The night before.
I put my well-worn Bialetti espresso maker on the stove and stand there waiting for it to brew. I run through a mental checklist for the morning: espresso, Cliff bar, beet juice, banana, water. I peek under the lid to see if it is brewing yet. I fidget.
I run through a mental checklist for the morning: shorts, socks, shoes, number, shirt, pins, watch, spare clothes. I lift the top of the Bialetti to see if it is brewing yet; it is not. I walk back to my bedroom.
I double check the four safety pins, adjust the laces on my shoes for no good reason. Socks...check, shorts...check, t-shirt...check, bib number...check, Garmin...check.
I go back out to the kitchen, stare at the espresso cup, a gift from my sons with the Philly skyline painted around it. I turn the cup so the Ben Franklin Bridge is facing me. I stare at the bridge. Tomorrow is race day.
The morning of.
The day starts off well: great temperature, free parking, and actual bathrooms.
The span of the Ben Franklin Bridge I have driven so many times is beautiful. Standing just after the tollbooths and looking up, I am surrounded by thousands of people who woke up early to test themselves, to prove something, to see how they measure up.
Some people are wearing singlets declaring their connection to a local running club, others wear colorful tights and headbands declaring their total independence. One man is pushing his disabled son in a wheelchair, while another carries an American flag in remembrance of his fallen brothers. People are running to celebrate anniversaries, weightloss, and friendships. Others are running so the demons of addiction won't be able to catch them again. Some run for the fun of it, the challenge of it, the discipline of it, the hell of it.
Standing there, staring at the start that heads straight uphill, I can't wait for the gun. It is race day, and I am a sucker for the electricity of a start line.
I soak up the ambiance for the first half a mile. I look at Philly in the distance, the Battleship New Jersey down to my left, the cables holding up the highway I am running across. Then, I go into race mode.
I focus on the next quarter mile, the next person ahead of me. I push to keep up with a group that I feel pulling away. I try to surge the corners, try to ignore the feelings in my chest and legs. I push aside the doubts that hit at the three-mile mark, wondering if I have blown it all on the bridge. I try not to think too much.
Before I know it I am turning into Campbell's Field, feeling the outfield grass with all its forgiving softness beneath my feet, trying to duck across the line before the next minute clicks over on the clock.
Immediately, my quads tighten up, hinting at the misery I will face muddling through a Monday in a haze of fatigue and soreness.
But the rest is wonderful. I down a bottle of water, devour a Tastycake Cookie Bar, grab a free coffee, and then sit with my wife and stretch. We smile at each other, talking about the days before we had two kids, when we did this all the time. We wonder out loud if we will ever run this race with our boys, and smile at the thought.
The only mental checklist is of what we will be eating the rest of the day: Whole Foods pizza (Mediterranean and Spinach/Ricotta), Chipotle Burritos, Long Trail Limbo IPA and DuClaw Sweet Baby Jesus, Chocolate and Vanilla Peanut Butter Ripple Ice Cream, a bit of our kids' Halloween candy.
The morning after.
Monday. I feel like a zombie. Fatigue strains my quads and strangles my thinking. I put my Bialetti on the stove and make an espresso. A double. I am relaxed while it brews.
I think of how good it feels to have accomplished a hard race. I think of the Wednesday night group runs that are becoming a more consistent part of my training, and look forward to pulling out my hat and gloves, headlamp and windbreaker.
After a long break from racing, I feel like a runner again. I turn the espresso cup so the image of the Ben Franklin Bridge is facing me, and start planning my next race.