Ashley and I walked from our hotel to the starting corrals. I got in line for the port-a-john and did my business in plenty of time to get back to my place. We scouted out the 4:30 pace group, and started the day off hanging with a group of people that I would run next to for the next few hours.
I don’t normally use this platform to review the vocal performances preceding these races, but I’d like to note here that the individual singing the National Anthem before the starting gun was not nearly as good as the person who sang it before we ran the Evansville Half. It did not affect my performance, thankfully, and I soon forgot about the voice that couldn’t choose between singing flat and singing sharp (maybe it evened out in the end?), but perhaps my remembering it is noteworthy enough to mention.
Once we finally got through the starting banner, we ran toward the sunrise under the city’s strange and stunning Arch, but not for long. The course had us winding around the downtown streets in a large elbowy circle. It was exactly as I remembered it from last year. The footfalls of runners, cheers of onlookers, and the music from a few bands echoed off the tall buildings. The rising sun beamed on us occasionally between the buildings, but we were in the cool shade for the majority of our time down there.
I don’t know if I mentioned the major draw of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon/Half Marathon event is the music. There are live, local bands every mile, usually playing familiar songs. It’s the first thing I learned about the RnR runs, and it is definitely my favorite. Bands ranged from rock ‘n’ roll, to Americana, to a DJ spinning his mixes underneath the curve of an overpass. Each was distinct from the other, and always something to look forward to.
The full marathon course split from the half marathon at around mile 10. There were volunteers and signs saying “HALF MARATHON ON THE LEFT; FULL MARATHON ON THE RIGHT,” and I had a surge of adrenaline. I was again taking the path that would wind me away from a 13.1 mile finish to the more crazy 26.2 mile finish. I prayed for Ashley as the barrier came up dividing the two distances, and I followed the 4:30 group. We were a pod of probably 25 runners completely separated from a mass of people. While we ran with the half marathon course, it was difficult at times to make sure I was not losing the group. But once we separated, it was incredibly obvious who we were and what our intention was. We were the 4:30 pace team.
Our course took us around the buildings of the Anheiser-Busch Brewing Company, which was neat. We’ve toured the facility several times, and it was cool to see familiar buildings from different angles, and several different buildings. It smelled heavily of hops. It was almost like drinking a light, crisp lager.
Mostly, this part of the course was a long, straight line for several miles before looping around the beautiful Carondelet Park (St. Louis knows how to do parks) and heading back on the same course. This out-and-back had its benefits, as I could observe the course for what I would be running on the way back. For instance, a great portion of the long, straight road was an easy downward slope on the way out, which meant we’d be going up on the way back. There were a few other hills I watched runners struggle up while I went down, knowing that I’d be struggling up those same hills in 45 minutes or so.
I started losing the pace group once we got inside the park. I had to stop to stretch my legs and get a drink of water, and I couldn’t catch up with them again. This left me to count my footfalls over and over again to keep my cadence up. 1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4, 3-2-3-4, 4-2-3-4, again and again.
As the miles racked up, my legs got sore, and it became harder to run. After 20 miles, I had to walk briefly, which I would do off and on for the next few miles. When I felt my form failing, I’d walk to get it back and then start running again. I don’t like to sacrifice form for a few reasons. It’s not healthy for the body. Poor form causes more strain on the knees and hips, which would cause more suffering in the long run. Additionally, a person running with poor form looks terrible in pictures. You can see the broken down body and soul, and I don’t want to imagine myself looking like that. So, partially practical, partially vanity – but I guess whatever works.
We joined back up with the half marathon course just before mile 24, and I ran the rest of the race. My legs were sore, but I felt good otherwise. The Arch was coming in and out of view, and I knew we finished at a park near it. I got close and closer, and finally turned the corner where I could see the finish line. I started scanning the street sides, and finally saw Ashley waving at me. I had another surge of adrenaline as I reached both arms above my head to wave back. I raced down the road, my eye on the clock. I crossed the finish line strong and elated.
How did it feel?
It felt great. I didn’t hit my target, but I held onto it for a long time. Finishing this marathon injury free was more important to me than a time goal, but striving for a certain time was an excellent motivator for training. I’ll hit the 4:30 soon enough. Someday, I’ll finish sub-four hours.
I’ve learned new things. I’ve set new goals. I’m headed for the next! Next, incidentally, is this Saturday in Audubon. The Chilly Hilly 5k is upon us once again, and for the third year in a row, I’ll hit those trails in racing form. Once I’m done, I’ll write about it right here for you.