I was both nervous and excited as we lined up for Saturday’s Parlor City Trot half marathon.
I’m several pounds heavier now than the last time I ran this half, and my recent training in the heat and humidity had been disastrous. With a break in the weather my sister and I had finally gotten in a 15-miler. Now, just three days later, I had no idea how my legs would respond to a followup 13.1.
On the plus side, I’d blundered into a running group who’d invited me to join them, though I knew it would be tough for me to keep up. I was planning to write about Fort4Fitness marathon pace team Stacey Hartman and Joe Beier, who will be aiming for a 4:40 marathon on Oct. 1. They were running Parlor City to practice their target 10:30 pace, around 90 seconds slower than they would ordinarily run. Back in 2011 I ran this half – my only half – at an average pace of 11:11 en route to a 2:26-something finish. I was fresh off my weight loss and felt like I was running on air. Since then, my fastest pace in two indoor marathons had been 12:35 a mile.
My plan was to stick with their group for as long as I could, conduct a little on-the-run mini interview, then jog the rest of the way.
An amusing side note in all this is that Stacey, whom the marathon PR folks had given me as an interview subject, turns out to be my second cousin. I didn’t really know her, given that she’s quite a bit younger than I am and part of the “Fort Wayne” contingent on my mom’s side, while I grew up in rural Bluffton. But I know her grandma pretty well. In May I wrote a newspaper story about Doris’ Alley Kats dance group. Then 90, she’d been a member for something like 34 years and was in fantastic shape. But she’s run into some health problems lately, and so I got the details on those in the early going of the race.
The pace was actually pretty comfortable, despite the fact that Joe kept announcing we were clocking 10:20 a mile rather than 10:30. My sister Traci and I had been doing quite a bit of speed work lately, so I wasn’t surprised that I was able to talk comfortably at this pace. But I doubted I could keep it up for more than a few miles.
Also in our group was a 2:00 half marathoner who was running with her 10-year-old daughter. Both Karen and Taylor run like gazelles. Though Taylor’s previous longest run was 7 miles, she was happy and confidant (and, I might add, consistently at the front of our little group).
The only thing I could add to our ensemble was familiarity with the course, and so from time to time I played tour guide. As we approached Ouabache State Park, I described how last year a long line of Amish buggies decked out in balloons had entered the park the same time I did. I was running the 10K then, and reminded myself that I did that in just under 10 minutes per mile. Since we were going about 20 seconds per mile slower, maybe I could stay with these guys most of the way through the park. If I had to struggle after that, so be it.
Stacey and Joe did a good job of keeping the conversation going, whether it was recounting tales of favorite races or just the occasional silly remark from Joe. They see that as their most important job next to staying on pace – keeping people’s minds off dwelling on distance or hardship. It was fun hearing about Stacey’s “triple crown” in last year’s Fort4Fitness, when she ran the 4-mile, 10K and half marathon one right after the other. She’d agreed to meet her mom and other family members for a Colts game afterward, and riding for so long after running 23 total miles proved problematic. “It took me half an hour to get out of the car,” she joked.
Coming off the lake we were caught by a runner Joe and Stacey knew who turned out to have an incredible tale of being rescued after a serious injury in the woods. (It’s too long to go into here, but you can read about Phil Amburgey’s saga at runnersworld.com.) Needless to say, that kept me going despite the fact that we were now 8 miles in and I was starting to struggle.
I held on as we wound back through the park, but at the water station by the Gatehouse, with three miles to go, I began to drop back a few yards. Stacey, who’d stopped for a potty break, encouraged me to keep up as she rejoined the group.
“I’ll keep you guys in sight,” I said, “but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hobbled in from this point.”
Could I have kept up with them if I’d really tried, if I hadn’t been so familiar with the course that I felt comfortable heading in alone? Hard to say. Once I fell back, I immediately began to perceive the struggle that I was able to ignore as part of the group. I did keep them in sight, but as we crossed the White Bridge and entered the Greenway for the final two miles, I slowed up more and more, finally joining forces with another woman runner who was struggling as well. I finished nearly 2 minutes behind Stacey and Joe’s group at 2:16:54, but still managed to shave nearly 10 minutes off my 2011 time.
And there was this consolation: At 10:27 per mile, I actually finished ahead of Stacey and Joe’s target pace. They’d come in a bit “hot,” as Joe put it, perhaps because of 10-year-old Taylor’s enthusiasm. She won a plaque for second place in the women’s 19-and-under division, just the first of a zillion more likely headed her way. What a natural! Afterward, she was all smiles and barely looked like she’d broken a sweat.
I was a sweaty mess, but deliriously happy. I’d been pulled along to a time I never dreamed I could do, and had a great time getting to know a bunch of cool people in the process.