This will be the fourteenth year in a row I have competed in the Indianapolis 500 Festival Mini-Marathon®. The Mini® is a half-marathon. A marathon is 26.2 miles, the distance from the battle of Marathon, in ancient Greece to the Parthenon. The 26.2 miles is a modern-day guess. Still, that’s a long distance—and one I covered in 2001 at the marathon held each fall at what used to be Fort Benjamin on the east side of Indianapolis.
My days began with a walk of 3.78 miles. I used a measuring wheel and walked the route, keeping track of where one- , two- and three-mile landmarks were along the way. I timed myself; bought a stop-watch. I knew the 500 Festival® had a training program for which one could sign up, but I am pretty independent. Also, my schedule is such that I wanted to fit things in my way.
I decided to do a couple of shorter race-walks before the Mini®, and, during the other weekends, do a couple of seven-mile, then nine-mile, eleven-mile, and finally 13.1-mile walks. (That first year, I never got beyond 11 miles in practice.)
The first walk-race I entered was the Polar Bear, a five-kilometer (3.1 mile) event at University of Indianapolis, in February. Runners had their start line a head of that for walkers. A plastic line or rope was extended across our start line. The rule is you have to have one foot on the ground at all times. That distinguishes running from walking. It also explains why race-walkers walk so funny.
I considered myself pretty fast. I had gotten under 10:30 for a mile. I was up against the plastic rope to the far left (naturally). Two or three women a little older than me were to my right. They had on "nice" sweats, and wore make-up and jewelry. A woman about their age was polite but curt when she asked them if they ever had been in a race-walk. They giggled and chuckled "no." She told them they had better get out of the way, then, because there were people who would do seven minutes or under for a mile. "And they’ll walk right over you if you get in their way," she added. The women in the nice sweats, jewelry, and make-up laughed little self-consciously, but then moved to the back.
My sphincter muscles tightened. A guy who looked like he was about 7' 8" stepped into their spaces. He probably only was 5' 10", but the white tights and the way he moved—stretching his legs and arms, walking in-place—gave him the appearance of much greater height. He was joined by a few others, male and female, who dressed in similar, but differently-colored, gear.
We heard, ahead of us, a starter’s gun and a guy with a megaphone said the wheelchair athletes had started. The wheelchair athletes are serious. Plus their upper-bodies and pure muscle. A couple of minutes later another shot sounded, and the runners had begun. Our starting line was at the rope. It now was lowered and reeled in. I figured I would take off as fast as possible. The starter’s pistol went off. The people in the tights got smaller as they took off at a pace I could not believe. I had to believe it: I was watching it. But I was walking damn fast and they were flat-out gone. I did not receive a medal from that race, but that did not matter to me. At the end I was out of breath and knew I needed to work harder in the mornings.
This also was about the time we took up tae kwon do—one of he worst mistakes I have made in terms of physical fitness. We took private lessons from an individual, but then he became unavailable. We joined a tae kwon do school. Advancement is encouraged because that’s how the school makes money—in addition to what one pays for attendance. Every time a student tests for a new belt, the student pays money. Every new belt itself is a purchase from the school. I kept telling the teachers there that one of the warm-ups they had us do was screwing up my left knee. They were pretty rude in saying I had to just do those exercises. Finally we quit, but not before I had suffered injury to my knee. They said we were obligated for the balance of the contract and, if we quit, they would take legal action and recover their attorneys’ fees. They were pretty smug about that. Instead, I filed suit against them for rescission of contract. I was not going to sue them for the damage to my knee, but I thought the least they could do was be gracious enough to let us out of this contract. At the same time I filed a motion with the court asking that we be allowed to pay the monthly fees we were supposed to pay under the contract into the court pending disposition of the case. That meant the school could not receive its attorneys’ fees because we would not have violated the contract: we were performing under the contract, it’s ust that the money was being held in trust by te court until the legal dispute was resolved. The school agreed to let us out of the contract (we had received blue belts; Sarah has a particularly vicious side-kick), but the damage was done to my knee. I gradually lost cartilage.
I did another walk-race, The Farm Bureau Distance Classic®, four miles in the rain with the finish line at IUPUI’s track. I was passed by a blind woman. That was kind of cool in a way, but also freaked me out. I heard this tapping behind me. People on the course would tell her where and when to turn. She passed me. I was doing well, but a guy caught me right at the end.
The day for the Mini® drew closer. We went to the Convention Center® and I picked up my packet. People recommend "carbing out" the night before—eat lots of pasta so your body has plenty of fuel to burn, but more on that later—and I had a pizza. I stayed well-hydrated. (Really,I drank a lot of water. Beers would come after the race.)
We got up early. There were 22,445 entrants (it later was announced). People started in areas, roped off as "stalls," according to their actual past times or, if rookies, what they estimated their time would be.
I was toward the back. The air was chilly, so I had worn jeans. That was a mistake I never shall make again.