- Because it was there, I guess.
- Also because I was turning 30 the next day and wanted to feel like I wasn't an old man yet.
- And also because I am overweight and wanted a goal that would make me exercise regularly.
The race started at 7:05 a.m., so by 6:30, the starting area was already getting pretty crowded. After a quick stop in a very filthy mobile intestinal relief facility, I joined 5501 of my newest friends behind the starting line. Despite the October chill, most of us weren't wearing much more than shorts, T-shirts, and maybe sweatshirts. Some were wearing substantially less (e.g., the man dressed in a cape, briefs, and a lucha libre mask). We expected to get very warm very quickly.
A funny thing happens when you are in a tight-packed bunch of live bodies on a cold morning: you get to share their body heat. I knew somewhere in the back of my head that humans are finely tuned heat machines, generally running temperatures between 96 and 98 degrees. Nonetheless, I'm not sure I ever really felt this truth the way I did in that chilly pre-dawn moment when I realized that I was standing outside in 40-degree weather and wasn't even a little bit cold. It was comforting to know that, even in a massive, faceless crowd, we could provide each other with a little bit of comfort on a cold day. It almost made me feel like one with those around me. And then the race started.
After the starting pistol sounded, the crowd surged slowly forward like a fell dragon flexing his wings. I started about a quarter mile back from the line. Following thousands of others, I went from a slow walk to a leisurely jog to a full-on run as I hit the sensor strip at the starting line. Once we had crossed that fateful line, we were no longer partners against the cold -- it was every man for himself, and Devil take the hindmost.
For the first couple of miles, I felt more like an extra in a zombie film than a contestant in a road race. I glanced around at my competitors, looking for signs of infection and trying to remember if it was possible to crush the spinal columns of the brain-hungry undead with one's bare hands. After all, here we were: thousands of people, all running the same direction, a river of humanity flowing inexorably to a common sea. What else could explain this madness besides some brain ailment? Or the allure of cheesy medals, I guess.
It was a surreal experience to run with 5,000 other humans toward a single finish line. It emphasized everyone's common humanity: we all were flesh and bone, constructed of basically the same materials and on basically the same plan. However, it also highlighted our differences. I, a short, jiggly man with creaky knees, was not even in the same class with the tall, muscular demigods who dominated the race-course, finishing a full marathon in less time than it took me to run my measly half. (I am not joking. The winner of the full marathon lapped me about 1.5 miles from the finish line.)
I intend to get into more detail about the run itself in subsequent posts. For now, I will close with a few numbers.
5,502 people started the half marathon with me. Of those, 4,796 finished. And of those, I came in 3,955th. Not great. And my time of 2:33:43 was more than 20 minutes slower than the average finish time.
But, hey, at least I wasn't the pitiful sack of carbon-based life who came in last.