Race day morning dawned grey and ugly (but not actually raining!), temperatures hovering near freezing at the lakeside, and the minutes ticked by with no sight of Mike's colleague or his family, although around 8:10 an SMS informed us they were arriving at the race start. At 8:29, with one minute until his own gun, Mike left me with the colleague's phone number and sprinted the 400 meters toward the marathon start. About fifteen seconds after that I finally spotted this colleague whose existence I had almost started losing faith in, and only then was I sure I was going to run this thing. The irritation and nerves that had been eating at me all morning miraculously lifted and the excitement finally had a chance to hit.
This was, shall we say, not the race I envisioned when I signed up on New Year's Eve. First of course was the weather. In deepest midwinter, an April race sounds marvelously sunny and springlike and the sort of thing for which I certainly wouldn't need coat or gloves. Second was my own conditioning - in December I was making my way through Couch to 5K, so essentially declaring via the race entry that I would not only get to the C25K finish line but also keep on going after it was through. Given what I'd seen of myself so far, I thought it would be a magnificent thing if I could get good enough at running to go under an hour. Even that was a stretch goal though, and mostly I had to spend some thought reassuring myself that I would not have a problem with the 75 minute cutoff. I knew I would be somewhere in the back half of the pack, because Swiss sporting events are just not meant for walkers. I blame the military and the mountain air. And of course I would have crazy pre-race nerves and would suffer the whole way but do my best.
Despite the decidedly un-springlike weather, once I was able to enjoy it a little there was a great party atmosphere around the start line today, and it was well-organized as only the Swiss know how. Any fears of missing the cutoff were long gone thanks to having survived the Winterthur fiasco and to the amazing effects of six weeks on my Up & Running half marathon program, and any remaining nervousness had been entirely forgotten in the blind panic about whether I would be running at all. I had about five minutes to hop up and down in place warming up my hands (so much for any warmup jogging) before the starting gun went off, and then my last remaining worry was put to rest - Sophie was looking on with interest and a little confusion from near the start, but was not wailing for Mummy. An excellent start to the morning. I gave her a big grin and wave and "Hopp hopp Sophie!" (I know, backwards, but she liked it) and on that cheerful note I was off.
This is a big race, though not as insanely huge as some of the charity ones can get - for the 10K there were about 2000 starters, we ran off at the same time as the 805 starters for the team relay version of the marathon, and we had overtaken the back of the solo marathon field by the time we were done. So there was always traffic on the course but it was always possible to maneuver through it. We 10K runners, unlike those running the other events, were given our event shirts before the race and were required to wear them on the course. So it was this 2000-strong stream of blue that made its way stretching out along the lake and through the city.
After my (understandably, but still) dismal performance at Winterthur I had begun to worry that the racing effect doesn't work on me - I sure didn't go any faster that day than I normally would have, and I definitely didn't feel pulled along on the wings of the pack. That was one reason I was so reluctant to set goals for this race - I simply didn't know how I would react to a race in non-sucktastic conditions but I was scared that I would crack under the pressure somehow. After about 500 meters of this course I knew that today's race was an entirely different experience, and that this is indeed what they are supposed to feel like. I resolved not to pay attention to any of the stats as I ran, except for checking my KM split times to keep myself from overcooking it too early. Evidently I placed myself well in the pack, because my first three splits were 5:39, 5:32, 5:30 - very reasonable numbers for how I felt and just about what I would have picked for an ambitious but sensible starting pace. Meanwhile we were passing several brass bands and quite a few cheering spectators, and I was feeling pretty great.
I promised myself that I wouldn't push into the "feels like crap" zone until the last three, maybe four KM, but I did consciously try to pick up the pace a little because I realized that the sub-55 time I now coveted was well within reach. I missed the 4km split time because we were running along a street where several families were out cheering us on from their balconies, and I was too busy cheerily waving back at them to notice my watch buzz. (I am pleased to say that other runners around me followed my example and gave the spectators a wave as well. It's a great way to make kids happy, and grownups too.) Just as well since the pace for that split had fallen off a little, but the next split I actually saw was speedier and I thought "okay, I think can work my way back toward 55 minutes, woohoo!" I didn't actually pick up the pace for another kilometer though, because I didn't want to burn myself out too early and it was still a little crowded.
The last four KM were not as comfortable as the first six had been - I was feeling the run but I was also needing to accelerate a wee bit and I was also getting thirsty but the last thing I wanted was to stop at KM 8 to drink. (In fact I'd been running most of the race with a glue-on race number stuck to my foot, because I was unwilling to stop even briefly to remove it. Another runner politely pointed it out to me, but it wasn't hindering me and I just didn't want to break such nice momentum even for a second, so I cheerfully told her so in my best mediocre German.) On the other hand, the nearer I got to the finish, the easier it was to motivate myself with the thought that "hey, in about ten / seven / five minutes I'll get to wave at Sophie again!"
And I did - she was in the arms of the woman looking after her, looking very interested in all the runners and probably even looking for me. So I channeled myself to that side of the road and grinned madly and waved at her again, and she spotted me but barely had time to wave, since I had *also* just made the turn into the finishing straight and seen the clock which read 53:20 or so with about 100 meters to go. I put on as much speed as I could manage without knocking people down and crossed under a clock reading 53:50.
Even better for me, since this was a side race to a big professional marathon, the chip time was start-line to finish-line (as opposed to starting-gun to finish-line like Winterthur) so the minute and a bit that it took me to get across the start line didn't count. Official time was 52:42.8, which is a whopping 13 minutes off the best 10K stretch of the Winterthur race, and 7 minutes off my own recorded PB in training. I probably could have gone a little faster had I pushed myself, since my last "kilometer" (840 meters says Garmin, but I trust the course measurements more) was done about ten seconds faster than my fastest previous kilometer. I felt a little wobbly and woozy in the couple of minutes after I stopped, but it soon passed and mostly I was left with the impression of "holy cow I never knew it felt that good to race!"
I'm also pleased to report that Sophie had a great time spectating - she has a very good line in "Go people! Hopp hopp people!" and was enthusiastic and cheerful the whole time. She immediately laid claim to Mummy's medal, which she wore proudly for most of the rest of the afternoon. My only regret was that, given the chaos of the morning, I wasn't able to arrange any photos of Sophie and her triumphant but sweaty mummy.
I wasn't the only one to have a good day either - Sophie and I actually just missed Mike's finish because he was so much faster than expected! 3:21:16 for him, which is 18 minutes faster than the PB he set during his last marathon in 2006. Maybe a little pre-race blind panic is good for performance? Who knew?