Monday, April 7, 2014

A 4th Place Finish - No Fooling!

I must admit that coming into this weekend, I was a bit apprehensive. I had originally signed up for the Atlantic City April Fools Half Marathon  because the open invitation sent by a few fellow Gotham City Runners made it sound like it would be a team-centric, fun-filled weekend. We'd all go down on Saturday, hang out, race Sunday, and go back. Together. As a team.

However, things didn't quite work out that way. For starters, everyone booked a different hotel. Or, more accurately, everyone booked the same hotel, which was different from the hotel I booked. But okay, no big deal. This wasn't supposed to be a slumber party anyway. But then, at least by email, no one committed to a particular departure time, and since I don't see any of my teammates during the week, I booked my own ticket, assuming that we'd all meet up when we arrived. Which brings me to the final snag:  I don't have a smart phone and would therefore be sans email as soon as I left my apartment, so I sent out an email saying as much, expecting to get phone numbers in return . . . and got exactly one phone number in response.So with a sense of foreboding, I added that number to my contact list, picked up my duffle bag, and headed to the Port Authority.

Things didn't seem any more promising once I boarded the bus. It was completely full, which wasn't a problem except that the man who sat down next to me must have been at least 6'4" and 300 lbs. I generally have no problem with large people unless they decide to sit down next to me in cramped quarters. Then I'm not such a fan. On top of everything, the man smelled sort of like a three-day-old cheeseburger, and he immediately started talking--to me--the moment he sat down. This did not bode well at all.

Fortunately, once the bus started moving, the man stopped talking, and I pulled up my hood and slept. When we arrived, I was feeling in a more convivial mood, so when he tried again to strike up conversation, I humored him. As it turned out, he was on his way back from Brooklyn, where his parents lived, to Atlantic City, where he had moved about five years ago. He gladly gave me directions when I asked how to get to the Revel casino, and to my utmost surprise, when I told him I was in town for a race, he offered to buy my casino voucher off of me. I am decidedly not a gambler--I simply don't see the fun in it--and I would have happily given him the voucher for free, but he insisted on paying me its worth, so I happily walked away from what I had worried might be a miserable bus ride with an extra twenty-five dollars in my pocket.

Things after that went very smoothly. I picked up my race packet at Revel, was allowed to check in early at my hotel, got my shake-out run over and done with, browsed some outlet stores, and met up with my teammates for a pre-race pasta dinner at Angeloni's II (not to be confused with Angelo's Fairmount Tavern, our initial choice, where we wouldn't have been seated until after 8pm). Then I walked back to my hotel, chatted with a few friends by phone--which saved me from staring mindlessly at bad TV--and went to bed by 11:30pm.

So, the race. I got down to the starting area about thirty minutes prior to the gun time. I ran a mile, did the drills I knew I was supposed to do (although I have to say that skips on a boardwalk feel really weird) and then jogged back to the start, only to run directly into J___, a teammate, and follow him on his mile warmup. I figured I had time to spare, so why not? Then I inched my way toward the front of the crowd. There were no corrals, so I found the elite runners (you can always tell who they are) and positioned myself a few rows behind them. Then the national anthem was sung, the starting horn sounded, and we were off.

Because I was already so close to the front, I didn't have to do the dodge-and-weave that is usually involved with starting a race. This was nice, especially because I was terrified of starting out too slowly and not being able to make up the time later in the race. I quickly locked in behind a group of three runners--two men and a woman--and when we hit the first mile in about 6:53, I knew that I had chosen well. This would be my pace group.

All of which seemed like a great plan until one of the men sped away within the second mile. I had been using him as a sort of windsheild, since the Atlantic City boardwalk was pretty blustery, so I locked in behind the other guy, until at mile four, he too sped away. Then it was just me and the woman, and I simply didn't trust my own mental status if I were to run beside her for the rest of the race, so I picked up my pace just enough  that eventually, her shadow fell away and I knew I had effectively passed her.

The course was an out-and-back, so as I approached the turnaround, I began counting women running back the other direction. Well, actually, I wasn't counting at all, because for a solid mile or two, the only people I saw were men. I knew there were other women ahead of me--I had seen them ahead of me at the starting line--and so I was actually relieved when I finally saw a cluster of three coming toward me. I couldn't even see the turnaround at that point in the race, so the pressure was off; even if I were able to dead-sprint the rest of the race, there was no way I would catch them. However, when the turnaround finally came into sight, I did see one more woman, clad in a bright yellow top, ahead of me. So I was in fifth. Fifth! J___ had told me he expected me to make the top 10, and here I was in fifth!

That was a nice mental boost, and it's good it came when it did, because the trek back was, to put it mildly, really really tough. First there was the wind. It wasn't coming in torrential gusts, the way it had on some of my training days, but it was most definitely there and blowing in the wrong direction. Under other circumstances, I would find a runner, preferably male, and use him once again as my windshield, but unfortunately for me, the next cluster of runners was a good ways ahead of me, and expending the energy I'd need to catch up to them at that point in the race would leave me truly suffering at the end. So I buckled down and set my sights on that yellow top so many yards ahead of me.

When I finally reached that yellow-clad woman, around mile nine, I discovered that she too had been dropped by the pack. She was running beside a man in a neon green shirt, clearly pacing off of him (or he off of her), and that was it. There weren't even any other runners in sight. I hung in behind them for about a mile until we hit a water station at mile ten. They both stopped for water, and I kept going . . . and they never caught me again. Which, in theory sounds great, but in reality left me running those last three, horrible miles all alone. Actually, I wasn't entirely alone: there were pedestrians all along the boardwalk, people out for a smoke or just stumbling back to their hotels from night-long gambling binges. Most stared at me with glassy looks before stepping into or out of my way, although I got a few cheers here or there, which were nice since I knew they weren't from people who had explicitly come out to see any sort of running event.

At mile eleven, I wanted to stop and walk. Badly. My right knee was hurting, and there was literally nothing to keep my adrenaline high. All I could think was that if I had wanted to run a bunch of hard, fast miles by myself, I could have stayed in Jersey City to do it. But there were only two miles left, and I was still in fourth place, and I did really want to PR, so I kept going.

Finally, when the finish line came into view, I managed to dig down and find that one last gear. As I sprinted those last two hundred yards and crossed the finish line the same way I had run the last three miles--alone--the spectators lining the route gave out a cheer. That cheer was hands-down the best part of the whole race, because I knew, without one shred of doubt, that that cheer was for me. I had crossed the finish line alone.

Atlantic City April Fools Half Marathon
Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place
13.1 mi
28 / 1,455
4 / 889
1 / 260

1 comment:

Victoria Mattingly said...

Wow, Ali! What an accomplishment. You're a running rock star! :)