0 km: The gun goes off, and there are awkward fits and starts as everyone tries to leave at the same time and not crash into the people in front of them. The trail is all soft, dark dirt and trees on every side and everyone is chatty and fresh. It's 9:00 a.m. and freezing, but not raining, and there are breaks in the clouds.
2 km: The trees have fallen away on one side, and been replaced by a lazy river. One can see the path for miles ahead, dotted with the race's leaders. My right hip is starting to twang when I land, and I'm praying desperately for that to go away.
3 km: A smattering of long, lean people with ropy muscles are sprinting by me, heading the opposite direction. These are the 10-k runners. They have reached the half-way mark, and are heading for home. They are all moving very fast.
5 km: I pass through the 5-k mark. There is a water table and a batch of teenage volunteers shouting encouragements. The sun is peeking out.
6 km: I regret not having made use of the port-o-potty at the 5-k mark. I begin to encounter runners who have reached the first turn-around (the course is Y-shaped...the run goes from the bottom of the Y to the top right arm, back down to the crook, up the left arm, and back down to the base) and are heading back down. They are each of them very skinny people, and most of them have some combination of short shorts and spandex. Many of them shout some form of encouragement as they pass those of us still headed up. I am surprised by how these thumbs-upses and shouts of 'keep it up' affect me; after each one I am left grinning like an idiot and running like a ninja, buoyed up on the cameraderie of strangers.
7 km: I hit the first turn-around. My left hip is starting to ache. I head back down the path, shouting encouragements in my turn to those I pass (all, like, twenty of them).
8 km: After the surge of adrenaline brought on by the last two km, this one is the loneliest yet. We've begun to string out along the trail, and the nearest people are several hundred meters before and behind me. I take my first stop to stretch out my hips and knees.
10 km: I'm totally bored and my hips hurt.
12 km: I'm done the first leg. As I start the second leg, those same long, lean, ropy, spandex-ed people pass me again. This means that they are over 6 km ahead of me. This also means that for the next 3.5 km, we are passing each other and cheering each other on. The effects of this are somewhat less intoxicating, since I am having to stop at least once/km to stretch my knees and hips. A blond, weathered lady gives me a look of commiseration as she trots by on her tanned, skinny legs.
14 km: I am trying to follow Joel's advice, to run my own race, and not be bothered by the middle-aged women with their wide bums passing me to the right and the left. My hips are killing me.
15.5 km: The second turn-around. The water-station man high-fives me and tells me to get going, that this next is the easy part.
15.6 km: I realize just how much I hate running back over ground I've already covered.
16 km: The turn-around station is still in sight. A woman in yellow points and asks me, 'Is that our marker?' I nod, and say something encouraging about it not being long now, and then run on, expecting her to pass by me. Instead, she falls in behind me, cutting her overall run short by about a kilometer.
17 km: I'm stopping to walk for about 100m of every km now. The woman in yellow passes me. I'll be damned if I let her finish before me, because she CHEATED, but for now it's all I can do to keep her in sight.
19 km: I'm finished the second leg, and have only the stem of the Y left. The traffic guard yells at me that I'm 'so close to home now,' but I know she lies, because I've been doing the math in my head. I'm starving, and my shirt is soaked with sweat.
20 km: We're back on the wooded trail. This part is much shorter in my mind than in real life, and, drawing strength from how close to being done I think I am, I pass the woman in yellow. I hope she walks the rest of the way.
21 km: I don't remember the trail being this long. I become convinced that I missed a turn-off somewhere. I've left the woman in yellow far behind, and haven't seen a volunteer in ages. I think of how angry I'll be if I've run further than is necessary.
22 km: I hear voices. A woman and her two daughters have taken up positions at the very end of the trail, and are cheering the stragglers (yes, I straggled) on. I see Joel standing there with the camera, I see the Start/Finish line, I see bagels and oranges and coffee. I am a sweaty mess, and my hips are on fire, and I can hardly stand long enough to stretch out, and I groan all the way to the car. BUT I am finished, and now I can stop training and start going to the gym like ordinary people (that is, sporadically), and next year I can figure out a way to Novicaine my hips beforehand so that I can run the whole thing without stopping.
PS. Dear Body,
Thank you for your efforts on Sunday. Now, as promised, IOU one week in the bath, and rampant eating, and to walk much less than is necessary.