Thursday, May 05, 2005

The craziest legs ever

So, before it becomes a distant, breathless memory, I figured I ought to post about my experience last weekend running the Crazylegs Classic here in Madison. This was my second race, but my first 8K and, while I'd been training up for it since the beginning of February, it was still plenty challenging. But in a GOOD way.

The Crazylegs Classic is named after some dude named Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch, who just died last year at a very respectable old age. I know I've heard Hirsch's story before, but I can't recall it right now, so, suffice it to say, he was significant enough to warrant having a fun run named after him. And not just any fun run, a really BIG fun run. This year's participation topped 13,000 people.

So, last Saturday, me and 13,000 of my closest friends lined up in the springtime sun around the Capitol Square to the sounds of music and the sights of the Farmer's Market, in only its second occurrence this year. The weather was pretty much ideal for running (at least for me), cool and breezy with patchy sunshine. The race started at 10:00, and I was on the Square by about 8:45 or so. This turned out to be a little early, so I've made a mental note to not be quite so overly prompt next year. One can only do so much stretching while one waits for one's race to start.

So, I had a leg propped up on some stanchion and was stretching my hamstrings when a couple familiar faces peeked around and made my morning -- it was Carrie, Steph and Scott, on their way to meet up with Brian Kennedy. I gathered up my well-stretched hamstrings and joined them near the 7.5-minute mile marker to await the start.

Now, a note about your starting position at the Crazylegs. It's best to "embellish" your pace, as it keeps you from having to pass a bunch of people (or so I've heard from more than one Crazylegs veteran). So, since I generally run about a 10-minute mile, I'd planned on lining up at about the 8.5-minute mile pace marker. However, as the race prepared to start, Brian, Scott and I found ourselves smooshed in at the 7.5-minute marker.

Okay, fine. This will be okay. I'll start with these guys and just fall back to my pace really quick. More people will have to pass ME (sorry, folks), but I guess there's not too much I can do about that now.

So, a starting gun supposedly goes off somewhere (I never heard anything) and the race starts. The huge crowd breaks into a jog for about 10 paces, then stops, then walks, then breaks into another jog, then stops, then walks. This goes on for a good minute or two, as all the masses of runners begin making their way around the Square. Finally, we break into a lasting jog, and it feels good. There's the feeling, familiar to me from my first race, of floating with a crowd, of being in a community of runners, of being part of some living machine, with heads bobbing up and down and cheers coming from the sidewalks as we pass.

Though I don't really realize it at the time, I'm running much faster than my usual pace. I have an inkling of what I'm doing as I get to probably the 1/2 mile point and am already feeling a little bit winded. This isn't a great sign, but there's something about the rhythm of the people around me that keeps me from sensibly slowing down. So, I keep running and just figure I'll deal with it later.

Well, three miles later is when "later" hits me. And it hits like a Mack truck. Now, I negotiated the "big scary hill" about 1 mile into the race okay, and I felt fairly relaxed up until we hit mile three. Then, I think I hit a bit of a wall and suddenly, everything was difficult. I wasn't in pain, my muscles weren't hurting, and my lungs weren't overly burn-y, but I had this overall feeling of shrill discomfort in my body, and I was so tempted to stop and walk.

Couldn't I stop and walk? Just for a while? I'd passed SO many people already who'd stopped to walk, why shouldn't I stop and walk, too? But I didn't want to stop and walk -- I really wanted to run the whole thing.

Well, I didn't quite make THAT goal. I did stop and walk through the water station, since I simply don't grasp the bodily physics necessary to drink a cup of water while running without inhaling most of it through my nose or spilling it down my shirt. So, I gave myself about 1/20th of a mile's worth of a break. Then I picked back up at what was probably slightly slower than my usual pace, just to try to recover a bit. By this point, we'd passed mile 3.5, and I still had 1.5 miles to go. I tell you, 1.5 miles has never felt like such an eternity. It was demoralizing, and I didn't think I could do it, but I kept going. I think I directed a few "Fuck you!'s" toward myself as thoughts of slowing to a walk flitted so tantalizingly through my head. Though I felt so alone in this during the race, I can realize now that that's probably not a unique feeling among runners. My guess is that there's always a struggle with yourself, and always a battle to determine just how strong your will is when your body is whining in several shades of screeching purple discomfort.

So, I pushed on. And we passed mile 4, and then we were getting down near student housing, and all of a sudden, we start hearing the theme to "Rocky." On porches and on the sidewalks, with beers in hand, the students are cheering us on. And, as cheesy as it sounds, the theme from "Rocky" helps a lot. Mile 4.5. I'm still going, but I feel a side stitch coming on, so I slow down to a walk for about another 1/20th of a mile. I want to finish this strong, so a short break is worth it to me.

Finally, the home stretch. More houses blaring the theme from "Rocky," and the adrenaline starts to course through me as the stadium looms above us and I realize that we are OH SO CLOSE to the finish. I think I floated the last 1/8th of a mile, I don't even remember feeling it, but I know I was running faster...probably back at the ludicrous pace I'd started the race with.

And then, the finish. On the 50-yard-line of Camp Randall, with a stadium full of people, runners and walkers and observers alike. I cross the finish and, all of a sudden, it's over. I've just run (well, for the most part) an 8K. Five miles. More than I'd ever run before. My final time ended up being 52:54. My goal had been under an hour, so I made that.

Next year, I want to come in under 50:00. It's totally doable. I'll be there next year, Elroy Hirsch, whomever the hell you were. Thanks for the fun race.


Blogger Mary said...

Like your story there, CrazyLegs!

And ... gotta mention the FlickR badge. So-oo-oooo cool! I just like watching the little squares move around, melt and reconfigure somewhere else!

8:32 AM  

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