For me, the most difficult part of the race is not the months of training, the miles of running, the refueling, the hydrating, or the racing. No, it's getting to the start line that's tough. This time, getting there deserves its own post.
I, of course, signed on with Team in Training for this race. I'm thankful for all that they do to combat blood cancers and the San Antonio chapter is probably a fun bunch. I say "probably" because I made it to a grand total of...ZERO...practices. Yep. Not a single one. I didn't make it to the get-togethers, the send-off dinner, the team-building-social-let's-have-fun stuff either. So, I was a little out of the loop. Not their fault at all- just the product of me having, oh, I don't know, seven kids, perhaps? They tried, they really did, but my life simply can't accommodate other people's schedules right now, so I trained on my own and tried to keep up with the email communication as much as possible.
At any rate, because the team handled the registration, I was a little unclear on exactly how that impacted the "normal" pre-race stuff, especially packet pick-up. I got an email saying that, if I couldn't make it to any of the team events, I could pick up my bag of "stuff" at the office. Great. Perfect. On Friday morning, I sent my older kids off to school, packed up my two younger ones, and made the trek to San Antonio to get my "stuff." Stress level on a 1 to 10 scale: 3.
When I got to the office, I grabbed the bag with my name on it and strapped Stefan and Austin back into their carseats. And then, I looked at the stuff in the bag. It became immediately apparent that this bag, while it contained a few snazzy items, did not, in fact, contain a race packet. That meant a trip to downtown San Antonio. I was already halfway there, but...packet pickup didn't start for about 3 hours. Three hours. Short enough to be tempting, but too much time to kill with two little guys in tow. Plus, I had a ton of stuff to do at home. I decided that I would just have to wait till sometime later. Stress level: 5, edging toward 6
As I sat in the parking lot, processing all of that in my mind, I realized I had gotten a text. It was my babysitter for race morning. "I'm so sorry, but I have the flu and I can't babysit on Sunday." Stress level: 8
I took a deep breath, drove home and focused on being as productive as possible, working on lesson planning and grading, while frantically trying to find another sitter and work out a ride downtown for Sunday morning. Apparently, lots of runners get hotel rooms near the start line. Smart. And not possible for me.
At some point during the day, I decided that it would be better to just take the five younger boys downtown (Megan would be at gymnastics and Nathan still in school) right after school and get packet pickup out of the way. We could leave just after 3 and be back just before 5.
We actually left at 3:30 and I started to worry about getting caught in rush hour traffic on the way back, but I forged ahead. We got downtown, and that's when the fun started. There was a time that I spent a decent amount of time in downtown San Antonio- Bryan actually worked there sometimes- but I had never been to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center where packet pick-up was. When I read "convention center," I pictured something like the Alamo Dome or Freeman Coliseum- big building, big parking lot. What I actually found, after inching my way through the terrible downtown traffic, was a sidewalk-locked building with a tiny parking lot. The sign in front of it said, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." (It may actually have said, "Parking by permit only," but the words had an identical effect.) Stress level: 15
And so I began to drive around...and around. I passed parking garages, most full, all with 3 foot height clearances- or 6 feet or 7 feet- it was all the same to my high top van. I passed above ground lots that I had parked in in the past, but then I'd been driving a snazzy, maneuverable Acura, not a clunky, full-size Behemoth. I started to pray and then I saw it- a space! An open lot with a space that would allow me to back out. I wasn't entirely sure I could circumnavigate the lot to get back out, but I decided to take a leap (drive) of faith.
I had (naturally) neglected to bring a stroller. By this time, we were probably a mile from the convention center. Fortunately, I ALWAYS keep my BabyErgo in the van (my children have been threatened with eternal grounding if they ever remove it), so I popped Austin on my back, grabbed Stefan and Carsten in a vulcan grip ("Mom! You're squeezing my hand off!" Yep. Keep walking.) and started off with five boys through downtown San Antonio during Friday evening rush hour. Stress level: 18
I managed, after a few loops of the very large convention center, to find the right entrance to the packet pick-up. I kept the boys on a tight leash. (Figuratively speaking. If they had been selling real kid leashes at the expo, I would have been the first in line.) We powered past all the samples (no, boys, you may not suck down packets of nothing-but-sugar goo) and finally found an exit.
We made it back to the car and out of the parking lot (they took debit card- yay!) and I realized that my phone was almost dead. Yikes! I have a terrible sense of direction to begin with, and we had made quite a few twists and turns to find parking. I sent up a panicked prayer that my phone would last until I got back on I-10. "Turn left on Commerce." (My new directions lady is very perky.) "Turn right on San Saba." "Take the left lane to merge onto I 10." And then my phone shut off. Dead. God has a sense of humor. Stress level: 10
So I had my packet. Now I just needed a babysitter and a ride. Oh, and did I mention that the very I-10 that I had just driven on to get downtown was going to be closed all weekend? Minor detail. All part of the endurance sport known as "Getting to the Starting Line." And that sport- at least for this mom- is the toughest one.