It’s time for me to make my annual moderately profound post about how I’m not fast or athletic but I am stronger than I think and yes, I really can run long distances (okay, not “ultra” distances. Give me a break.). You are probably tired of reading these posts, but in case you’re not, here and here are some examples to help you catch up. Although I know these things about myself, I am still awed almost to tears each time my hobbit body crosses a finish line. I crossed another one on Saturday, so I’m going to write about it, and if you don’t want to read it, you can skip it.
But this time, I’m going to focus mostly on the race itself, not on my performance or lack thereof, so this is also kind of an event review post–still not very exciting for most of you unless you live in the Grand Rapids area or enjoy shelling out money to travel to races. You know what? I’m writing this post for myself. There we go.
The 41st annual Amway River Bank Run, a 25K (that’s almost 16 miles) road race, took place this past Saturday. My two running buddies from Virginia flew in on Friday afternoon, we picked up our packets at the crowded DeVos Place (now I know how to get to DeVos Place! GR milestone), and we spent the evening in a low-grade panic while eating healthy food from Core Life Eatery and then cookies from Cookies and Cupcakes by Design across the street (where we would return the next day for our traditional post-race cupcakes). We got up early Saturday, now in a total fog combined of panic, tiredness, and cold, and drove downtown to park in the Pearl-Ionia Parking Ramp because we had seen on the website that it was going to close at 6:45 am, and we thought it made sense to beat the crowds and park there. It kind of made sense. We sat in the car for over 45 minutes, trying to stay warm (it was 38 outside), staring at Grand Rapids Community College’s Raleigh J. Finkelstein Hall (which looked pretty when the sun started coming up over it), talking about how much we hated running, and wondering why were were doing this. Then, shivering, we found the starting line, took a few pictures while we were still looking cute and–more to the point–alive, used the portable toilets, and huddled for warmth inside DeVos Place until it was time to start.
As we knew we would, we appreciated the cool weather once we got started. Although (spoiler alert) I still felt like I was going to die at the end of the race, this experience was much less horrible than the marathon I ran last year at this time in the blazing heat of Waco, Texas. The temperature was perfect, and the wind created a moderate challenge only near the end of the race. (Running against the wind always makes me smile a little anyway because I like that Bob Seger song.) The course, on the other hand, was not what I expected. I was picturing us running downtown the whole time, but instead, we left Grand Rapids proper fairly early on (by way of a really ripe-smelling sewage treatment plant–maybe they should rethink that leg of the route) and ran on the access road along 196 that I have seen people running along before–it seems to be a common route for race events. We crossed into Wyoming and then Grandville (where we glimpsed that bizarre apartment building that looks like a hulking castle) and briefly Walker before turning around and heading back toward GR through the Millennium Park area (which looks really cool! I want to go back and explore). Honestly, the route was kind of boring, but there were bands playing, volunteers cheering and handing out water and Gatorade, and mile marker signs with snarky and/or inspirational quotes. The quality of the event was on par with that of the Virginia Ten-Miler, which for me is the gold standard of races if only because I’m so used to it.
But this was the Ten-Miler plus a 10K. And it was hard. Around the half-marathon mark, my legs told me they weren’t going to run anymore, so I walked for a while and tried to do some dynamic stretching, which didn’t help. (N.B. There was a Coca-Cola bottling plant around this point in the race. You know what would have helped? An ice-cold Coke. Idea for next year, people.) So then I told my legs to shut up–we were going to run the rest of the race. And we did. Highlights of the last few miles included crossing the Grand River and running the last quarter-mile or so uphill, with people lining the street who didn’t have a clue who I was but were still cheering for me (or maybe for the woman who passed me on the curve by Madcap Coffee, but I’m going to believe it was for both of us). This is the part where I got a little teary. I had been listening to a Queen-based Pandora station for the whole race, but here I took my headphones out and listened to the crowd and my ragged breath. And I felt like Rocky, because I went the distance.
That’s as sentimental as I’m going to get this year.