Pie is a powerful thing.
It makes us do crazy things like gorge ourselves long after our stomach is full because, let’s face it, pie is oh so yummy.
Yes, pie — and its less delicious partner pi — were the combination that inspired Lawrence Trail Hawks president Laurie Euler to create an original race in honor of Pi Day, March 14. The day celebrates the mathematical constant π, which is shortened to 3.14.
Laurie selected the Saturday after Pi Day, March 19, to conduct the race at the Riverfront Park in Lawrence. The race would be a celebration of pi, and the reward for finishing would be lots of homemade pie.
I’m not a big fan of math, but I do love pie … so that’s how I found myself at the starting line Saturday morning for the Pi-Day River Rotation Half Marathon.
It was to be my first half marathon. In fact, prior to Saturday my longest race was the Run Toto 10-miler in February. I handled that race well for the most part, although I battled cramped calves for the final two miles. Since then, I’d upped my mileage and focused on improving my overall nutrition and hydration.
As far as race preparation is concerned, I thought I was as prepared as possible for my first half marathon.
I downed three liters of water on Friday, so I was as thoroughly hydrated as possible. I had lasagna for dinner on Thursday and salmon and veggies for lunch on Friday, so I’d loaded up on carbs and then eaten light enough to avoid any stomach disturbances. I had a new, modified toe spacer I put together to support my ailing big toe joint on my right foot.
Heck, I even ran the full course two weeks ago on a race preview run. I’d covered the full distance — the course is actually 13.7 miles as opposed to the half marathon distance of 13.1 — and I’d finished it in 2 hours and 19 minutes (not including break time between loops on the course), so I knew I could run it, in about what pace, and avoid my nemesis calf cramps as well.
Perhaps all of the preparation made me a little overconfident. I ate well in advance, laid out my gear the night before, slept decent, woke up early and didn’t feel rushed Saturday morning on my way to Lawrence.
The temperature was a cool 42 degrees for the 8 a.m. start at Riverfront Park. The trails were dry. Wind was light, maybe 10-15 miles per hour.
Eager to get started and get the blood flowing, I started too fast (as always), and I knew it. Still, I felt good and relaxed, so I didn’t slow down much even though I knew that might be asking for trouble later.
Should’ve listened to my better judgment.
I reached the midpoint of the first five-mile loop in about 22 minutes, about two or three minutes ahead of where I thought I should be. Still, I felt good and kept going.
I rolled through the five-mile aid station in 42:06. I’d expected to get there in around 48 minutes. While beginning the second loop in reverse, I downed one of the water bottles from my belt, slurped down a chocolate Clif Shot and kept going.
My left calf started to feel a bit sore at mile eight, but that’s normal for me. I was aware of it and stayed attentive that the pain didn’t spread to the Achilles. I continued to pace behind two other runners until we reached the 10-mile aid station in 1 hour and 25 minutes — very close to even splits for the first two loops.
I was pumped. The goal was to finish in about 2 hours and 15 minutes. At an 8:20 mile pace I was going WAY too fast but still feeling good. A sub-two-hour time looked doable heading back out for the final 3.7 miles.
A half mile into the last loop, I felt a pinch in my right calf. Then the left.
Over and over, my calves began to clench any time I tried to have a normal stride. I’d slow to a shuffle for a minute and then return to my usual stride. Time and again, the calves began to cramp. The 8:20 pace plummeted to almost 10-minute miles.
I didn’t feel dehydrated. I hadn’t consumed enough water during the race, but I felt overhydrated at the start and downed all three of the small bottles on my belt during the race. Heck, I never even felt thirsty.
Maybe I didn’t drink enough after all. Would a sports drink have been a better option? Maybe I was so tempted by the pie waiting at the finish line that I’d simply run the first 10 miles to fast. Regardless, I’d taken my hydration for granted, and now I was paying for it.
All of my preparation and confidence got me through the first 10-plus miles, but the last three were my punishment.
Those final miles were like reliving the last two of the Run Toto 10-mile race in February when cramps forced me to hobble my way to the finish line. Using downhill segments to stride out was no use, a late kick to the finish line wasn’t going to happen. The two-hour mark arrived about 200 yards from the finish line — a goal for another race, I suppose.
I shuffled down the home stretch and through the finish in 2:01.21, still far ahead of where I thought I’d be but not a totally satisfying time knowing my calves let me down.
Still, I was pleased overall. My first half marathon is in the books, I ran faster than I’d planned on — and the homemade pies were a wonderful post-race treat. I had a slice of one known as a cranberry-something-or-other. I assume the something-or-other was the secret recipe, because it was incredible.
I’ve rehydrated and refueled plenty in the days since the race. I’ve soaked my feet in buckets of ice multiple times and had bags of ice on my knees. I’m not quite ready to go again, but I will be soon.
I’m anchoring the final 8.7 miles on a Brew to Brew relay team next weekend, and yesterday I signed up for the Free State Trail Half Marathon April 23 at Clinton Lake State Park. There won’t be pie after that race (I don’t think so, anyway), but there’ll be another assortment of treats — and hopefully this time there’ll be a sub-two-hour time to show for it.