On this night I had sort of skipped the marathon training with the Creek Striders the day before. On the first lap I was "hanging" with another woman who beats the pants off me every time, but this time we chatted for a good half a length, until even the prospect of company couldn't keep me at the pace. At the 1-lap mark my time was way too fast. I figured I was done for, that I'd crash and burn the second lap, and as one does, kept going anyway.
A ways into that second lap I ended up running next to an 8-time marathoner in his 50s from the UK who was just visiting Dubai and came by for a workout. Again I pushed myself to keep up with the chatter, until I finally had to let him go as well. Finish line, pushed myself for a pretty ending (after all, there was an audience of the folks I'd somehow talked into coming to do this!) and on the screen: a time of 34:35. You may remember that it was only the week before Graham had been pleased and surprised by my breaking the 36 minute mark. I seriously thought my new time was a mistake! (This is an 8:11 minute mile, for those of you in the know).
Graham told me he wasn't "letting" me out of the Creek Striders training runs any more.
Regrouping with the runners I'd invited, I was excited to learn they'd all done a great job; everybody finished, and they were even smiling at the end, once they caught their breath.
Friday was my first "official" race here in Dubai (and I got there without getting lost and before it started this time!) a 10K, (6.1 miles). I met Graham there and planned to stick to him as well as I could since he's a veteran runner; not only do I enjoy his company and support, but he is also a great pace setter which keeps me from being an idiot and setting out too quickly, fueled by the adrenaline of the race atmosphere.
The race was held on the grounds of the 5 star resort Le Meridien Mina Seyahi, just west of our villa on the Arabian Gulf. (Persian Gulf, we call it in the USA). A beautiful early morning, nice at 83 F, 60% humidity. The horn sounded at 7 AM and nearly 220 runners hit the ground running.(Don't bother looking for me in the starting photo...neither tall enough nor to the front enough to be of notice) The course was set out onto the ocean on a bordering spit of land with a road that curved around the marina, then back around by the hotel, north then south then repeating the circuit three times all together.
During the first lap I was enjoying the ocean, the yachts, the palm trees and the skyline. A few hotel guests wandered out in their bathrobes to watch us, looking vaguely confused. The groundskeepers and lifeguards lined the course, interrupting their work to watch the nutcases racing. They bloomed with smiles whenever I grinned at them, and a few even clapped for us.
Graham and I ran without chatting, (a new experience for me) calling out occasional encouragement to other runners. By the second lap I was breathing hard, doing well on my favorite part, the little uphills, but laboring as we continued. Courses where you repeat the same route over and over can be mentally difficult, and I was no longer enjoying the scenery but keeping my eyes at a point on the ground ahead of me, working on keeping the cadence of my legs and breathing steady, thinking about technique and form.
This did not prevent Graham from blazing surely away from me (we had agreed to run our own races, and he took 4 minutes off his best 10K time from the last 3 he's run), nor did it prevent my developing double side-aches. My mouth was so, so dry, and my throat was on fire. At the water and Pocari station I grabbed one of each and stopped to stretch each side of my ribcage as I glugged down part of both drinks. As soon as I could I set out again for the third and final lap. As I did the winning runner flew over the finish line at an impressive 33 minutes.
The lap went by, and coming around the corner onto the final stretch, I began to speed up for a good strong finish, despite the heaviness in my legs. I'd been running alone, but I could hear someone coming up fast behind me, breathing hard with quick foot falls. I heard Graham calling my name in encouragement from the sidelines. I leaned forward and hoped for the best, trying to get the legs to give just a little bit more, sucking in air.
The other runner was running much faster than I, but I had a good lead on him. At the finish line, crossing the timing pads, he stuck out his chest and I flung out my foot with the timing chip on the shoe, and we received the exact same time of 50:57, finishing in the top half.
Nigel, the other runner, came up to me afterwards to chew over our accomplishment and let me know that I'd been his "mark"; apparently he'd been chasing me for several kilometers, trying to pass me.
Here is our reenactment of the last seconds:
Once we'd recovered a bit, breathing and body temperatures returning to normal, we all decided that in actuality we'd enjoyed the run, (no, really!) and relaxed in post-race camaraderie. As we watched other runners finish, one man collapsed a few hundred yards from the finish line, much to our dismay. Apparently he hadn't been looking all that well and when one of the volunteers jogged out and offered him water his eyes rolled back into his head and he pitched forward. The police and ambulances came screaming onto the course, making it much more interesting for the remaining runners to get around the vehicles, flashing lights and urgent EMTs. A few of us (Americans and Indians) wandered back aways to see what was happening, while the unfailingly polite Brits kept their distance. While he was still lying on his stomach, his feet were moving ina natural seeming way, so it looked that he at the very least hadn't dropped dead, to our relief.
Every finisher received a medal, very cool, and as you can see, the race photographers did a great job. In this one photo alone I think there are maybe 7 or 8 nationalities represented. (Prize for the whitest legs---if there was such a prize--- goes to Natalie, no contest.)
That evening our family went to an outdoor party to welcome the new Road Runners of the season at Graham and Katrina's villa. Bethy loved the bouncy castle, Thomas chased their cats, and we all had a wonderful time trying and completely failing to eat through the mountain of food Katrina had prepared. (Thomas ate a bunch of unsafe ice from the drinks cooler as well, not such a good choice by him, so we're watching for gastrointestinal distress.) Graham got up and gave a speech about the Road Runners, including bringing up some of the very accomplished members and telling a bit about each of them, which was inspiring, to say the least.
Then, to my delight and embarassment, he brought me up to round out his presentation, introduced me and talked briefly about how I came here in the summer, how different the climate is here from Seattle but that I'm doing well and had earned a PB (personal best time) from the 10K.
Later, when pretty much everybody but us had long since gone home, I asked him about it: why put me, of all people, up there? He said, "Well, that's to show that nobody is special but everybody is."
I can live with that.