My Inaugural Costume Play Race at the Inaugural Half Marathon
Russellville, Arkansas has always been something of a second home for me; I’ve lived in and out of Dover and London, but never outside of Pope County. As much as I’ve always liked the “little big town” feeling of Russellville, lately I’ve wished to see more attractions one would get in a larger town, namely the races and festivals. I started running a year ago, so I’m still a newbie in races, but traveling here and there for a 10k, half marathon, or mud run caused me to sense that something was missing in my own community. Last summer I was obsessed with finding races to run in Arkansas, having ran my first Warrior Dash in May and training for a Tough Mudder in Dallas the following October. As much as I loved getting dirty in both races, I also wanted to break free from the treadmill and enjoy a real road beneath my feet.
“I want to go to all these races, but they’re so far away!” I complained to my boss.
“You know Russellville’s doing a half marathon next year, right?” she informed me.
A flurry of typing later and in less than a minute I found the website for the inaugural RussVegas half marathon. A race in my own town! I signed up as soon as registration opened, and to celebrate a race in my own turf I wanted to do something extra special. I had seen people in Tough Mudder complete the course in costume (some more functional than others), and when I heard that the RussVegas half marathon would have a costume contest I wanted to participate.
Keeping in mind the Vegas theme, I couldn’t think of anyone more quintessentially Vegas (other than Elvis) than Lady Gaga. Gaga is flashy and showy, with music videos and performances that cross into high art and Vaudeville. She’s also easy to identify by most people and an affordable costume option on Amazon.
Dressed in an all-white number reminiscent of one of her VMA getups, a platinum blonde wig set in place, I learned that Body Glide is my friend and a helper to all runners whose clothing and body parts like to rub together for 13.1 miles. I walked to the starting line from my boyfriend’s house but kept my warm-up pants and jacket on until we got to the downtown area. At 6:30 in the morning, Russellville commuters were surprised and confused to see a sight like myself sauntering down Parkway Avenue. Once I got to the train depot, I quickly felt the pre-race atmosphere. The groups of excited runners in their best Saucony’s, Nike’s, Mizuno’s, squeezing out one last drop of gel before toeing up to the starting line, doing funky stretches and making a last-minute pee break at the wall of port-a-potties. Somebody always brings up poop in conversation. Yep, these were my people, stylish yet shameless. Running in town in practically my underwear will let me fit right in.
As excited as I was for the race, I had the typical pre-race thoughts. My time goal (2:15), the search for coffee (none for free), hasty reapplications of Body Glide and lipstick (because cosplay makes such demands), and the relief that I had everything I need. I managed to take time for one last “crap run” the day before the race; it’s helped me in the past score a PR. But I was also dealing with a nasty cough I picked up on Wednesday, which was making my breathing irregular and making side stitches more common. Despite my showy exterior, I was suddenly shy when surrounded by hundreds of people. I look like a hot mess, ran through my mind several times, despite the compliments and appreciative stares.
Then we were corralled into the 7:30 starting wave. We learned how the half marathon was originally designed for 300 participants but had swelled to about 1,200 runners and walkers. In close confinement I attempted some last-minute calf stretches and hopped around when upbeat music played. I was getting antsy and so was my friend Marie. After a while you could see dozens of heads fixed to their GPS watches, their fingers hovering over the start button. When the race finally started and the runners began to spread out down Commerce Street, I got a true sense of the immense crowd that came to run the inaugural half marathon. I stayed mid-crowd, between the 2:20 and 2:30 pacers, hoping to speed up mid-race.
At the first aid station, I looked for my dad, who said he would be at the Commerce and 7th street intersection helping out. I warned him earlier that he wouldn’t recognize me in costume. “I think I can recognize my own daughter,” he said. But it took awhile (and a lot of waving and shouting) for the realization to kick in, that the pasty pale girl in Gaga getup was his daughter. He waved back but said somewhat audibly, “Oh my gosh…” I had expected worse, like a Hank Hill shocked guffaw, so I took it as fatherly pride and moved on.
The first five miles were easy and flat. I maintained a 10:30/mile pace but I didn’t know that at the time because part of my racing strategy is not to know my own pace to prevent going out too fast. I was running by feel and without music to stay safe and enjoy the scenery. At mile four I finally saw an Elvis impersonator. We high-fived and he was glad that Lady Gaga was there to run the race. Along West Main street someone shouted at me from his car; I’m not sure if it was words of encouragement or a catcall, but I took it. It goes with the territory of looking ridiculous.
Not only was Elvis a helpful hand, but all the volunteers were enthusiastic and encouraging. The water and Gatorade cups flowed endlessly and people seemed to have a good system so that no volunteer had an empty hand. One of my favorite aid stations/cheer squads was a group of girls dressed in 80’s clothes with signs reading “Let’s get physical.” Of course the other usual and entertaining race signed appeared in RussVegas; my personal favorite was at the eight and a half mile marker: “You should have pooped when you had the chance.” Like I said, there’s always a poop joke in a race.
The last half of the race started to wear on me, and my cough-addled lungs were starting to burn. The dreaded side stitches were coming in due to my irregular breathing and water/GU gulping attempts. As a weapon of mass distraction I put on my ear buds, hoping Pandora would help me space out enough to get through the rest of the race. This was also the time when it wasn’t so great that I knew the city layout because I also knew how long it would take to get back and the familiar landscape couldn’t distract me. As per usual, race-day Pandora seems to cycle through all the songs I hate. It was becoming apparent that I was entering bonk phase.
It’s funny how much the inner dialogue changes between Race Kat and Bonk Kat. Runners who have never experienced a bonk, otherwise known as the wall, haven’t had the pleasure of receiving verbal abuse from one’s own irrational, fatigued brain. No amount of energy chews, drinks of water, or awesome music can pull you out of a bonk spiral. Even when “Applause” came on my Pandora station, I had a hard time maintaining a decent pace and stopping for walk breaks more than I wanted to. Watching the 2:20 pacers bounce away left me defeated. At mile 11 I just wanted my freaking medal, so I pushed myself over the Phoenix overpass bridge (an elevation change actually helped me speed up) and made my way back to the downtown square and the finish line. On my own since the eighth mile marker, I had to rely on myself and other volunteers to cheer me on to the finish.
When I crossed the finish line at 2:24:08, I was a little disappointed but had to take into account that I was still a little sick. Surprisingly, my Gaga costume didn’t hamper my form or speed at all and I didn’t chafe. Other than the stockings slipping a little, everything was in place. The Gaga VMA outfit turned out to be very functional and light, which helped me get through the race when the temperature rose. I vowed never to run a half without my fuel belt stocked with Powerade. And although I didn’t score a personal best or a high place in my age group, I did win best overall female in the costume contest (money trophy!). Overall, my experience at the RussVegas half was a great one; I got to see my community get excited about half-crazy individuals trekking all over town for the coolest looking medal around. Maybe next year I’ll show up as Katy Perry?