I did the Great Smoky Mountains Half Marathon today, for the second time. Unlike the first time, though, I don't really know how I did. The published finishing times don't include me, which would not be terrible if I had noted what time I crossed the starting line.
I, of course, did not do so.
I was at the start line:
I was actually at the start line well in advance, before daylight was at the start line:
but they start us in waves depending on when our projected finishing time is. I was so focused on getting in my wave and starting in a good mental place that when I finally made it over the start line I didn't think to check the clock. I did think to take a photo of every mile, though, and by adding up the time in between them I have an idea of how I did.
The answer to that question is "not so good".
I finished somewhere before the 3:30 pacer, but I have no idea how much before, since I finished and immediately headed to the car, because my feet were killing me. I was also mentally drained, since I did this race by myself, and wasn't really thinking anything other than "Shower, chocolate milk, I might be crippled, shower, I have a medal, chocolate milk, shower..." on endless repeat through my head.
So how did the race go?
I was mostly fine here. A little cranky, as I usually am at the beginning of races, but moving at a good pace.
No matter where I am walking or racing, there is always someone pushing a baby stroller who manages to be faster than me. You can't see the stroller in that picture, but right around Mile 2 it went past me and I never saw it again.
I was walking a solid 15 minute mile pace at this point, based on photo time stamps, and managed to do so for five or six miles. Overall, I managed to keep on a 14-16 minute pace the whole way, except for a weird blip about 2/3 of the way through where I dropped down to a 19 minute mile, then must have realized I had slowed down, and did the next mile in 13 minutes.
I have no memory of Mile 3.
It is a thing that existed.
Mile 4 also exists. While I don't remember anything specific about it, it was around this point that the road really started to tilt. It's a very winding road, so it tilted one way and then the other, and the uneven walking started to loosen one of my shoes.
This will be important later.
I was in my zone at this point. Around the 5 or 6 mile mark, I can usually forget that I'm walking, and just move forward automatically.
That blonde in the light blue shirt next to the girl in the orange shirt? I stayed with her almost the entire race. She was doing a run/walk thing, so she would run ahead, then when she slowed down to walk I would pass her. We did this until Mile 12, when she finally passed me for good and I did not catch up.
Mile 6 is where I lost track of reality for a minute.
Somewhere after Mile 5 I decided that we had actually already passed Mile 6, and that the next mile marker, Mile 7, would mean we were over halfway done. So there I was, happily trucking along, and then I came around the corner and saw that we were at Mile 6, not Mile 7.
For a second I thought, "Why did they put up the six mile marker twice?" and almost said something to the people around me, but then I realized that no one else thought it was weird, so I wisely did not say anything.
This is the best photo I have of Mile 7:
I was really trucking along at that point, I guess, because all three photos of the Mile 7 marker are blurry.
Note that the road is still slanting.
Mile 8 is also slightly blurry, but it's because we were going downhill for a second. Not only that, but there was also suddenly a breeze at Mile 8. I don't know what happened there, but for a minute or two, it was fantastic.
Mile 9 is where I realized I had a problem with my shoe.
The tilting, uneven road had caused one of my shoes to loosen a little, so now instead of a snug fit, my left foot was rubbing back and forth on the bottom of the shoe with every step, and my sock was in between my foot and the shoe, rubbing and bunching and chafing.
I should have stopped for a second to re-tie my shoe, so that it would be good and tight again, but since I was making such good time and I was probably getting a little exhausted, I decided that I should just finish instead, because four miles is nothing. I walk four miles after work all the time. I'd just power through those four miles, and then my foot would be fine.
At Mile 10, I could feel a blister forming on the foot with the loose shoe.
I convinced myself that I only had a 5K left, and I walk those all the time, so fuck that shoe. Fuck that blister. I am a warrior, and I walk through the pain.
I really should have tied my shoe again.
Sometime during Mile 11 I realized that I had a problem in my other shoe, too.
At first, I thought there was a rock in my shoe. I don't know how one would have gotten in there, eleven miles in, but there was definitely a small stone-like object in my right shoe. On each step, I tried to shake my foot around a little, so that it would end up between my toes and not right in ball of my foot (the same spot where a blister continued to form on my left foot), and when I did get it up by my toes I realized I could feel it with my toes.
One of my toenails fell off inside my shoe.
After the race, I discovered that it was my pinky toe nail, and that it will grow back. During the race, I was filled with uncertainty.
"Do I need that toenail? Will it grow back? Did it cut the bottom of my foot, or is my foot just sweaty? I can't tell, but what if my shoe is filling up with blood? How many miles are left until I can take this toenail out of my sock?"
I slowed down here. People that I passed early in the race started to pass me now. My left foot was killing me, since the blister wouldn't burst for some reason, and every few steps I had to shake the toenail in my right shoe back into place.
I'm going to say right now, though, that these are not the only reasons why I slowed down. The God's honest truth is that I was not in the shape that I should have been for this race. I took a bunch of rest days all summer long, and ate a bunch of garbage. I have put some weight back on, and my speed is down because I have become a slightly larger person who didn't train enough.
This is my own fault, and I admit that.
These are problems that I will remedy.
In the meantime, I hit Mile 13:
I was almost limping at this point, definitely favoring my right foot over my left, but I was still ahead of the 3:30 pacer. Someone called my name, someone gave me a medal:
and I gave myself a chocolate milk and a donut.
Now, I'm waiting to hear back from the race management, to find out what my actual times were.
In the meantime, I've resolved to do better next time.