I, a fat man, had been circling Portland, Maine’s Back Cove like a dog prepping its bed for most of the summer of 2007. Now intimately acquainted with every pothole, washout and linden tree on the route, I finally turned 7 miles at 9:20 per, and added longer runs of 10 and 12 miles. I was feeling reasonably prepared for my first-ever long running event until just before the race, when a telephone call informed me that I was to be without my race partner, who I lovingly refer to as Chubby. Her plantar faciitis had put her on the back foot (pun intended) since the beginning of the summer. She simply didn’t feel ready to tackle the full 13.1 miles of running in Hanover.
“I’ve tried to run a half-marathon before I was ready, once,” she said. “I’m not going to do it again. But you can still come and stay with us, and I’ll pass you gu during the race.” Now alone in my quest, I commenced a final week of training: a solid 9.5-mile jog, a 3-mile Monday, a 5-mile Wednesday and a 7-mile Thursday. It was a beautiful week, with clear skies and temperatures in the mid-70s. My times were on target. I was feeling so good about my preparation that I left work early on Friday and promptly wrecked my motorcyle…
There’s really nothing like rolling along an entrance ramp to pack a whole afternoon of rugby fun into about 10 seconds. When your soft brain hits your hard skull, you see stars—a minor concussion. Instead of an early start to Vermont, I had to wrangle with two of Portland’s finest, hell-bent on telling me that what I said happened couldn’t possibly have happened. They were pissed that they couldn’t write me a ticket, so they compromised by insisting that I either move the bike immediately or let them call a wrecker. Here’s the picture: I’m standing on a median, bleeding from my arms and talking with my insurer on the phone while a motorcycle (!) cop insists that I get my bike out of the median RIGHT NOW or I’ll call a wrecker and then stare you down until you get off the phone and MOVE THAT BIKE OFF THE MEDIAN, YOU CAN’T LEAVE IT HERE. Well no shit, buddy. Give me five minutes to stop bleeding and rent a truck at the U-Haul (a 2-minute walk away) and I’ll move the wreckage anywhere you want it. Two hours and a U-Haul later, I was on my bloody way to Vermont.
Alas, my relations with the Thin Blue Line were just beginning. Driving through Moultonborough, NH, I was pulled over for having a headlight out. “Why is your hand bloody?” “I was in a motorcycle accident this afternoon.” “Then why isn’t that covered up?” “Well, it isn’t bleeding, so I thought I’d let it air out a bit.” “Where was the accident?” “Portland, Maine.” “Wait right here.” …Waiting… …waiting… “Where did you say the accident was? “It was in Portland, Maine, at about 2:30 this afternoon.” “Was an officer called to the scene?” “Not by me, but yes, there were two. No public or private property, except for my bike, was harmed, and no one but me was involved.” “Wait here.” …Waiting… “Alright, well, I can’t hold you here. Get that headlight looked at.” Oh, you can’t hold me here for, what? Public bleeding? Go figure. About an hour later, I was pulled over again in Vershire, VT, for the same reason. I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever make it.
After spending the night with Chubby and husband, Mick, the day of the race dawned. Actually, it didn’t dawn so much as ooze over the horizon and cover the world with gooey, sticky humidity. The temperature began to rise. And rise. By the time of the race, humidity was at 75% and the air temperature was 94 degrees. There’s a picture of me before the start of the race, looking like the lovechild of a loofa and a tube of toothpaste.
No one looked really excited to be out in this heat, but there were about 520 of us there anyway. Chubby and Mick met me at two places along the course with the gu and mercifully cold water (the water supplied by race staff was as warm as sweat, singularly unrefreshing and slow to leave the stomach. Bad news). Worse yet, after a week of race prep in mild Casco Bay breezes, the temperature continued to climb. After meeting me at mile 6, Chubby and Mick headed over to mile 10. Along the way, the outside temperature thermometer in their Jeep, which is mounted under the front bumper, read 100F.
I don’t do well with heat: too big, too fair, too northern European. Through mile 7 I was right on time, but by mile 8 I was toast. Even when the humidity was relieved by a violent thunderstorm, I couldn’t recover. The wind blew sand into my mouth. It also blew down several trees along the course. After the rain passed through, the humidity lessened slightly, but it was still hot, a living hell.
Oh, and the best part? I’d been wearing little round band-aids on my nipples to keep it from happening. But with the weather, my shirt stuck to my chest enough to wear through the small amount of skin not covered by the band-aids. Finally, some 2 hours and 43 minutes after I started, I finished, and was finished. I had been shooting for 2:11, but that’ll have to wait until next time. —Jim Gooch works for a non-profit in Portland, Maine. He ran this race for charity.