Sunday, November 16, 2008

Rum Running

As I was on my fourth Captain and Coke in the pool at the Outerbanks, straining to reach the straw, my only form of exercise that day, my older sister blurted out, "I think we should run a marathon."

Now, up to that point, I think I might have clocked about 2 miles total running that summer, mostly from tourists with maps. So why my sister thought I was up to that particular challenge, especially without knowing any steroids dealers, is beyond me.

"Lisa, I haven't run all summer," I said, throwing up my drink for emphasis. "I'm not about to run 24 miles."

"OK, well what about a half marathon?"

I thought about this for a second. Mostly to calculate what half of 24 was. "Nope. That's still 13 more miles than what I run now. Why are you into this all of a sudden anyway? You haven't been running much yourself this summer."

"I know. That's exactly it. If I have something to motivate me, like a race, I think I'd start running more. OK, well how about a 10K? That's only a little more than 6 miles."

Lucky for my sister, the Captain had finally started to kick in. After a few rum and cokes, I think I can do anything. Including fitting two legs into a baby swing in the park across the street at 2 a.m., which, of course, is a completely rhetorical example.

"OK! Let's do it!" I shouted, raising my glass in the air and straining my arm. Training had officially begun.

We had a month and a half until race day to get in shape. Unfortunately, I could only run after work due to my having to get up every morning at an hour usually only reserved for farmers and donut fryers, but as the days were getting shorter and darker, even that was out of the question. So I hit the gym. For two weeks straight, I used the elliptical, hoping it would be the equivalent of actually running outside. I attempted to train on the tread mill, but couldn't figure out how to run in place without holding onto the handrails and looking like a complete dork. Never mind that I was taking the risk of looking like a complete dork at the race, spinning my feet in an elliptical pattern while everyone else whizzed past me, one foot in front of the other.

I was feeling pretty proud of myself and my new exercise regimen. That is, until I remembered the trips to Vegas and New York I'd scheduled in the beginning of the summer. For the next two weeks, my exercise regimen consisted of rum punches poolside at Mandalay Bay and scorpion bowls at NY dive bars. I was now in danger of not only looking like a dork at the race, but sweating rum while I ran, which would be a grave waste of alcohol.

The day before the race, I felt like a kid who hadn't studied for the big test. My sister and I were extremely nervous, and I was tempted to see whether she'd be game for going shopping for a few hours, throwing some water on our faces, and coming back and telling everyone what great time we made. No one would have to know we'd meant paying for some fashionable dresses at the Anthropologie checkout rather than running a grueling 6.2 mile course.

We woke up early that morning, as the race started at 8:30 and it would take an hour to get into the city. We had been told we couldn't use an ipod during the race, so, being law abiding runners, left ours at home. Of course, the 5,000 other runners that were there either didn't get the memo, or were blatant criminals, as they all were humming along to their ipods as we waited to start the race. How I was going to be able to get through 6 miles without Rihanna's help was beyond me. Besides that, I hated running in front of other people, let alone 5,000. I was already feel cramped and crowded and the race hadn't even started.

"Are you sure you don't want to get a drink somewhere instead?" I asked my sister as she looked around nervously.

"Amy, it's 8:30 in the morning."

"It's OK as long as there's OJ in it."

But it was too late. People were starting to move, albeit it very, very slowly. I was officially running a 10k without ever having run 6 miles in my life. I couldn't believe that people were actually starting off walking. I sped up to get past the dead weight, running along the shoulder of the track and quickly jumping back in when the grass ended, cutting people off and getting flipped the bird. This wasn't so different than driving, I thought.

I stayed to the outer sides of the course, as it was easier to maneuver past people. That is, until I hit the first water station. I couldn't understand at first why everyone started slowing down and moving to my side until it was too late. I was instantly flooded by incredibly thirsty people who had run an apparently really dehydrating one mile. Empty plastic cups started flying in my direction, bouncing off my head and onto the ground. The experience was not unlike playing Mario Kart, as I simultaneously dodged and side-stepped Dixie Cups, all the while trying to make good time.

It wasn't until around mile 4 that I finally found my groove. I had managed to get past all the walkers and was now sailing at what I guessed was a good 1 to 2 miles per hour. I sped to get past one grunter ahead of me. Not having an ipod meant I had to listen to all the grunts, moans, and unnecessarily loud breathing of the 5,000 people running next to me. Unfortunately, my timing was off, and right as I was pulling up next to him, he turned his head to spit, which lodged itself on my arm, annoyingly keeping pace with me for an entire mile.

I then heard the wail of sirens behind me. We quickly ran to the side of the road as no less than 15 ambulances and police cars drove past us at a disturbingly slow rate. At least five minutes must've gone by before the cavalcade managed to get past us. I just hoped no one had gotten poked in the eye by an errant Dixie Cup. After a few more minutes, I was at the mile-5 marker and people were calling out numbers. "50:45!" I heard a voice ring out. I was confused. Was that the time since we had started the race? I had expected to finish in more than an hour, but I then realized that I could actually do much better.

The last mile was, of course, uphill, and really painful, mostly due to the 50's music they were subjecting us to at the finish line. I'm not sure why the organizers thought the Everley Brothers would get us pumped to finish that last mile. All I can think of is that they were hoping it would motivate us to finish as fast as we could in order to beat the DJ.

When I crossed the finish line, I immediately set out to find my sister, who I hadn't seen since mile 1. I figured she'd finished an hour ahead of me and was tired of waiting for my slow ass. We had been told there were booths set out at the end of the race for families and friends to find each other, but what they neglected to tell us was that they were another mile from the finish line. I sprinted past event organizers and Marines trying to hand me water and take my picture.

"Hey! She's still running!" I heard a voice call out behind me. They must have thought I was a "special" runner.

When I finally found our designated booth, Lisa was nowhere to be seen. Great, I thought. She'd gotten bored and left. I called my brother-in-law, who instantly answered the phone with a "Congratulations!"

"Thanks. Do you know where Lisa is? I don't see her anywhere."

"She should be there. She finished 3 minutes ahead of you."


"Yeah. I was tracking you both. You finished in an hour and seven seconds."

I couldn't believe it. My weeks of rumming and no running had put me ahead of about 3,500 other runners. Forget Wheaties; rum is the new breakfast of champions. Hopefully, I will be getting a call soon with an offer to put my face on a bottle of Captain Morgan's.

When I finally found Lisa, she was already making plans for our next race.

"I think we should do half marathon next year, what do you think?"

"Absolutely," I said. "I think we should start training now."

"Now? Amy, I'm exhausted."

"Oh, quit your whining. The bar is right across the street."