The journey to my first competitive race


This weekend I ran 13.1 miles in my first half marathon.

I started as a casual runner in 2008 before leaving for Australia. I was a chubby theater kid growing up and decided to get my shit together because I wanted to have sex with the hottest Australian men available to me and look good doing it.

I continued using runs as my prime method of exercise. There’s something about a run that hits my brain in the right ways. The journey of running outside and passing by landmarks makes me feel like every run is a story, and I can revisit and relive the story by running there again.

I also love music, a lot. Sometimes I envision a music video for a song that doesn’t have one yet. Sometimes I will listen to popular music while I run and think “If this was one song in a musical, what would the rest of the songs sound like? And what would the whole thing be about? And who do I get to play?” Usually in these scenarios I narrowly beat out Aaron Tveit for the lead role. Here are some other things I think about:

  • Winning the lottery
  • Booking that Phillip Morris internal industrial I auditioned for about workplace safety.
  • I’m a drag queen named ‘Business’ and whatever song is playing is my trademark number. I wear 8-inch pumps, a waist cincher, and collapsable hand-fans that are sewn on the outside of my sleeve, so with a quick flick of the wrist they fold out into my hand. My tagline is “You can call me Business. Busy for short. Biz if you’re nasty.”
  • Myself looking hot and shirtless in several different locations, including: a fancy boat in a foreign country, on a treasure hunt, or in a maze of well-trimmed bushes on an expensive estate like in the Ricky/Christina video.

So, I love my runs.

I’ve been getting my health and fitness together in the last year by lifting heavier and running harder, and I needed a goal. My friend Chris and I decided to sign up for the ChiTown Half Marathon. The best way to describe Chris is that he’s a short, well-rounded athlete with Dad-humor.

Chris found a good training schedule and we made a spreadsheet. Long runs on Sundays, short runs during the week, off on Mondays and Fridays. We would also send shaming texts if the other didn’t text their post-run treadmill photo. It was fun. A few weeks got messed up with family commitments, injuries and common colds, but otherwise we did the best we could.

There were definitely a few annoyances through the training. Outdoor runs are limited with Chicago winters, so having to run long distances on a treadmill was horrific. After four miles I would beg the Gods to let time speed up. I would put a towel over the numbers to distract myself, but that only set me up for failure as I would peek too early and think “Fuck, it’s only been a mile?!”

I read online to carb-load the day prior to the race, so I did. I ate about three artisan sandwiches at work among other high-sugar and high-starch items. The thing is, I don’t normally eat these things on a regular basis. When I woke up that next morning I knew I was in wacky shape. I had unpredictable stomach issues, which is terrible for a long run.

The race started out well and we made good time during the first half (8:07 pace). The first few miles include a lot of dodging and internal monologues about my pacing. You have this adrenaline you want to harness, but you don’t want to burn out in the first 20 minutes. About halfway through the race I started to feel the run in my legs and knees so I tapped into my usual run thoughts (lotteries, industrials, drag queens, shirtless bush mazes).

As I approached the last three miles of the race I turned the corner to the Montrose-to-Diversey stretch of the lake path. It’s a path that I’ve been running since I moved to Chicago in 2009 so those last few miles were a little emotional. I thought about myself running the path as a 21-year-old transplant in a city where I didn’t know anyone and didn’t have a job. Here I was finishing a race on the same stretch, with a better pace than I ever had starting out.

It’s really cool when you run a race with your name on your bib, because everyone yells your name out as you pass. “Yes, Rob!” “You got this Rob!” Jesus Christ can this get any more emotional? I’m gonna fuckin’ cry here.

I finished at 01:49:52.0 with an 8:23 pace. The experience of passing the finish line was a pure high. You imagine this air-pumped red gate for 13 miles and it’s euphoric when it’s finally there. I’m super proud of myself.

And I have some valuable carb-loading learnings for the next time.

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