After waiting what seemed more than five months, race weekend finally arrived. Race morning I woke up feeling sore and exhausted after working two long days at the Illinois Marathon Expo and at Body n’ Sole, plus hearing the sounds of rain made me want to roll over and stay in bed. It brought back memories of the first Illinois Marathon, where I suffered the worst back pain I had ever felt running the half marathon , covering the distance around an 1hr 40 min. Dragging myself out of bed I took a couple Tylenol and headed downstairs to have some breakfast and get dressed for the race.
Since this was my first time Nordic walking a race I figured wearing a singlet and split shorts or tights, etc would not be appropriate (but would be kind of funny and make a fun finish photo) and so to avoid scaring any fellow walkers I put on a rain jacket and pants.
Not wanting to fight traffic and park too far away from the start I arrived around 6am. The marathon & half were scheduled to start at 7am with the 10k starting around 7:35am. I had the overwhelming urge to do my typical 2-3 mile warm-up, finishing with a few sprints, but since I was only walking the race, I just chilled out in my car, listening to the pre-race show on the radio and doing some last-minute adjustments on the HD hat cam that I was going to wear during the race to capture the moment.
I had almost decided not to wear the camera because of the rain, but soon after I arrived the rain stopped and Robert Reese, the local meteorologist, announced that the rain was moving out just in time for the start.
Once the marathon got underway I got out of the car and did my walking stride outs at a Galapagos tortoise pace and headed to the back of the pack to get ready for the start. Old race habits never die, so here I am, at the back of the race, sizing up my competition. The lady with the baby stroller looks too fast, but the guy wearing jeans and a parka should start over heating after a couple of miles so I will keep my eye on him.
Besides finishing and beating “Parka Man”, my main goal was to make it to the finish before the first marathon runner. There were a couple of Kenyan runners with PR’s under 2:15 so having the 10k start 35min later would require me to walk at a pace considerably faster than I was currently doing.
I don’t remember hearing the start, but everyone started moving forward and it was go time, with AC/DC’s Thunderstruck cranking out of the PA system.
It took around three minutes to get to the starting line, with frantic runners that must have shown up late, weaving in and out through all the walkers. As the pack spread I could hear the loud sound of shoes slapping the ground and realized that it was me creating that annoying noise. I tried adjusting my stride and speed but nothing seemed to help, my feet would just not pick up, so it looked like it was going to be a long day. By the time I had walked a half mile, even Parka Man had a huge lead and the lady with the stroller was out of sight. The good news was that the crowd had thinned out and I had more space to move. I started using my arms more to take advantage of using the poles to increase my speed. Within a few blocks I was getting into a rhythm and started passing some people and discovered that even walkers are competitive with a few glancing at me and passing me back.
Part of the 10k route was on the middle section of the marathon course and that’s where I first saw the lead marathon runners go flying by me like I was standing still.
For the next few miles my speed continued to increase and with a mile to go I could see the stadium where the finish was and that’s where my wife informed me that the first marathoner was not too far behind. According to her I said something like “I better get my butt in gear” as I picked up the pace.
As I entered the stadium I could hear the announcer saying that the first marathon runner was coming and the finish was only fifty yards away and on the sidelines Mark from Body n’ Sole was yelling my name with a high-five waiting for me.
By the time I was handed my finishing medal I heard the police siren, turned around and there was the marathon winner crossing the finish line, looking like he could turn around and run another marathon.
With my mission accomplished, it was time to head home, get off my feet and start the next phase of my comeback.
To be continued……….