Grand Rapids Half Marathon, a recap

This race can be summed up in one word: wet.

I have done this race in some capacity since 2009, and not once has it rained. The race director said it has never rained on race day until this year. They have had fourteen years of dry weather. I hope it’s another 14 years before a soggy race day.

On Saturday night I was gathering all my gear to have it ready to walk out the door and not have to think about anything, just grab and go. We had gotten some 4 inches (20cm) of rain since Thursday but the forecast was showing zero percent chance of rain for most of race day, so while I set out fuel belt, bottles, lip balm, inhalers and the rest of my usual things I thought briefly about bringing my rain coat. My exact thought was “If I bring it I won’t need it — like carrying an umbrella — and then I’ll have to carry it the whole race for nothing.” So I left it in.the.garage.

I knew there would be puddles and potentially some flooded areas on the course. One spot in particular floods regularly when it rains, often enough the city put up a CAUTION ROAD CAN FLOOD sign. I even bought new synthetic double-layer socks to prevent blisters because I knew I would end up with wet feet. This is the first pair of all-synthetic fiber socks I have spent my own money on in close to 10 years; I’m a Smartwool fan through and through. Oh boy! I had no idea what was in store.

During the short drive — it’s about 3 miles (5k), I decided a fresh long sleeve shirt would be nice for after the finish. I asked my sweet hubby-Sherpa if he would bring it when he came back for the finish. My hubs dropped me off a block away from the race start and I joined the crowds walking in. The temperature was actually quite pleasant for mid-October Michigan. “What a perfect day for a race,” I said to myself, and was glad I brought my thermal arm warmers to wear until I warmed up. I made my way into the YMCA that hosts the Expo and start/finish line to use the loo and make final wardrobe adjustments. I walked out the doors with less than 7 minutes til gun time and headed into the parking lot. I got about 20 yards from the doors and it started to sprinkle. No big deal, my thermal arm warmers can handle some wet, and started to put them on. By the time I walked another 50 yards the rain went from sprinkle to steady, and was pouring by the time I got to the back of the corral.

People, this was less than 400 yards (380m)! I was seriously doubting my choices by 7:58am this 15 October, 2017. At 8:02 I sent a text saying I would need the shirt for sure. By 8:05am I was soaked through to the skin, my socks and shoes were both squishing with every stride. I forgot to mention I wore a white shirt with a hot pink bra for the race. White — in the rain, with hot pink. By the way, at 8:05 I was about 100 yards into the race. yeah.

In the first mile I genuinely considered picking up a cast-off trash bag for some protection. By mile 1.5 the wind was blowing the rain sideways and regretted the decision to pass up the bag. I rotated my visor and cocked it sideways to keep the rain from blowing behind my glasses and straight into my eyes. The next turn was .25 mi away (Mile 1.75), and then the rain and wind would be coming at us head on. There were moments of less pouring, then more pouring, and brief bits of almost no rain. I really wished I had grabbed one of those bags. By golly, I make it to Mile 2.3 and have texted my hubs asking if he could bring me my raincoat, and again, still, regret the choices. He replies, I try to answer back. My phone and hands are so wet the screen does not recognize my touch anymore. I called. The rain and wind are bad enough we can barely hear each other, but hang up with a plan. I just have to make it another 1.3 miles!

No chance of rain, they said.

In between puddles and downpours I chat with some others on the course. It’s always fun to find out where people are from, and how many races they’ve done. I love to celebrate the true Rookies — the one’s doing their first-ever. I knew this race would be far from a PR what with the piriformis finally easing up, and the bone bruise and new bunion that slowed me down all summer. I had some time to reflect. I had signed up for the marathon back in May, before I knew what was going on with my foot. I knew by July I wouldn’t be able to train for and finish a full and that I’d have to switch to the half. I resisted the inevitable until the week before the race when I conceded and formally changed my registration. That is one thing about this race I really appreciate, being able to upgrade or drop down your distance right up until the Expo. Anyhow, talking seems to make the time and distance fly by, especially since the weather was too wet for headphones. They wouldn’t stay put, and I could barely hear anyway.

The rain eased up while I made my way to the trade off spot at Mile 3.6 (5.75k). I made a pitstop in a port-o and when I got out my hubs was kitty corner on the intersection. That tattered yellow coat was such a relief to see! He came over and held my things while I put it on. He was not wrong when he said it wouldn’t make any difference in how wet I was. But …at least it would be able to keep the heat in, and with 9.5 miles (15k) to go, it would make a huge difference.

My poor, tattered raincoat.  It should be retired, yes?

When I got to the point where I expected a virtual pond on a flooded road I saw two pumps powered by a generator. The race director contracted with a company to come out in the middle of the night to set up the pumps. The crew was pulling up as I got to that point in the course. The men said the water over the road was 2 feet deep at midnight. What remained was barely enough to count as a large bird bath. One more reason to love this race!

The expected flood zone, now just a giant bird bath.

I don’t remember much of the rest of the race. It was wet. There were puddles. I had to wring out my skirt, arm warmers and always-present microfiber towel a handful of times. I was under trained. I was tired. I really wanted to be done. And I was really, very glad my injuries kept me from doing a 26.2 this year.

My dear hubs-Sherpa was at the finish with my dry shirt. The Culver’s frozen custard sat in boxes, mostly untouched by the finishers. The New Holland beer tasted great, even with drinking it faster than usual. I was ready to head home for a hot meal, hot tea, hot shower and a warm blanket.

Finished, and home again!

{postscript: I registered for next year’s race [2018] already. I’ll be back for my next full marathon. It should be No. 11, unless something else happens along the way. I doubt it, I hope and pray.}

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