The Missoula (MT) Marathon and Half Marathon were run on Sunday, July 8, 2012. I ran the half-marathon. It was the first major running event I have participated in since my Traumatic Brain Injury. I completed the half in just over 2 hours. That was the hardest “race” I have completed. I was not running for time or place. Instead, I ran for the experience and the constant struggle to continue to live life post-TBI.
The half-marathon started at 6 in the morning, in order to beat the heat of the day. It was still dark when I arrived at the starting area via shuttle bus. It was 5 am. As I rode the bus, I reflected that I thought my days of pre-dawn bus rides ended with my Army service. It was a surreal ride. I kept checking to make sure I wasn’t in uniform and wearing OCIE (field gear). Nope, still wearing running clothes.
Surviving the starting of the race required adjustment from my usual pre-race routine. In order to reduce some of the sensory stimulation, I wore sunglasses, my running hat, and hearing protection. It was not yet dawn. I also had taken a half-dose of anti-anxiety medication. The starting area was a large area. I was able to stay away from the loudspeakers and the worse of the crowding while waiting to line up. On the starting line, the familiarity of routine took over. I knew what to expect. Before longer races, runners tend to be focused. Their conversations are quiet. There is little yelling and unexpected motion. I spoke to a member of the National Guard marathon team. I hope he did well on the race. I met a lady who was a veteran also. I ran part of the race with her, until she sped up. But, having someone “familiar” during the first miles helped. Running is calming. The pounding of foot to pavement is a centering and grounding experience. I still had some problems with sensory stimulation during the first miles, when the runners were still crowded together. I made a few stumbles with stride corrections and felt sick.
The course was beautiful, especially the first half of the race. We ran through a rural area, in the foothills of the surrounding mountains. We were next to the river. I watched the sun rise over the water as the race got under way. The morning was clear and fresh and the temperature mild. The first aid station was hard. There were too many runners and some women cheered loudly. I was overwhelmed and ended up tripping on the side of the road. The fall did not result in injury but was jarring regardless. Since I was carrying water and Gatorade, I made the decision not to take advantage of the aid stations from that point onward. The stops were too busy. I stayed to the left and focused on some point downroad from me. Although I did not partake of most of the stops, the on-course support was great. There were also a lot of people who came out just to cheer on runners. Some home owners set up lawn sprinklers to cool runners as they passed. The people of Missoula were awesome!
I got more tired as the run progressed. I stayed to the plan to take short walk breaks. However, for the most part, I did not “hit the wall” like I had during training runs. I think having other runners with me helped. Their energy encouraged me to keep going when I really wanted to quit. The last few miles were a painful blur. About mile 11, a migraine threatened. I took Alleve in an attempt to stave of the inevitable. It worked to a degree. It kept the pain at a tolerable level until the finish line. I took another trip about mile 12. I managed to keep my balance with the help of another runner that I bumped off. Fortunately, I did not knock him off stride. As I got closer to the finish line, I heard the crowd cheering. I put the hearing protection back in my ears. I removed them soon after the start as I found them unneccessary on the course. The finish line was incredible. Given that it was just after 8 am on a Sunday, there was a large crowd out cheering on finishers.
The finish area was well organized. At this point, my migraine had arrived, full force. I swallowed my migraine medication with some Powerade provided at the finish. I sat in the medical tent a few minutes to get out of the noise and sun. I waited until the nausea subsided and the medication started to work. When I left, I followed the crowd through the rest of the recovery area. The food provided was ok. This is one thing I would change. They offered warm pasta, some fruit, nuts, and Popsicles. To me, the pasta didn’t work. The thought of hot food made me sick. I had some watermelon and nuts. The line I was in ran out of Popsicles. The area had two lines through an open-sided tent for food. I prefer to have more tables where runners can walk from one to another. However, given that it got quite hot as the day progressed, the race needed to keep volunteers and runners under shade. Given that, it was probably the best arrangement they could make.
Packet pick up the day before the race was held in Caras Park. There was also a show, with vendors of running gear and other items. The packet pick up was well organized and smooth. On race day, Caras Park was the reunion area. They had some vendors there in the tents. One thing I really liked was the ability to get your finish results immediately. The races were chip-timed. You typed in your race number and got a print out with your gun time, chip time, and place finishes (age group and overall). It was cool to have that information immediately after finishing.
I loved the park. There was plenty of room to move around. I found a quiet area in the shade of a tree to rest while I waited for my friends to find me. It was a beautiful place.
I returned to the hotel and slept four hours. I did much better than I expected in managing the crowds and the run. I wish I didn’t need the ear plugs and anxiety medication to be able to tolerate the crowds to run. The migraine made the race ending unpleasant. However, all in all, it was a great experience.
If you are a marathon or half-marathon runner or walk, I recommend the Missoula Marathon.