Indian Creek Half

So, I’m not gonna lie—the St. Louis marathon was a huge disappointment.

Watching a much-anticipated event come and go has never been easy for me; I always slip into a weird post-partum depression immediately after the big day. In this particular case, however, I came home from St. Louis with the heavy baggage of terrible split times and race photos so awkward they call into question my whole carefree approach to gender presentation. Add a “lingering sense of underachievement” to the usual cocktail of partying hormones, and you can see why I spent long, sleepless nights on edge, desperately obsessing over what went wrong and planning my next game plan on a conveniently hallucinated whiteboard.

“Hot weather = sad” is pretty much all I came up with. And the rest of my playbook is just a doodle of an octopus wearing sunglasses, so I don’t claim to have any easy answers.

For once I didn’t even feel like running. But at some point in that haze of despair, I signed up for a race in Kansas, close to where my parents live. You know, just a little something to ease the comedown—like methadone for runners, which I believe sports physicians call “marathadone.” This would be my first experiment with that beloved unit of distance known as the half marathon, and I was thrilled by the opportunity to not train. Something about the “halfness” of a half marathon made me feel like it was my duty to half-ass my way through the thing.

And the lack of buildup was freeing. As race day arrived, I ran as much as I wanted instead of tapering. I ate ballpark food at a Kansas City Royals game the night before, cheerfully disregarding digestive consequence. I screamed “Melky” until my throat seized up—not out of any particular affinity to the player, but because that’s what I like to scream when I see the Royals.

It’s neither here nor there, but the best part of the game actually had nothing to do with the Royals’ destruction of the Twins—it was this mean old crone’s vendetta against fun inflatables. From her season-ticket-holding seat across the aisle, she ensnared every beach ball being amiably tossed around by fans and swiftly gouged it with some sort of Royals-branded switchblade. It was almost shocking in its decisiveness and repetition. By the time she shuffled out of the stands, with over-sized headphones blocking out the jeers of the crowd, at least three multi-colored carcasses lay beneath her seat. Absolutely brutal.

Brush with greatness

Anyway, back to the half marathon. The temperature hovered at an unseasonal 50 degrees the morning of the race, which was fine by me and my delicate weather sensibilities. It was actually pretty chilly as we lined up at the starting line, which is the only explanation I can think of for why I look like scientists just broke the “Triceratops never existed” news right as this photo was being taken.

So... sad...

Before the race started, I worried that the out-and-back trail course would be too narrow to run in a big pack without elbow-throwing and crowding. As it turned out, though, we started with about a mile of uphill street climbing to thin the herd of approximately 100 runners, so once we turned onto the trail, we were essentially single file. From that point on, I was surprised by the solitude of the race. We wound through the trees, crisscrossed a little creek, dipped in and out of residential neighborhoods and passed through a tunnel under the highway. I could rarely see more than one or two runners in front of me and didn’t have a sense of the ones behind. It was quiet and nice in a way that I hadn’t experienced before in my limited race history.

I brought an iPod with me, but I hoped to use my time thinking and communing with nature like the Zen ultra-runners in Born to Run, the fantastic book I’m reading right now. Pensive meditation has never really come naturally to me, though—as much as I love physical pursuits and the outdoors, I’m too much a child of the Nintendo era to do anything but contemplate Back to the Future continuity. Even when I can lose myself in the wilderness around me, it’s usually only through the lens of pretending I’m various characters in the Fellowship of the Ring.

And another thought occurred to me as I paced myself behind another woman and tried to space out—communing with nature is not for people with allergies. I don’t remember anything in Born to Run’s reverent descriptions of deerlike Tarahumara racers about Claritin, inhalers or volcanic orifices erupting with snot. When I’m running alone, I take pride in my ability to double-barrel a snot rocket or knock an unsuspecting squirrel from a tree with a perfectly fired loogie. In a race setting, though, my ammunition is trapped in the chamber as I huff past strangers and hope they’ve slipped so far into their own connection to nature that they can’t hear me wheezing along like an old car.

Once I reached the turn-around point, I allowed myself to activate my power jams. At the first triumphant strains of Lil Wayne, I kicked up my speed to sub-8:00-mile pace and fell in behind a shirtless tattooed gentleman. Unlike in St. Louis, though, I felt great—like glitzy Marvel superhero the Dazzler, who glides into battle on roller skates and uses the sound vibrations in music to generate power.

Power jammin'

Racing back toward the starting line, I got to see all the runners who were still headed for the turnaround point and exchange encouraging waves, just as faster runners had done with me. Seduced by so many friendly smiles, I went up for an audacious high five with a tall dude and was immediately left hanging. This lack of reciprocity been happening more and more to me lately, and with each new misfire, I’m getting increasingly gun-shy. Runners, I beseech you to be more charitable with your celebratory hand gestures and help me consummate my good will.

At 1:45, I crossed the finish line and was immediately issued a finisher’s medal and Royals T-shirt for my troubles. I was pretty stoked with my time—15 out of 72 or so runners and the third woman—which is probably as fast as I could have gone without having an asthma attack. My topless tattooed pacecar crossed the tape 12 seconds before me and was already laughing to a friend about the “girl who wouldn’t get off his ass the whole race,” so it’s possible I might have broken some sort of unspoken running etiquette by hanging forty feet behind him for six miles. But I’m not experienced enough to know—is this the equivalent of sucking someone’s wheel in bicycling?

The most important thing I came away with, though, is this amazing performance top to commemorate the event:

I should have put my hand in this shot for scale.

I often complain that my t-shirts are too soft, too long and not billowy enough, so I was relieved that researchers have finally designed the ultimate event tee—a stubby wicking garment, wider than it is long, for the many lateral torsos you find in the running community. Not only is this squat top a letter of acceptance to unconventional body types, it’s a symbol of hope that propeller beanies will soon be declared a legal performance enhancer in sanctioned running events. For that alone, I’m glad to have supported the Indian Creek Half Marathon.

And most importantly, the race was the ultimate antidote to my post-St. Louis existential angst. With any luck, this means more running, more blogging and possibly more detailed exploration of Back to the Future continuity. Hey, not half bad, huh?

The End.