Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Valentine's Day: Hilton Head, South Carolina
Ever the romantic geniuses, Megan and I decided to celebrate Valentine's Day 2005 with a romantic getaway to Hilton Head, South Carolina. We had never visited the island of golf and retirees, so we were excited to see the ocean and weave through golf carts. Of course, to make things more interesting, we decided to run a half marathon just to spice up the weekend. I flew from Dallas to Atlanta, and we loaded the car to drive across Georgia to the island retreat.
Off to the Race
The drive itself was relatively uneventful except for noting the shifting location of chewing tobacco. In Atlanta, the chewing tobacco remained behind the counter with the normal tobacco products. Outside of Atlanta the chewing tobacco moved closer to the customer until we finally found it next to the candy bars near South Carolina. This is another reason why the South is awesome.
We pulled into Hilton Head late Friday evening and found exactly what we expected. The number of golf courses was staggering. I would like to see actual statistics, but I'm guessing there is roughly 3 holes per person at any given moment. Naturally, my sticks were at home.
After checking into our hotel, we met friends at an Italian restaurant to try to intimidate ourselves. One of the friends was training for a full marathon and saw this as just a practice exercise. The other friend had qualified for the Boston Marathon by running some other marathon in 3 hours 10 minutes. They told stories of injury and glory (amazing how "injury" and "glory" come all tangled up together in the running world), and I looked sheepishly at my mound of chicken parmagiana. These warriors of the asphalt are featured in the photo below.
Megan, on the other hand, loved this talk. Megan is a runner. She ran cross-country in high school, and the competitive running environment really gets her going. She lives for that sort of thing. She is a natural competitor, runs without injury, and has willpower that lifts her abilities to a much higher level.
I am not a runner. I started "running" as a way to ease the stress of law school. Initially, these outings consisted of high-speed strolls around the block. When that didn't suffice, I started circling several blocks. Eventually I was running six to eight mile stretches faster and faster. My routes were arbitrary, my times were irrelevant, my joints were beginning to not like me. How I ended up signed up for a half marathon was beyond me, and, as I stared into my pasta, I felt a touch out of place among the runners.
Jitters aside, I downed my pasta, followed it with ice cream, and assumed this fuel would lead me to glory (hopefully without injury) the following day.
We woke early. Well . . . that's an exaggeration. To say, "we woke" would imply that we slept, which we did not do. How could we? Megan was in some competitive zone that night, readying herself to will herself to go really, really fast. I was in a different zone: readying myself to hopefully not have a heart-attack around mile 4 requiring me to be stretchered off into some Hilton Head hopital, presumably over-flowing with patients who recently threw out their backs on the golf course. No, sleep was tough to come by, and around four, still three hours until race time, we decided to join the day.
Somehow we had determined that our best start would come from bagels and coffee. The bagels would provide more carbohydrates while the coffee would help us . . . hmmm, what euphemism to use . . . would help us lighten our digestive load a bit.
While downing these tasteless items (bagels were cold and soggy, the hotel coffee tasted like metallic dirt), we stretched and stretched and applied body glide and tied and retied shoes . . . heck, I was even wearing foam nipple protectors since I had a tendency to chaffe (did I mention that I am really not a runner?). The nipple protectors were part of my Valentine's gift from Megan.
Of course, these hours of warm-up ritual only left me more nervous, and the awful coffee left me losing my breakfast in the toilet. That didn't concern me--I had consumed enough carbs to run for a while. What did concern me, however, was the amount of liquid I lost with that upset stomach. Dehydration would be scary, and I had taken a huge step in that direction.
Meanwhile, Megan tried to calm me down. She seemed nervous in a different way--maybe nervous someone would beat her. We made for quite a duo--she was driven to win this thing, and I was hoping to come home alive.
Ready, Set, Go
The air was cold that February morning. Romance, it seemed, had yet to fill the air. Worse, we realized the route was not going to be what we expected. We assumed that a half marathon on a beach resort island would mean 13.1 miles of running along the sea, fresh wind at our backs, sun rising over the ocean. Instead, the route seemed to follow a very, very busy road in the center of Hilton Head that was only partially blocked off. So, we realized we would spend the next 13.1 miles breathing fumes without so much as the sounds of the ocean breaking the monotony.
Shake it off. I had tried to drink a little more water, but I seemed to constantly have to urinate . . . nerves, I was told. Megan, at this point, was freezing, so we jogged in place, moved up to the starting line, re-tied our shoes, and tried not to think about how bad we had to urinate.
After a while of that dance, the gun fired, and we were off. Megan and I clicked our watches as we crossed the line. And thus began a great experience for learning about one another. Some learn these sorts of lessons about each other slowly, painfully, over years and years--we condensed all of that pain into under 2 hours . . . and the watches were the root of these lessons.
Out of the gate, we were flying, soaring. I hardly felt my Mizunos on the pavement, hardly noticed to cold vanish into a brilliant warmth. I definitely did not realize that we had destroyed the first mile in 7 minutes and 22 seconds, a pace faster than I had ever run. Cool, we could do this.
Mile 2. 7:21. At this point, I'm getting a little more concerned but still feeling good. Megan is a machine and shows no similar concern. "Hey, should we slow it down to around 8 or something close to what we've practiced?" I asked for two reasons: first, if you can speak while running, you're still doing okay. Second, I really wanted to slow down. "No," and Megan focused on the road.
Mile 3: 7:22. I only know this, mind you, because Megan is keeping our split time down to the second. Her watch is computing almost as fast as her mind as she calculates split times and speeds, visions of glory dancing through her head. Meanwhile, I'm noticing the trees and the joy of moving.
Mile 4: 7:22. Amazing. I don't know how this gal next to me keeps this pace so perfectly, but she's moving as if her race were forecasted. I'm inspired. I notice a water station on the side of the road. During all my training, I tried to master the art of drinking on the run, and I never got very far. I grab a cup and immediately pour it all over me, so I grab a second and try to slow down--Megan refuses to take water and definitely refuses to slow, so I ditch the cup and move on. This is how downfalls begin.
Mile 5: 7:24. Megan is disappointed at the two-second slip, and I'm wanting to run back a mile just to lick the water off the sidewalk. Another thing about me--I sweat. I sweat like a Knapp, and for those who don't know, Knapp men sweat enough be considered a major water source. As I jogged, I pictured weather forecasters scratching their scalps in puzzlement at the great Hilton Head Flash Flood of '05. Meanwhile, Megan had scarcely broken a sweat.
Mile 6: 7:22. Back on track. I'm starting to not feel so healthy. Another water station passes without my being able to drink, and I'm wondering where this is going to lead. I'm starting to feel a bit grumpy. I have one pleasing vision: removing the watch from Megan's hand and trampling it to pieces.
Mile 7: 7:22. Megan is now counting the women. She keeps track of how many she passes, how many pass her, and, most importantly, what age group the faster women are running in. I am often consulted. As long as they are older or younger, she doesn't care. But if they are her age, she's taking them down. I, on the other hand, become jealous of the folks taking stretch breaks on the side of the road.
Mile 8: 7:24. Another water station goes by without a drop, and I'm sinking fast. I start to slow, my muscles cramping. I'm still sweating, but my mental state is crashing rapidly. I feel upset, but I don't know why. I'm feeling awful and not able to communicate well. I realize somewhere in the cloud that I am dehydrating.
Mile 9: 8:12. I've slowed Megan down, and here, at a water station, I send her on her way. We're trying to run the same race on very different philosophies, and it is time to split up. Somehow, Megan can run for 13.1 miles without a water break. I hit mile 9 without water, and I'm quickly approaching serious health problems. The parting is not a problem. I need to swallow 9 mini cups of Gatorade and 8 mini cups of water. Megan needs to destroy her competition.
Mile 10: ?. I'm recuperating. I'm moving slow, my muscles hurt, but my mental state is more balanced. I'm back to running as I tend to run. I can't think in split times, and I find myself returning to the joy of movement for its own sake.
Mile 11: ?. No sign of Megan. I'm hoping she is preparing to hoist a trophy. I hit another water station and take the time for 8 or 10 more of the little cups full of fluid.
Mile 12-13.1: And I cross the line. I see Megan and a distance, but I'm so shaken by the entire event that I really need to be alone. I grab a water bottle, a Gatorade and a slice of pizza and head off to a field to pull myself together. The sensation was amazing and intense. My muscles chastized me for the audacity of those first few miles, but, caloried and hydrated, they started to quiet down. Megan found me, and we hugged for a while. Oblivious to each other's stench, we had made it, and, finally, it felt great. In the end, we had to run slightly different races, but we ended up in the bliss of the finish together.
Happy Valentine's Day
Megan won her award, taking one of the top places for her age group. Our competitive friends from the pasta dinner were similarly successful. As I ate more pizza along with some oranges and apples and more water, I felt very successful as well--after all, that pizza tasted really great.
We hobbled back toward the hotel and collapsed. We knew napping would leave us immoble, so we reluctantly decided to take a stroll along the beach. Fully hydrated, we enjoyed a glass of red wine and some smokey cheese as the sun vanished over the sea. Tired and content, I think we realized this Valentine's Day celebration would be tough to beat.