Over the past 6 years or so, I must have slogged through a dozen half-marathon races, 6 heart-breaking trips from Sydney city to Bondi Beach (the famous City-2-Surf), a countless number of fun runs, and even a 42.2km legal torture that is called the marathon. I can honestly say, hand to my heart and Brooks runners to my thighs, that I enjoyed every one of those races. The atmosphere, the camaraderie and the official recorded time that provides a progress report on my running ability – these are all factors which entice me back to the starting line again and again.
But … there is one thing I have yet to master before every race. And that is the pre-race rigmarole which, to this day, I still struggle with.
To begin with, in the ordinary course of living life, I have no trouble at all finding safety pins. Hell, whenever I scrummage inside my pockets for coins to pay for a $2 cheeseburger, I come up with at least $2 worth of safety pins! Yet, the night before a race, I always struggle to find any safety pins to secure the bib number to my running singlet.
Then there’s the vexed issue of what to stuff my face with on the morning of a race. Many runners have told me that bananas are the best – a good source of energy and easily digestible. The problem for me is that they are too easily digestible, so much so that I feel the strange need to visit the men’s room whenever I eat bananas before a race. In fact, this awkward urge to visit the men’s arises with most food that I eat before running a race, be they bananas or sultanas, bacon or baked beans.
Of course, that invariably introduces another set of problems. As any runner who has been in races will testify, the most congregated place before a race is not the starting line, but the waiting line in front of the portable toilets, set up by the event organisers. Depending on the popularity of the race, the queue before each of these toilets can be 20 people-long. And for an event like City-2-Surf in Sydney with 80,000 participants? Well, forgetaboutit!
What’s worse, the trouble doesn’t stop when you eventually get into the portable toilet. You see, you have about 3 minutes in that unpleasant and constrained space. 3 minutes! Stay any longer and the 20 people waiting in line outside your portable toilet will instantly assume that you are not just having a light relief, but are engaged in something a little more substantial. And even though in my case, it’s usually just butterflies in the stomach from nervousness, it still doesn’t make it any less embarrassing coming out of the portable toilet, with 40-odd pairs of strange eyes casting what feels to be very disapproving looks.
Even at the starting line, moments before the gun goes off, there are minutiae that I drive myself around the bend with, such as: Are my shoelaces done too tight? Should I have a last drink of water or wait until I get to the first drink station? Should I even drink at the first station? How far is the first drink station, anyway? Did I stretch enough? Is it too late now to visit the toilet one last time?
Then the starting gun goes off.
Miraculously and instantaneously, all my anxieties and doubts switch off also. My striding legs take over physically, my pumping heart takes over internally and my scatter-brained mind just goes … BLANK! Blank in the sense that it no longer preoccupies itself with pointless jibber-jabber, but just solely focuses on the zen act of running, and immensely enjoying doing so in the company of numerous like-minded souls.
And the exhilarating feeling of high lasts not just for the entire duration of the race, but for many days afterwards, even when the actual performance fell shy of my expectations. All the struggles with the pre-race rigmarole are just distant memories. Until, of course, just before the next race, when I again go insane trying to find safety pins, and battle in vain trying to calm my inner pains.
Keep on pounding.