Running like thieves, we earned our medals

05/06/2010 12:00 AM |

Times/Review Newsgroup sports reporter Jake Williams ran in the Long Island Half Marathon on Sunday. This is the final installment in a series of articles about his quest.

“Run like you stole something.”

Appearing at the six-mile marker, that was the most memorable sign during Sunday’s Long Island Half Marathon. Farther east along Jericho Turnpike was a priest doling out fist bumps and hugs.

Halfway through my first half marathon, it seemed a wonderful experience. It was sunny and warm. I was slightly ahead of my 10-minute-per-mile goal pace and feeling strong.

Some 40 minutes later, I was vainly trying to re-conjure those moments. I wished I could just pick up and sprint to the finish. I would have given anything for someone to offer a fist bump, a high five or a word of encouragement. Probably not a hug though. I wouldn’t have hugged me at that point, what with me dripping with sweat.

I had trained hard for this event. Physically, I knew I could do it. Mentally, I was nervous, restless and sleep-deprived, but when the gun went off, those feelings melted into euphoria as I slapped the sign above the starting line and took off.

However, there had been no chance to prepare for Sunday’s weather. Two weeks earlier, during my final 12-mile training run, it was barely 50 degrees. Sunday was hot and humid, with a heat index of 85 degrees by 10 a.m. My calves were burning so badly I couldn’t walk like I had stolen something.

I was desperate enough to take a tube of GU energy gel being offered at the 11-mile water station. Imagine a cross between paste and silly putty with a taste that was supposed to resemble vanilla. To ingest, suck a bit out of the tube and mix it in your mouth with water. It felt like swirling sludge around, but, placebo effect or not, it got me running again. I gutted out the next two miles, far enough to get to the “1/2 mile to go” sign.

Really? Half a mile? I had probably run for 130 minutes at that point, but to ask my body for five more seemed inhumane. I had bonked, and bonked hard.

When I had passed that sign and seen a runner hugging the priest, I had been so excited. When I heard and saw people cheering and clapping, I had experienced pure elation, so much so that I thought I would cry when I hit the finish line.

But here I was, half a mile from the finish, and I knew I was not going to cry, not from elation or frustration. There were no fluids left in my body, nor was there any energy.

But I felt I had to finish, so I kept walking. And then it happened. I got to the chute. People were lined up along the fence, screaming and ringing bells. I was a little more than a quarter mile from being done.

In my head I started counting down what I assumed would be the three minutes it would take to finish. The noise and enthusiasm was the equivalent of a priestly fist bump. The frenzied energy and adrenaline I felt kick in allowed me to run like I had stolen something. And ran I did, as hard as I could.

I heard my mom and her fiancà , Wolfgang, cheering for me. I waved and smiled, neither of which I had done in close to an hour. And then I crossed the finish line in a time of 2 hours 14 minutes 53 seconds.

I was in the middle of the pack of finishers for the half marathon. Some 6,000 runners started the half and full marathon events. About 1,400 failed to finish their respective races. But I did.

And when I crossed the line and stopped running, I crashed. My calves were burning like the towering inferno. I was woozy and my stomach had tied itself in knots.

So I went into the first aid tent where volunteers said the heat and humidity had adversely affected a large number of people, though none seriously. Volunteers were pushing ice packs and bottles of Gatorade mixed with water to everyone who walked, or was carried, in. Fifteen minutes, a couple ice bags and half a gallon of watered-down Gatorade later, I could comfortably stand and walk under my own power.

Then I found my wife, Miriam. Unlike me, she ran the entire course. And in the final three miles, she said, she did run like she had stolen something. She finished in 2:23:46.

It is the farthest either of us has ever run, and quite a memorable way to spend my last day as a 33-year-old. We may have run like we stole something, but we definitely earned the finishers’ medals.