Maiden Mini-Marathon a sticky, sweaty situation

I never thought it’d be appropriate to measure success in anything by saying, “I didn’t collapse, puke or cry.” Five days ago, that qualified as a victory.

Against the better judgment of my knees, I ran in Saturday’s One America 500 Festival Mini-Marathon in Indianapolis. OK, “running” may not be representative of the final few miles. Those were more like shuffling and flailing. More on that terror later. But I figure fact that I puttered through the entire 13.1 miles in my first half marathon brings new meaning to the phrase, “If I can do it, anyone can do it.”

I’m not particularly athletic. I sweat more than a pregnant rhinoceros. I’ll never have abs, thanks to subsisting mainly on White Castle sliders, Doritos and Coors Light in college. My brother, who played on a state runner-up baseball team in the good ol’ single-class days, and my sister, a three-sport whiz kid who played for a state championship basketball team earned a walk-on invitation to the University of Michigan women’s hoops squad, qualify as the jocks of the family. Me, I’m just coordinated enough to stay on a treadmill without falling off.

On top of all that, I’m ridiculously impatient. I can barely drive 13.1 miles before becoming antsy. But what better place for a maiden race than the world’s largest half-marathon, where you can blend in with 31,180 other runners and walkers?

At least I hope I mixed in anonymously, judging from a boneheaded stunt I pulled at the start. Trying to cool down around Mile 3, I grabbed a cup from the water stop and splashed some on my head. Wait. That wasn’t water. That was lemon-lime Gatorade. Oops. (Rookie Mistake No. 1.)

The good news: The stickiness didn’t linger, since humidity from hell turned every runner into a faucet of sweat. I wondered if I was just being a sissy about the muggy weather, but when the Kenyans say they were a few minutes slower and struggled with the swampy air — the women’s winner was carted off on a stretcher and was among a record number of runners treated for heat illness — you don’t feel so bad.

But the spectacle of that whole race goes a long way in making fatigue a secondary thought.

It was surreal to realize you’re running down one of the busiest streets in the state capital as a guy in a walrus suit danced on the side of the road. There was a guy in a Hawaiian shirt playing the bagpipes. Very cross-cultural. High school cheerleaders dressed in big, green boxes as Christmas presents made the 20-minute spin around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway a little less lonely. And there were cowbells. So many cowbells spectators were blaring. Hearing a cowbell always reminds me of that “Saturday Night Live” skit, but from now on, I think it’ll make me involuntarily break into a sprint.

With the Speedway section in the rearview mirror I felt better, since many race veterans consider that the toughest part. My torture was yet to come.

Not too far outside the track, the back of my left leg suddenly turned to a slab of taffy. The front of my right leg then got a little wobbly. I’d never experienced severe cramps, but this had to be the start of them. I’m not sure if it helped that I looked around and saw people similar shape or worse. The collapsing, puking and crying? I witnessed all of the above on those last 4 miles.

That stretch was probably the toughest thing I’ve ever done. Pretty much every step hurt. At one point, I promised myself I’d never have to run again as long as I pulled myself to the finish. I rummaged through my brain for anything resembling inspiration. I thought of late relatives. I dreamed of the large Blizzard I was entitled to upon completion — until the thought of any food made me wildly nauseous.

But I backed off the pace a little bit, and found a second wind. I slapped hands with some kids on the side of the road. I’d still like to launch an investigation into the actual distance between mile markers 10 and 11 — it must have lasted 27 minutes — and the final mile (called the “Victory Mile,” though I’d argue with that moniker, too) was a heck of a lot longer than expected. Sort of running, but mostly staggering, I hit the finish.

I tried to mumble some sort of exaltation, but it came out sounding like “mnmmugnh.” Finishing 1,604th in something never felt so satisfying. I overcame my Achilles’ heel, the humidity — although my other Achilles was my Achilles, which had scraped against my shoe the final half of the race and created a bloody sock and shoe. (Rookie Mistake No. 2. Mental note: Wear higher socks next time.)

I emerged from the experience with a crazy amount of respect for elite runners who can burn five-minute miles over that distance, plus marathoners who run 13.1 miles and then do it all over again. Same with the local guys The Herald has featured in past years after executing superhuman endurance feats — Dr. Randy Norris completed an Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii’s summer heat, Dr. Adam Dawkins swam the English Channel, Philip Wolf hoofed a 50-mile race, and Dr. Steve O’Connor finished a 100-mile race that landed him in the hospital afterward.

I think I’m good with 13.1-mile distance for now, thank you. I’ll probably end up doing it again. But first, gimme that Blizzard.

Herald sports editor Brendan Perkins, whose next test of endurance will be spending 13.1 straight hours on the couch this Sunday, can be reached at bperkins@dcherald.com or 482-2626, ext. 111.




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