathon, it’s brutal. I would have preferred overcast skies or rain or even similar hot weather not preceded by months of Arctic snowmageddons. But it’s been so chilly until recently that there’s still an isolated outpost of snow on the Mizzou campus that stubbornly refuses to melt. Needless to say, few locals were prepared to do battle under the conditions.

As of 4/9/11, America's hardiest snow mound. Likely hiding a stack of crushed Bud fan cans or the door to an underground ice fortress.

In fact, they had to cut off the marathon course to the 5:00+ pace groups and turn them down the route where the half-marathon looped back, which was a pretty controversial decision according to heated commentary on the Go! St. Louis Facebook page. Seriously, some people are still in a berserker Internet rage two days after the fact. For those who were in great shape but paced conservatively for the heat, I can imagine not being able to complete the full marathon was a huge disappointment.

I do think the Go! St. Louis organizers probably made the right decision, though. At the risk of sounding dramatic, it was more of a death march than a race. Actually, as long as I’m being dramatic, I might as well go whole hog—it was like ‘Nam. Runners were dropping right and left, stricken down by the relentless heat, lack of shade and stifling Missouri humidity. I’m not sure how many people went to the hospital, but the sirens felt like a constant drone in the background.

Looking precisely as dorky as last year.

I started out in a fast pace group because I jumped into the line at the last minute after a 30-minute wait for the bathrooms. My goal was to run a 3:50, which seemed easily achievable based on my times for the four 20-mile runs I’ve done in the past couple months. I felt unstoppable through the Anheuser-Busch factory and Soulard, where the streets were lined with cheering locals and the air thick with the smell of hops. One thing I love about St. Louis is the distinct neighborhood pride in areas like Soulard and the Hill—it seems more East Coasty than Midwest to me. Or maybe more old-timey than anything else.

After we looped past the start of the race, I slowed to a comfortable pace and zoned out. 13,000 runners were there for the half marathon and only 3,000 for the full, so up until mile 10, the street was clogged with racers and the sidewalks lined with cheering spectators. It’s always fun to read the signs—I remember seeing “Worst Parade Ever,” “Chuck Norris Never Ran a Marathon,” “Hey complete stranger—I’m proud of you,” and hundreds more that made me fondly reminisce about these little guys from last year:

The fun ended at about 14 miles, when I started to feel pretty nauseated from the heat and all the watered-down Gatorade I was guzzling. Actually, the Forest Park experience was not unlike a Whitman’s Sampler of pain and despair—a mixed bag of heat nausea, stomach cramps, headwinds, lack of shade, endless hills, foot woes and gastrointestinal roulette.

I started listening to my favorite podcast—Jordan Jesse Go!—for some much-needed entertainment on the long hill up to Clayton, and it was eerie how much of the content tied into the day’s events. The guest was from St. Louis and talked a lot about the city—specifically, St. Louis-style pizza, which my mom and I ordered the night before from Imo’s.

For the unfamiliar, St. Louis-style pizza consists of a crispy flatbread topped with a buttery mess of processed cheese substance called Provel. It’s pretty polarizing to outsiders, but locals can’t seem to get enough of those small, salty squares. As for me, I never met a portable wedge of pizza I didn’t like, but I nearly threw up when I thought about Provel during the marathon. Actually, I kind of did that thing where you throw up into your mouth and then swallow it all back down before you have time to employ an “exit only” policy. At that point I said to myself, “This is stupid, and marathons are arbitrary and pointless. Why am I even doing this?” and heard nothing in response but the soupy gurgling of Provel being processed anew.

We ran past the loop, where the 116-star Walk of Fame honors such rad St. Louisans as Vincent Price, Chuck Berry and Nelly. The previous day, my mom and I took the bus to the area, and I drank the world’s smallest beer before we got mixed up in a pack of rowdy teens and ushered down the street by furious cops.

Trying not to overdo the baby Schlafly.

My mom was pretty proud we figured out how to take the Metro back to our hotel, and I have to admit that when I passed the Metro this time, I fantasized about hopping on and riding back to the start. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a stunt of that ilk has gone down in the St. Louis marathon’s sordid past—when the summer Olympics were held there in 1904, two runners were caught riding in cars for half the race, the winner was jacked up on strychnine and carried across the finish line and another runner stopped to rest in an orchard, ate a bunch of rotten apples, tried to nap off his illness mid-race and STILL wound up with a fourth place finish.

Apparently the weather was brutally hot that year, too. I can’t even imagine running in dusty heat without regular water stops, GU Chomps, electrolyte cocktails and enough performance garb to wick the misery and despair neatly off your body and into outer space.

Last year, I never walked and didn’t need my inhaler until around Mile 23, when it became clear that I might actually finish the race—my first of any length—with a throbbing cracked rib. I felt so emotional about the possibility, I could hardly breathe and had to stop for a minute-long puff before continuing on to the finish line. This year, though, I walked through several of the final aid stations and puffed at leisure, which wasn’t weird or notable because tons of people appeared to be walking the entire race at that point. By that time, my 3:50 goal was completely scrapped in favor of finishing without vomiting or passing out.

My biggest mistake was in employing my power jams too late in the game to have any real effect. I didn’t kick on my playlist until Mile 25, at which point it was too late for Waka Flocka and friends to make any real difference. At 4:15, I crossed the finish line—nowhere near my goal and a pretty “meh” showing even given the circumstances. Only about 1,900 marathoners finished, though, so I guess that’s something.

After being immediately issued a medal and a delightful pb&j grahamwich, I balled up on the sidewalk to reflect.

Marathons. Finish lines. High highs and low lows. What’s the point of it all? And what next?

I really don’t know how to explain it. But there’s an Oz Marathon this Saturday in Olathe, Kan. And as crazy as it sounds, I just might be there. If there’s anything more addictive and self-torturing than running, please don’t let me find out about it.

Thanks for reading!

I would close with a photo of me crossing the finish line, but I looked like a manic, salt-covered pretzel at the time, so here’s an “After” shot of me being too cheap to buy the official photos. On the off chance any Go! St. Louis volunteers stumble onto this blog, thanks for the support and making another great race possible. Also, thanks for everything, Mom. I couldn’t have done it without you!