Seattle - In the two weeks after my tundra battle at the Hillbilly Half Marathon I didn't run a step, unless you count the last ten feet of a jaywalk road crossing here and there. My main issue was that the first metatarsal of my left foot winced at every impact, drawing attention away from my right kneecap's more moderate yelping.
I hobbled around Olympia preoccupied with work during the day, and dulled both pain and idle regret in the bars at night, telling myself things would normalize in a few weeks once the pain went away and I could get back to my routine of working, running, and cooking before gently sampling some of the finer ales and wines this earth has to offer once darkness inevitably rolled around to wipe away the guilt-inducing glow that comes from a cloudy daytime sky.
Those two weeks of idleness ended just shy of 8 in the morning on March 17, when my friend Chris and I parked his Jeep 4 blocks up the hill from the St. Pat's Dash starting line.
I had recently made the final decision to run the Seattle St. Pat's Dash, a tradition with my mom dating back to my childhood, which had become a Tacoma friend tradition during the winter I moved home in 2008, forged with a mysterious stranger named Walter whose silver tongue inspired us to 17 Guinness' in just one short afternoon.
This year I was hangover-free, breaking new grounds for the Dash. Lord, I remember last year, and I sure as Hell remember two years ago with all the hoping that the rhythm of running would drown out the drumbeat in my head. My foot as pain-free, too. But my knee, though functional, brought to mind a man in a ski mask hiding behind an alley dumpster--not necessarily dangerous, but lurking nevertheless.
We didn't warm up for the show, aside from jogging down to the starting line, and spent the final 25 pre-race minutes kicking our legs out, joking at the expense of our fellow racers, and dutifully acting as landing pads for the intermittent raindrops coming from the thick clouds above.
We settled in about 10 yards behind the starting line with the intention of starting slow and having a built-in population of wannabe runners to pass over the course of the first two slightly uphill miles, with hopes of bringing it home on the downhill with whatever we could muster.
Nothing crazy, but a good, sustained effort. Goal pace: 6:15 for the roughly 3.7 mile race. Break 23.
The first part of the plan held up, I went out at a controlled effort down Mercer, around Dexter and Republican to Aurora* and started picking people off three by three at first, then two by two, until it was one at a time as I approached the turnaround. I used the same old tricks--find the people who were charging and follow them, get offended at my place behind children, women and geezers, pretend that I'm further along in the race than I actually am--to good effect.
At the turn I knew that I was running alright, but shortly thereafter it was clear that picking up the pace wasn't really in the cards. Although I had passed a couple hundred over the first two miles, I quickly realized my best chance from here on our was to just stay put.
I kept a good face on in spite of my limitations, shouted out passers-by and high fived whatever kids stood on the sidewalk to support with their parents. My body didn't feel as bad as it did in Centralia the month prior, but I was pushing the pace, I hadn't run in two weeks, and the KIND bar I ate in the morning was still sloshing around in my stomach**.
When we finally left Aurora for the homestretch, I had been passed by a couple of runners, and sat directly at the back of a pack of three runners. I was sucking wind and made the decision not to make a big move on them, hoping I might be able to sprint for 50 meters and nip one or two, but none of the above happened.
Still, I was happy with my time of 22:36 (which they called 6:13 pace). It was good for 83rd overall, a more competitive year than usual. And I barely beat a 12 year old, which reminds me of one of the key rules for old man runners: always celebrate beating children in a road race.
I was dead enough to let the volunteers cut the timing chip off of my shoe, then waited for Chris and a quick trip to the beer garden.
Good news: we found and exploited the beer garden.
Bad news: Sunday morning confirmed my suspicions of a torn meniscus by swelling heavily and forcing an Omar Little-esque limp. Back to the disabled list for this geezer. More race reports coming soon, I hope. July, perhaps.
*This new St. Pat's course might be the worst in all of Seattle. What was one a fabulous rumble down the viaduct to Pioneer Square is now an ugly, annoying, boring trudge through bland pavement and ending in the party void that is daytime Lower Queen Anne.
**Ever since college, any bar I eat gives me a mild and regrettable stomach ache.