Sunday, May 3, 2009

Country Music Half Marathon - Pre-Race

I awake with a start at 2:15AM on the morning of the race as a police car races by my hotel. I groan as I look at the clock - wake-up call in only 75 more minutes! As it turns out, the police siren was my wake-up call, because I will not fall back asleep. I lay there, thinking about the day ahead. I know that it will be difficult, but a snap compared to what anyone dealing with cancer is going through at the moment. At 3AM I hear the faint sounds of revelry coming from Broadway on Nashville's "Honky Tonk" district. I have to marval that as I prepare to get up at this early hour, there are people who haven't yet gone to bed!

Race day really began last night when the team assembled for nearly an hour to review what was going to transpire in the morning, including warnings about the heat. We were told to be in the lobby by 4AM, and Dave and I retire to our room to lay out all of our race stuff. This takes about 45 minutes or so, believe it or not - you do not want to forget anything on race day.
When I finally get out of bed at 3:25, it only takes us about 15 minutes or so to shave (in my case), slather on sunscreen and body glide, and dress. We head to the lobby and I wait until 4AM to buy a bagel and a banana for breakfast. Then we link up with the team. Dave and Nicole start spraying each other's hair with purple hairspray:
My team colors will be displayed on my right cheek, on my face, that is:
I ask someone to snap a photo of me and my three Nashville mentees. I am really proud of them. Two of them are running their first marathon today under very difficult conditions.
The entire Virginia team poses for photos from the multiple cameras that people have brought:
Then we join hands in a circle for a team cheer and head to the buses. It is now about 4:30, and is still pitch dark out. The temperature is very pleasant, maybe 62 degrees F. The wait for the buses in the dark is very orderly:
The bus drops us off near a park about 4:50. Some of the team heads to the porta-potties, and the rest of us wait until they are done. I marval at the beauty of the Parthenon, which is all lit up by spotlights. This is an exact replica of the Parthenon in Athens. I wish I snapped a photo, because the lights are suddenly shut off. We head in that direction and arrive a little after 5, sprawling out on one of the corners of the building. We chat, rest, and eat and drink. A few try to sleep, in vain. As the sun is rising, I snap this photo of the team sitting at the base of the Parthenon, and a while later I take the photo of the Parthenon:
In the photo above, note the long line of hedges by the side of the building, which apparently have special religious significance to the truly devout. I will explain this shortly.
During the time between 5 and 6:30, we listen to the same pre-recorded 45 second message over and over. It discusses the location of various things: the medical tent, the massage area, the information booths. We are ready to strangle the guy who recorded it after about 20 minutes. People are snapping photos, stretching, taking breaks to brave the porta-potty lines, and dropping off their gear off at the UPS truck. About 6:30 the faster teammates head to the starting corales, and eventually I am the only one there. I am waiting for a teammate who had taken her gear bag to be dropped off, but as long as she has been gone, I assume that she is now in a porta-potty line. Because she left her race belt behind, I don't want to leave it, so I wait. I wait. I wait some more. I start thinking how a trip to a porta-potty sounds like a really good idea. But I don't want to leave. If I take her belt maybe we won't find each other. If I leave the belt, maybe someone will take it. With the lines that trail each porta-potty area, the wait would be at least 20-30 minutes, and that rules out a quick trip. Then I notice these incredibly religious men.
Several men are kneeling devoutly on the ground at the hedge just a few feet away, heads piously bowed, hands folded reverently in front of themselves in prayer. Except, of course, they are not praying. Unless there is a Patron Saint of Full Bladders that they are praying to, but I never learned about such a saint in religion class as a child. I start praying myself that I won't wet my pants before my teammate reappears, but I think taking a pee at a hedge while people walk by feet away just seems a little too crass. Of course in the original Olympics near the real Parthenon, everyone competed naked. We are not doing this here. 32,000 naked people running through downtown Nashville might be entertaining to the local populace, but pinning on our race numbers would suck! Plus, the sunburns would be pretty incredible.
Finally I explain the situation to a couple of women who are sitting nearby. "Would you watch this belt for me," I plead, 'while I run over to those bushes for a minute?" They are willing so I run to a large shrubby area, go in far enough so it shouldn't totally gross anyone out, and take care of Nature's calling. I run back to the Parthenon, and not 30 seconds later, my teammate appears. Oh well. We head to our starting corale, #26, and she snaps this photo of me:
The race started at 7AM, but the mass of people - 32,000 are registered for the half and the full marathon - takes a long time to move slowly to the start. I note how tired I feel, having been awake for nearly 6 hours and standing for a couple of hours during this time. But I can feel the adrenalin strart to surge as we get closer and closer to the starting line. A few minutes from the line, I snap this photo of the start, and then at 7:57, I cross the starting line for my first half-marathon:

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