I had a half marathon on Saturday, the Asheville Half Marathon at the Biltmore Estate, but it's taken me a couple days to write about it because I was waiting to figure out how I felt about it. See, unlike last year when I did this race and set a personal best, this year I did it and set a personal worst, and not just in regard to my finishing time.
I came in last place.
I'm not being overly dramatic, either. I was the last male finisher. Twenty women finished after me, but I was last for the guys.
I was so last that the photo above was taken by my friend Lauren's dad, because the official race photographer had already left the finish line area. Apparently if you are not at the front of the race you may as well not have been racing at all, and it doesn't matter if you finished because your achievement isn't worth being photographed. I've never before wanted to go find someone and scream the Starfish Story at them quite as much as I do the photographer right now, but that's not the feeling I've been trying to sort out for a few days. I've been trying to figure out how I feel about it.
The honest answer is that I feel fine.
I knew going in that this was going to be a hard race for a couple of reasons.
First, it's a hard course, as far as hills are concerned. I remembered this from last year, but since you probably haven't done the race yourself, feel free to look at the elevation changes chart at the bottom of this page. The hills are at the beginning, and the stretch between Mile 4 and Mile 6 is brutal. I slowed down a lot in that part and honestly thought about quitting, and another lady who was walking beside me for that stretch gave me kind of a pep talk about how she was struggling, too, and how we would both get through this and finish and everything would be ok. I pulled past her at Mile 7, and she was swept from the course for being too far behind just after Mile 8. I felt guilty about this for several hours, because she helped get me through a rough patch and I felt like I should have done more to help her, but other than offering encouragement I'm not sure what else I could have done.
She and I were struggling for the same reasons besides the hills: we were both heavier than the last time we did this race. I mentioned when I did my last half marathon in September that I had put some weight back on. I didn't get rid of that extra weight over the winter, but instead put a little more back on to go with it. I'm working on turning that around again (I've lost seven pounds since January, which is great, but I could definitely be working on that a little harder, and will, rather than working on fitting All Dressed chips into my mouth; why do they have to be so good, like Salt and Vinegar chips and BBQ chips had a delicious baby?), but in the meantime being bigger means being slower, and that's a concern on this race since they are very strict about the time. There are certain checkpoints, and you have to be above a specific time when you pass them, or you are removed from the course. Last year I didn't even see the sweeper, a man on a bicycle with a black broom across his handlebars, but this year I did: at Mile 8 there was a brief out and back (this is where you walk out to a point, turn around, and walk back) and he was coming into the out and back just as I was leaving it. I swore, sped up, and put him mostly out of my mind. The lady who talked me up the hill was entering the out and back just before he turned in to it, so I believe this is where he got her.
The last reason we were all struggling was the cold. The temperature was somewhere between the high twenties and low thirties Fahrenheit the entire race, and when I passed the house it flurried for a minute or two. Sure, we bundled up:
but there's something mentally draining about walking in cold weather for me. All of my cold weather races are always my slowest ones, and it's not because I have extra layers on. Instead, there is a constant refrain in my head of how cold it is, how I could be on my couch right now, how cold it is, how I want a hot chocolate, how cold it is, how sane people are inside right now, how cold it is, etc. Walking in the cold pulls my focus, so I never reach that moment where I forget that I'm walking at all and just truck along. It could have been worse, though. The people doing the full marathon on Sunday had to deal with snow:
I hope they all stayed warm.
So, I had a race:
and I celebrated my victory:
like I wasn't the man in last place:
Mentally and physically, I'm in a much better place about this than I was after that half marathon in September. I'm not in pain, I only needed a day or two to recover, and I only got one small blister, from wearing the wrong socks. I discovered on Sunday morning that I actually had packed the correct socks, but I somehow couldn't find them in my bag on Friday night when I was laying out my race clothes. When I finished the race on Saturday and got back to our room I calmly told Laura and Bernadette, "There's some kind of situation in my shoe. I might have a blister, I think," and when I pulled off my sock there was a quarter-sized circle of blood on the bottom, but it had already burst sometime during the race and didn't hurt.
Now it's time to hang up my medal:
and focus on the next race.
Which is in two weeks.
Because I might be insane.