Sunday, March 21, 2010

Carol, Jill, Marie with me on the end holding award

Running Diary Feb 7, 2010, CALIFORNIA-- Surf City Half Marathon on Super Bowl Sunday”

I think it’s silly when people make a big fuss, congratulating me on second place in the Surf City Half Marathon. On the other hand, it disappoints me when friends act as if it’s nothing--”yeah, you placed again” and change the subject. Both congratulations for placing and ignoring what I did miss the point.

I want my friends to enjoy the sensations I felt and catch the significance of what I achieved at 66-years-old running my guts out.

We’d had a cold rain storm (by Californian standards) the night before the half marathon. When Carol (48 yrs. old) picked me up at 5:15 a.m. on race day, THREE HOURS EALRY, I shivered running from my house to her car even though I had on two sweatshirts and rain poncho. Due to Carol’s expert-New York-driver impatience, Marie (52 yrs. old), Carol and I flew down Pacific Coast Highway. We skidded through the U-turn at Beach Blvd and reached Carol’s goal and the reason for the early arrival. We got a good spot in the parking lot.

Once parked, Carol and Marie put their seats back and I curled up in the back seat. We slept under beach towels making quick bundled up trips to the beachside public toilets. We awoke at about 7:00 for a 7:45 start. Marie had the nerve to tell me I snored and tooted in my sleep. So, what do you expect when you maroon a runner in your BMW hatchback 3 hours before her race? And I don’t believe Marie anyway. Snoring and farting in bed are what my husband does. I do not.

About forty minutes pre-race, we opened the car doors to bright sun. The big sweat shirt and poncho stayed in the car. We walked over to the typical squashed-body-to body start. I usually run with Marie, but she was still recovering from her hamstring injury so she planned to run with our new running friend, Jill.

I’d run this race on my own. The gun sounded and I took off. I am not a technical runner but I had a goal for Surf City. Last October 11, I finished the Long Beach Half Marathon at 1:59:38, 9:08 pace. I wanted to do it again. I had looked up a 1:59 pace and found I’d have to run around a nine minute mile. Impossible. I train at 10:30 and my so called speedwork last Wednesday had been 9:30 for a puny three miles. I felt spent at the end of the three miles, winded ready to walk. I had not been doing many long runs during the week due to rain and out-of-town guests. All these excuses explain why I could not run thirteen nine-minute-miles.

Here is what I did.

  1. Broke the race into segments as always, the first three miles seeming the longest in this half marathon.
  2. I drank in the beauty of California after a rain. WE NEED RAIN. I love rain. I ran down Pacific Coast Highway looking to the south at playful whitecaps waving at me from a bright blue sea and to the north at miles of snow-dressed San Gabriel Mountains. In California, the snow melts quickly at lower elevations so being outdoors to view the snow all the way down to the foot of the mountains is a unique piece of good luck. What a distance runner wants is distraction. My head turned from side to side as I inhaled the fresh, slightly moist ocean air and reveled in the views.

  1. I looked at my Garmin pace watch at random times during the race to see times of 8:47, 8:30, 9:10. I seemed to be going pretty fast.
  2. I pretended I was Nick Arciniaga, my former fourth grade student, now an elite runner. I’m a retired teacher and Nick’s dad keeps in touch, sending me video of his races. I’ve noticed Nick stands straight, chest slightly inflated, head up, face relaxed, arms swinging by sides. Nick looks like somebody who knows he can. Can what? Do anything. So, I unhunched my shoulders, got my eyes off the pavement and hung my face muscles loosely. I couldn’t manage Nick’s look of the conqueror but apparently the rest of the strategy worked. A petite young woman with a brown pony tail and the defined cheekbones of a runner pulled up beside me. “Nice form,” she said. This was mile 11 and I replied, mystified, “I’m not tired.” “You don’t look tired,” she said. Then I told her, “I don’t want to talk about it,” and laughed. I believe she understood. I was afraid to focus on my UNusual lack of fatigue for fear that old familiar dead-legged feeling would overcome me.

I appreciated the miles melting away between mile ten and twelve. By mile thirteen I DID get tired, finally spotting the balloon arch with relief. Only it was a lie. The arch remained anchored at the start. The finish was still a block ahead. I wasn’t the only runner who found that arrangement cruel.

I went though the slot to a time of 2:04. I was disappointed with the time but then, I’d felt good, I had not walked much at water-stops, didn’t do the runner’s shuffle. I felt some degree of self-satisfaction even if I hadn’t made my time, and besides I am always thrilled to be DONE RUNNING and ready to eat something, everything in sight. I got my surf-board-shaped medal, made my way past four-foot-tall barriers of water bottles, volunteers handing out space blankets and the chiropractic massage tents. I should mention, I stopped my watch at 1:59, but discounted it. My Garmin miles had not even lined up with the official mile markers.

I found the results tent where young men used scotch tape to hang posters listing runners results. They taped up the 1:50 to 1:59 results and I looked to see who made the goal I’d missed. There was my name. Carrie Slayback at 1:59:14, a personal best for me. I got 2nd place behind a women I would like to meet. She came in at 1:39. Her time is remarkable in the 65-69 female age group.

I met my group of friends. Carol finished at 1:33, making a 4th place, just missing her chance at a plaque. Jill had the dry heaves and Marie stayed behind with her. They gathered around my plaque with its little surfboard glued to the face and took a photo. All there congratulations were beside the point. At my advanced age, I place every time.

The plaque, the second place meant less to me than the fact that I’d felt like a runner, not an old-lady-jogger. I’m not that fast. My competitor who got first place IS. That didn’t matter to me either, the magic word is “personal best.”

At 5:30 am Tuesday morning I met my long-time running partner, Ken, a former baseball coach and avid sports fan. I looked forward to telling him the story of my half marathon. He was more interested in relating how my race closed Pacific Coast Highway so he and his wife, returning home from a party in Long Beach, were forced to take a 45 minutes detour. He glossed over the most important sports event of Superbowl Sunday: On a perfectly beautiful day in Huntington Beach, California, Carrie Luger Slayback, at sixy-six years-old, clocked a personal best in the Surf City Half Marathon.


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