Rumspringa Half-Marathon, April 2014

“Unfortunately the start of today’s race is delayed because I miscalculated the speed of Amish horse and carts.”

IMG_1337A sentence like that could only have been unwelcome if I was standing still, wearing only the thinnest clothes, in freezing conditions with a wind chill of minus 10 degrees centigrade. Which it was, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania at the scheduled start time of the Rumspringa Half Marathon.

Online reviews of previous years’ running of the event proclaimed about a 10% chance of a personal best due to the course being hilly. This involved a long descent for the first mile and a half, plenty of gentle undulations during the course, a couple of short, sharp ascents and then a brutal one-and-a-half mile climb to the finish. But pre-race I couldn’t have cared less about any of that; it was about staying indoors at the shop/rest room area as long as possible before standing around outside in the bitingly cold wind.

The start of the race, when it eventually came, was a relief as it gave my muscles a chance to try and warm themselves up. “Last time I saw legs like that, they were on an oil rig”, someone once said to me about my non-scrawny thighs and calves, which at least meant that I would almost never have cold legs no matter what the temperature, but this was an exception, and over the first couple of miles it didn’t seem as if I could run fast enough to warm them up.

Given the nature of the initial descent, the 300-strong field was quite strung-out after the first 2-3 miles, and as with previous 5K races and the Cayman Half-Marathon, I found myself without an obvious running-mate/pacemaker.

Three miles in though, and a slim guy, taller than me with free-flowing long hair and a pair of almost cushion-less running shoes that look more like thick socks with a space for each toe, came gliding past me (that’s him on the left in the pic at the top of this blog). Free-hair Freddy (as I’ve decided to call him) looked good, although once he’d gone 100 yards ahead of me he seemed IMG_1343to slow down as the gap didn’t get any greater.

It transpired that the Race Director either miscalculated the speed of Amish horse and carts twice, or was right the first time, as we ran past dozens of them on their way to church. I began to feel slightly self-conscious about my skimpy shorts, shameless lack of a beard, non-black clothing, not being on my way to church with them…on top of my usual self-consciousness about being basically rubbish at running.

As I continued to trail Free-hair Freddy we came to a very steep incline at about the 5-mile mark, at which point a very stocky man with big arms sprinted past me. How on earth, I wondered, had someone looking like that kept up enough to be with me at this point and still have it in him to sprint up a hill. As became clear, that was part of his messed-up, sprinters strategy – he sprinted past me and then stopped several more times in the ensuing 3 miles before I dropped him. I didn’t speed up deliberately during that time, but I may have done so inadvertently out of sheer irritation at being past multiple times by someone who clearly lacked a purist’s respect for what distance running is supposed to look like. As in, y’know…running, rather than sprinting and walking.

Eight miles in and – still feeling like I’m mainly running on my own – but Freehair Freddie is coming more into view. That really is nice hair. And I wish I was slim enough that wearing those membrane-thin running shoes would make sense for me. And I wish my running style was as fluid as his. And…oh…I’ve caught him up. Mm, this could be awkward – he passed me six miles ago and he might find this annoying…”Great job, dude” he calls to me as I overtake him.

Cool.

By the time I made it past mile 11 the long climb to the finish was upon us and it was apparent that if the hill didn’t do me in I would beat my half-marathon debut time of 1:55:36. I was maintaining a pace about 30 seconds/mile quicker than that and so while I fully expected to forfeit some of that in the closing two miles, I should manage a quicker time.

Thing is, my lungs may be my best feature. Which is disappointing in so far as I was hoping – having turned myself into a IMG_1348distance runner – that it would be my legs. Or my back. Or hips… knees… ankles… core… hamstrings… calves…any of those bits that usually give out or protest at the whole running thing. So it seems that despite my chunky legs and my generous mass, I do some of my best work when going upwards. And so it was on this day when over the last mile and a half of climb I passed 15 people on the way back to the quaint village on the hill where the start/finish line was.

Only when I got there it wasn’t there, and I was instead being ushered into a left turn to I-knew-not-where, just at the point where I heard the pitter-patter of sprint-finish-feet coming up behind me. So, going down the narrow road and not knowing where the finish line was I started sprinting too, in order to stay ahead of him. Another four turns later and there was the finish line, which I crossed in 1:51:17, about 10 yards ahead of random fit-looking, trying-to-beat-me-on-the-line guy.

Job done, bring on the German sausages and glass of draught beer. And a coat.

Only when I got there it wasn’t there, and I was instead being ushered into a left turn to I-knew-not-where, just at the point where I heard the pitter-patter of sprint-finish-feet coming up behind me. So, going down the narrow road and not knowing where the finish line was I started sprinting too, in order to stay ahead of him. Another four turns later and there was the finish line, which I crossed in 1:51:17, about 10 yards ahead of random fit-looking, trying-to-beat-me-on-the-line guy.

Job done, bring on the German sausages and glass of draught beer. And a coat.

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