The Quest for a Good Running Photo… continues.

Don’t get too excited, the quest continues.  But I have just found an ‘almost’.  While stalking events online, I came across a man’s photo album from the Huntsville half marathon in Texas a couple of weeks ago (I can’t believe it has only been a couple of weeks since I’ve been back – it feels like months).  I believe this is just before the finish line for the quarter marathon (meaning Nikki and I still had another loop to run).  I have no idea why I’m so far ahead, because we pretty much ran this entire thing side by side, but what I really want to explain is this is MUCH CLOSER to how I imagine I actually look when I’m running than the typical race photos I come across.  If only my eyes were open, this would potentially be my best race photo yet!

In other news, despite feeling like I had immortal feet, I have finally lost a toenail.  Being a 10k junkie for years, I guess this is like a pretty ceremonial thing in terms of long(er) distance running, so it’s great to be part of the cool crowd.  On the other hand, in Texas, I went for a pedicure with my mom (and it was only, like, the 4th pedicure I’ve ever had), and I feel like it was wasted on my now sub-human toes. In fairness, the gross blood blister on the neighboring toe is doing my foot aesthetics few favours:

And finally, in an kind of ‘fuck you!’ to the clocks going back and having a staggering 45 minutes of daylight after I finish work (and I am a school teacher that finishes work at 15:35), I went out for an evening trail run with Ronnie with my new head torch:

No light + blinding flash = goofy expression.

It was an overall failure, as we only managed about 4 miles (we were aiming for 8), and I kept getting weirded out by strange sounds in the woods.  It is also pretty easy to get completely lost in the dark, so there was a bit of stop-starting whilst we tried to work out if we were going where we wanted to go.  Also, it’s nearly impossible to tell whether that pile of leaves you’re about to run on are just sitting on the trail, or disguising a shin-deep freezing puddle of stagnant water.  Spoiler: I got wet.

Good luck to those of you racing this weekend!  I just have some weights and a shortish run planned this weekend before a busy week at work and the Fraserburgh half next weekend.  It looks like the Fraserburgh half could possibly mark the beginning of training for my first ultra, but I’m only about 60% sure I’ll aim to do it this year, so I wont say too much about that now…

Huntsville Half Marathon 2012

Time: 2:18:04 (New PW!)

Position: 156/224  Category Position: 10/19

Medal: Yes! (And a technical t shirt)

This was never going to be a PB race.  This was going to be my first ‘international’ half marathon, and it was also going to be the first half marathon I would run with my friend Nikki, an old school chum that I hadn’t seen in years who happens to be 4 months pregnant.  But this wasn’t always the plan.

Initially, Nikki and I signed up to the Huntsville half marathon because it was a relatively small race, and looking at previous results, we had a chance of actually placing!  It was also pretty cheap to enter.  But this was all before she got knocked up (nb. by her husband; she is not some trashy harlot who knows she’s going to have to part with a lot of money on DNA tests to determine paternity).  She let me know about a month beforehand, and secretly I was relieved, because I was:

a.) still broken from the Loch Ness Marathon, and

b.) NOT accustomed to Texas heat and humidity.

Luckily, for me and everyone else running, a freak cold front hit the day before the half marathon.  I stepped outside bracing myself for instant sweat and sweltering heat only to realize I needed a sweater.  Whatever voodoo trickery was at work, I was grateful.

Nikki traveled up to Houston from Lake Jackson on the Friday afternoon, and we went straight out for food at Star Pizza.  Due to the aforementioned bun in the aforementioned oven, we did not have a pre-race beer.  I mean, I’d feel like such an asshole enjoying a cold one while my jealous, pregnant friend looked on, drooling.  After food, we went where any self-respecting runner who is in need of a Halloween costume goes for supplies: Wal-Mart.

Avoiding the indigenous Wal-Marters, we found what we came for: two black t-shirts, and white duct tape.  A pair of mummies?  Bondage fanatics? No chance.  For Huntsville, home of several prisons and dubbed the most well-known ‘gated community’ in Texas, we would be dressing as convicts.

My good self

Nikki (+1)

It seemed only appropriate as the half marathon root was 2 loops taking in sights such as the Huntsville Prison Unit (also known as the Walls Unit), which was the first state prison built in Texas, and the only prison older than 100 years surrounded by a wall.  The course also took in the Death Chamber, where all executions in Texas have taken place since 1924.  Cheery, right?  The full ‘Historical Tour’ of the route can be found here.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.  We got to bed at a reasonable hour, and then woke up again at 4:30, which was a bitch.  By about 5am we were on the road to Huntsville, stopping only for gas (and some junk food, which is really hard to choose when you have to ‘browse’ through the bullet proof glass and pay through a reinforced drawer).  We arrived with plenty of time for packet pick-up, a toilet break, and a half hour power nap in Nikki’s kick-ass car (kick-ass rating increased by heated car seats because it was 44 degrees Fahrenheit – normal for me, ice-age by Texas standards).

About 20 minutes before the start, we decided to acclimatize.  We headed to the start area where we realized nobody else was in costume.  We got many appreciative comments, however, and it was pretty sweet being a minor celebrity (‘those chicks dressed as escapees’).  Before we knew it, we were listening to the national anthem (totally not used to this), and then we were off!

We had decided to aim for anywhere under 2:30:00, and to do this comfortably, we thought 10 minute miles was a good decision.  Unfortunately, we were running sub 9 minute miles for the first few, and Nikki hadn’t been running as much as usual due to, well, carrying around a human parasite and all.  We were also a bit taken aback by all the freaking hills!  Why were there hills?  Texas is supposed to be flat!  In hindsight, the fact that the running club organizing the race is called ‘Seven Hills’ should have tipped me off.  Either way, by mile 5 it was time for our first walk break. Nikki’s back had started to hurt, and she was suffering.  But I didn’t travel 4,000 miles to ditch her next to a prison, right?  Besides, we were nearly done with loop one of two, and we were doing alright!

We kept up with the run some, walk some (the walk breaks becoming longer and more frequent the more Nikki’s back became an asshole), and started to brace ourselves for the hills we knew were coming on our second run around the course.  We sensibly opted to walk the hills and not waste any downhill sections.  As always, the race photos depict the glamour of running:




There is one particular uphill section near the 6/12.5 mile marker where a speed detector (for cars) picked up on the runners.  First time around, Nikki and I hit 7mph.  The second time it didn’t even register.  It was at this point that Nikki was really suffering, and I think I even offered a piggy back over to the finish.  We just kept moving forwards, passing the group of drunk college dudes that called out things like ‘Your hair looks nice!’ and ‘You have beautiful smiles!’.  As soon as we saw the 13 mile marker in the distance, we just went for it.  And for once, my asshole gene did not kick in and have me sprinting full-force across the finish line.  Nikki and I finished together, as a team.  And then hit the pretty sweet post-race spread!

Drunk college boys

Fairly certain that it was unnecessary for us to hang around for the awards ceremony, we decided to get out of the cold and get a couple of ‘tourist’ shots along the course.  We stopped outside the old prison, but a guard in one of the towers yelled ‘No photos!’.  So we crossed the street and pulled the old ‘reverse camera’ trick, capturing a senior runner, still on his second lap, in the background:

We also had to go in search of a t-shirt a girl had mentioned on the run.  A tourist shirt that we eventually found in the prison museum saying ‘I did time in Huntsville’.  It was only right.

And finally?  We did what we had promised ourselves we would do after the half marathon, because, after all, we had a half marathon relay the next day and we needed energy…..