Three miles from the finish line of the Cinco de Mayo Half Marathon, I notice something half a mile in the distance that I’d hoped not to see: a dark-haired guy in a gray t-shirt and shorts…walking. I suspect my teenage son may have fallen into a trap common to inexperienced runners, like starting out too fast, dehydration, or unsustainable speed. Ninety minutes before, I’d offered some advice acquired over the years, some confirmed by Amby Burfoot in his book Run Forever: don’t run the first mile faster than your goal pace; “drink three to six ounces [of electrolytes or water] every 20 minutes;” and start slow, increase your pace over time and end up with negative splits rather than the opposite.
Lastly, I mentioned, if you have the energy to sprint at the end, you should have run faster earlier in the race. I’d also offered my services to facilitate his first attempt at the 13.1-mile distance: never leave your wingman–modified to: never pass your wingman. My goal was to stay with or behind my kid, hopefully finishing in two hours or less. I knew that this late in the race if he was walking and I stopped running to do same in support, my legs would cramp, my motivation would dissipate, and I’d have no chance of achieving my time goal. The young man in gray began to run again. Then walk. As I neared him, I realized with relief–he wasn’t my son.
I’d learned that I’d be running my first road half marathon in eight years one month before the race, when my son, attending college 3,000 miles away, mentioned (1) that he was following a Hal Higdon half marathon training plan (I’d done the same more than once) and (2) his schedule showed race day as the 5th of May. Higdon, an 86-year-old author (“of more than three dozen books”), runner (his “best mile time was 4:13.6”), and painter (producing mostly pop-art as in the poster Running in the Dunes by South Shore Line), offers free novice, intermediate and advanced training plans for distances from 3.1 to 26.2 miles. For a fee, he provided additional information by email, though he “does not coach athletes one-on-one.” No matter. The free online versions include most of the information a runner might need.
Run Snoqualmie’s Cinco de Mayo Half Marathon (with an entry fee of only $50 including a t-shirt), was the easy, convenient, obvious course choice.Day of race weather was 60-something and sunny without even a hint of a breeze. The nearly flat route boasts beautiful views of the Snoqualmie River (including two crossings of the historic, single-lane Meadowbrook Bridge) and meanders along the edge of the verdant Three Forks Natural Area, which “has more than 200 acres of open space situated at the confluence of the south fork, north fork, and middle fork of the Snoqualmie River. With an astounding up-close view of Mount Si, it is dominated by riverine, riparian, and wetland habitat.” The only drawback: it’s made up of two out-and-backs. Most runners, including me, aren’t fans of seeing the same stuff twice.
Fortunately, the dreaded out-and-backs turned out to be blessings in disguise, as they allowed me to gauge my first-timer’s progress, at two miles, he was a quarter mile ahead of me, at eight, nearly a mile.
With the guy-in-gray walking at the 10-mile mark scare a thing of the past, my thoughts returned to my two-hour completion goal. I hadn’t looked at my watch since mile two, and I didn’t plan to start. I hadn’t noticed anyone who looked my age in front of me, and wondered whether I might place in my age division if I held my spot, a perk of participating in a small race like this one (with only 243 participants). I’d be annoyed if I lost out on doing so by a minute or two, my total stopped-to-take-photos time, and I was too tired to gain on anyone.
Just beyond the final aid station staffed by friendly, energetic teenagers holding paper cups while calling out “Gatorade” on the left and “water” on the right and assuring us that we were “almost there,” I noticed the fluorescent pink mile 11 marker. I’d had enough of running this pace, which seemed fast but I suspected wasn’t because I’d mostly given up running on roads in favor of trails, which we run more slowly because of the hills, roots, and rocks.
Two miles later, I turned right off Meadowbrook Way into the Mount Si High School parking lot following an older-than-me man clad in a sweat-stained red shirt and green-edged black shorts. He looked like he was barely moving. Which meant the same for me. A running club member called out encouragement to a young woman I’d been near for the last five miles. Both wore the same black tank with a winged T emblem. Garrett was headed our way, having crossed the finish line minutes prior. He smiled. I felt like I was flying, but the clock told a different story. I met my goal of finishing in under two hours…by 63 seconds. At the awards ceremony, I was reminded what I learned long ago, you can’t judge a runner by his or her cover. The women’s overall third-place finisher, Kristen Mossman, is 54 years old (my age) and ran 7:01 min/mile. That yields an Age Graded Score of 85.76% (“Your age-graded score is the ratio of the approximate world-record time for your age and gender divided by your actual time.”) David Crawford, sixty-eight years old, completed the course at a pace of 7:46 min/mile. My son placed second (out of two) in his division after 15-year-old Micah Murphy, who ran a 6:36 min/mile pace and finished 5th overall. As we left the gym, Garrett mentioned he was ready for another distance, a marathon, maybe in August…sigh.