Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bad Enough To Be Good

It was bad enough to be good. I’m talking about my performance in the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, November 5. It is best to write about your bad runs and avoid the good ones. Then you won’t be accused of indulgence or self aggrandizement. So my performance was bad enough to be good enough to write about. Here goes then, a story full of excuses.

Which started the second night before the marathon, one of the days where you try to load up on carbohydrates. So my stepson, Derek, who lives in Indianapolis and who ran the half marathon, and I went to an Italian restaurant for spaghetti. Spaghetti with meat sauce. That means ground beef. It was a fateful choice.

You may assume ground beef contains cowshit. Cowshit in turn contains E. Coli, a powerful bacterium which will give you a bellyache and diarrhea. Unless, of course, it is thoroughly cooked.

We were not familiar with that particular restaurant, which shall go unnamed. An order of spaghetti there meant a whole bowl of the stuff, enough for three, and that’s what we both ordered. From each bowl, we ate enough for one, and took the rest back to Derek’s apartment for lunch the next day. We never ate that leftover spaghetti, because of what happened next. Derek and I soon began taking urgent turns going to the bathroom. We purged our systems. The helpful effect of all the carbos we should have gotten were thereby lost. Or so I reckon.

Next time I’ll have plain marinara sauce, maybe with mushrooms, but no ground beef.

Second issue. The weather forecast said the temperature at race time would be 33 degrees F. That turned out to be accurate. How to dress became the question. With my skinny frame I radiate heat readily, and get cold easily. Nonetheless I decided to go barelegged, with a long sleeved tee, a runner’s hat, and fleece gloves. I used a heavy throw-a-way flannel shirt to keep me warm while I waited in the corral for the start.

When the race started, I was still wearing that shirt. At sixteen miles I was still wearing it, still needing it. Forecast was for a sunny day. But the sunshine didn’t add much warmth for a good long while. Race started at 8 a.m., and sunrise came at 8:30 (Eastern Time Zone the day before time changed to Standard). The shade of the tall buildings early on and of shaded residential neighborhoods later kept the sun from hitting us. Even wearing the fleece gloves, my fingers nearly froze.

From the beginning my race was not good. By mile six or seven I was already working hard to maintain my planned pace, 7:40 per mile, a pace predicted by a half marathon I’d run just two weeks earlier on a hilly course—whereas the Indy course was flat. The first half of a marathon should be easy. If it’s hard, you know trouble is coming.

It did come. My mile times stretched out. I watched with detached and knowing interest.

Underneath the flannel shirt I had on my most colorful race uniform, a yellow Boston tee with bright blue trim and shorts of matching blue. Yellow shoes and yellow socks made me a bright runner. Nobody could’ve known that—photographers included—because of the flannel shirt, which covered my race bib and made me look like a homeless person. So I resolved to shed the flannel. It ain’t going to get any worse without it, I thought.

I ran up to a woman volunteer at the mile 17 water stop.

“I’m going to do a striptease right here if you’ll help me with the buttons.”

She laughed, and started in. “I can do that.”

“My fingers are too cold.”


“I’m donating a shirt to you. It’s like new.” I left her holding the shirt.

Looking professional is important, but it didn’t help my race. Mile times were by then hitting 8:30. Nine was coming, I was losing interest in the race. A jogging pace of 9:30 finally settled in. I didn’t care. Race had gone bust. I was just jogging it in.

After I turned the corned and headed down the stretch, the announcer was saying: “And how about Dallas Smith, 71 years old from Cookeville Tennessee!”

My net time turned out to be 3:44:49, twenty-three minutes longer than the 3:21 predicted by my recent half marathon, and twenty-one minutes longer than my Boston Marathon time of 3:23 seven months earlier.

Oh, the time was good enough to win first place in my decrepit age division. It was even good enough to beat the Tennessee State record for my age. But it was not good, not what I’d call good.

So be it. The marathon is an enigma, and I’ll never figure it out. Hit or miss, every time, it seems. Sometimes things go like I expect, other times not. It’s unpredictable, and I accept that. I think that’s why I like the distance.

Maybe the tainted food hurt my race, maybe it didn’t. Maybe I should have worn tights to keep my running muscles warm, but how can I know if that’s true.

On the other hand, I liked the city.

It occurs to me that you’ve probably never heard anyone say: “Hey, let’s take our vacation and spend a week in Indianapolis.” You can imagine that for New Orleans, or Miami, or even Nashville, say. The day before the marathon, I tweeted: “ The Colts and the 500 comes to mind, but what else is Indianapolis noted for?” Well, it turns out, a lot. The city has more soul than I’d realized.

Monuments are scatted throughout the city, hence the “Monumental” handle. The Indiana War Memorial is nothing short of majestic, especially the inside space where a sacred atmosphere prevails. Downtown, a grand mall of monuments and parks extends from the Courthouse north to the public library, a distance of maybe half a mile. Included are University Park; The Indiana War Memorial; the Bicentennial Mall, with its tall obelisk and fifty state flags; and finally Veterans Mall.

Central Canal runs through the city, decorated by plazas and pedestrian bridges and wide walks, a pleasant location for a casual stroll or a jog.

Crown Hill cemetery, the fourth largest civilian cemetery in the country, is where the poet James Whitcomb Riley is buried. His tomb occupies the top of the highest hill in the City and overlooks the city’s skyline. One could spend a day in that sprawling cemetery viewing the architecture of the mausoleums and grounds.

A Civil War Monument anchors the center of town, a tower 284 feet tall, just fifteen feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty; it overlooks the State Capitol to the west. State Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument is the precise name, but the lower level contains a Civil War exhibit. The tower sits on a cobblestone traffic circle 342 feet in diameter. Buildings facing the circle have curved fronts. The collection of monuments gives the city a European feel.

Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Indianapolis Colts football team plays, is just south of the Civil War monument. As Derek and I drove Pennsylvania Avenue toward downtown on Sunday after the race, Colts fans were swarming toward the stadium. “Winless or not, the Colts still have fans. We’re driving through them now,” I tweeted.

The marathon course winds its way past the various monuments. That makes for a scenic course. My performance was bad. But the Monumental Marathon is a good race, not bad like my run. I recommend it.