The Last Mile

With about one mile to go I decided that I was going to turn on the after-burners and try to pass as many runners as I could – and not get passed by anyone else.  There was nothing to say that I would be successful and there was no ribbon or PR on the line – just a personal-goal and self-satisfaction.

As the sun rose over the mountains and the sky turned burnt orange, the Halloween spirit was on at the Healdsburg Half-Marathon.  Many of the 1,000 plus runners were dressed in costumes, ranging from the corpse bride, to men dressed as women and tons of other creative spirits.  I had woken up at 4am to make the drive from Tiburon to Petaluma to pick Kim up at 5:30 (Doug was going to meet us after the race and take her back home).  We got to the starting area at Francis Ford Coppola Winery around 6:50 after parking next to Clos Du Bois and walking about a half-mile in the dark.

It wasn’t long before the race was due to start at 7:15 and we all peeled of our sweats and outer layers to get ready to brave the relative cold (low 40s).  The announcer said that over 70% of the runners were women which caused a fellow male competitor near me to say that “it was a target-rich environment”.

We headed off down the winery’s long and winding drive-way and were soon winding our own way through the Dry Creek Valley and eventually passing over 200 vineyards (they even served wine samples at mile seven).  It was absolutely beautiful and as the sun rose, the temperatures did correspondingly.  It was one of those races where it was really easy to get distracted from pounding on the pavement by looking at all the different costumes or the changing colors of the leaves.

I had not worked out extremely hard over the past month but had got a couple of good runs in with Greg in the past two weeks but was nowhere near my normal fighting weight.  I did not expect to do anything heroic in Healdsburg, but to build on the half we did in Petaluma last month and to use this as a training run for the Tucson Marathon in mid-December.

Through the rolling hills and narrow country roads, I was able to maintain a constant pace – almost like Goldilocks, not too slow, not too fast.  The legs started to stiffen up around mile eight but nothing terrible and no cramps.  I drank as much water as I could and, starting around mile nine, started to spend some energy towards the finish.

I got to mile ten in almost goal time and miles seven through twelve were just 45 seconds slower than miles one through six.  Just before the mile twelve marker was when I started my charge.

There was a woman running ahead of me for a while with purple leggings and a purple top and she was able to keep her pace and was running well – but she would have to be the first one I took out.  I started to accelerate and had to move outside the cones that were placed to the right of where we were running on the left shoulder of Alexander Valley Road.  I kept pushing and passed her and then some other groups of runners, slowly but surely.  Usually at this point in a full marathon, a number of people are walking or injured or slow, but there was only one guy who was walking, the rest were running pretty good.

I started counting runners that were now in my rear-view mirror, one, six, eleven … and though I had not set a goal for numbers, I had to make sure that I did not get passed.  I needed to throw a shutout. Every so often, I would see someone out of the corner of my eye, coming up behind me on my right, their shadow growing closer on the pavement and the pounding of the feet drawing nearer.  I could not let them pass and I had to turn it on. There comes that moment when you have to draw on some insane energy and growl a little.

As we came to the Warm Springs recreation area and the finish line, we passed the mile thirteen marker.  The count had gone to 16, 21, 28, 35, 46 and there was less than one tenth of a mile to go.  The finish line was in sight, the crowds were gathered, music was playing, and the announcer was calling off the names as we approached the giant timer sign with our red electronic numerals for there for everyone to see.

As I came down the chute, there were a couple of guys who momentarily passed me at full-speed from behind with only about 50 yards to go.  In my mind, I heard “NO WAY!” and I just buzzed by them and a woman running in front and crossed the finish line with head down and grinding it out.

The final count was 51 runners passed and no one passed me on the final mile plus.  I didn’t win, or set a personal record or even come in the top three of my age class.  But it was one of the best last miles I have ever run and one that I can carry in my head for a very long time.

After I met up with Doug and Kim, we had the pleasure of receiving our wine tasting glasses and visiting the on-site booths of various local wineries and sampling the predominantly Zin and some Pinot and Chardonnay.  Kim had run a really strong race in 1:51 and was super happy with her performance as well. With the warm sun shining, and small glass of wine in our hands, we could lie in the green grass and savor our achy muscles and the self satisfaction of the medal around our necks and knowing we gave it our all and had a good time.

One of those days when one is so glad to be alive and anxious for the next challenge!