Here’s my column that ran in the News & Record today. It seems like a good place to end the blogging. But the running will continue! Thanks, everyone, for reading.
So much for blending in. Nothing says “I’m not a real runner” like running a half-marathon backward.
I can explain.
The race was going well that morning. Clear sky. Warm temperature. Suburb playlist. I was hydrated, properly dressed and brimming with potassium, thanks to the two bananas I ate at 6 a.m.
I had nuzzled into a comfortable spot — in the back, of course — with a dozen other scofflaws, misanthropes and no-counts. And by that I mean atypical runners, i.e., slowpokes.
About five miles in, we came to High Point University. There was a crossroad.
“Half-marathoners to the right,” said a man, probably an unpaid volunteer, as he motioned us forward.
And forward we went. For the next 10 minutes, I was at peace. The Police were in my ear (Sting, not High Point officers), and an easy downhill sprint loomed.
About the time I noticed Mile Marker 11 — Mile Marker 11? — a gaunt-looking heavy-breather sprinted from behind like he was running from a fire. This was no amateur: He kept his cadence even as he blew a snot rocket.
“That dude’s a real runner,” I thought, leaping over his deposit. “What’s he doing in the back of the pack?”
Then another exceptionally scrawny man passed. And another. And another. Suddenly, I was surrounded by runners whose body mass indexes are lower than my shoe size, lean and hungry guys with determined looks on their pain-encrusted faces.
“Only one more mile!” cried a volunteer handing out Gatorade. “You’re almost done!”
One more mile? What happened to miles 6 through 10?
My group of slowpokes formed a circle, our mouths agape. Someone asked: “What should we do?”
“Let’s turn around and run back to where we messed up,” this guy said.
So, imagine, if you will, a group of not-so-swift runners lumbering in the opposite direction of everyone else, looking them square in the eye as they pass. We must have met 600 people — including two of my friends, who probably thought I was delirious.
“What the hell are you doing?” some guy yelled at me.
What the hell were we doing, indeed.
I don’t hold up well under scrutiny. Especially when I run. So, I turned around and headed for the finish line. Friends greeted me with cheers. I greeted them with a snarl. A volunteer draped a medal around my neck. I calmly, yet dramatically handed it back.
I’m not sure how many miles I logged — 10 or 11, based on my normal pace. Certainly not 13.1.
Disappointed? Yeah. I am. I trained with Liz Lindsay and our Janes on the Run group for months leading up to the race. I imagined myself joyfully skipping to the finish line, not looking for the first official who would disqualify my time.
Mad? Nah. The volunteer made a mistake. That’s why we’re people and not robots. The race might not have been perfect, but there were a whole of lot happy people stumbling around at the finish line.
What happened to me — not actually completing my first half-marathon — is a decidedly middle-class problem, something akin to having dishwasher spots on your crystal or discovering that your hotel room at the beach doesn’t face the ocean. It stinks. But there are worse things.
Plus I did the hard part: the training. I ran through snow, ice and walking pneumonia. Some mornings, I dragged myself out of bed at 6 a.m. Some nights, I jogged 40 laps around the YMCA’s tenth-mile track.
I’m more fit than I’ve been in 15 years. One directionally challenged volunteer can’t take that away from me.
Besides, I’m going to run another half-marathon in a few weeks. What’s 13.1 miles between friends?
The High Point race taught me one thing: Plodders like me? Runners who finish long after the winners have digested their post-race Grape Nuts?
They don’t blow snot rockets.
Color me slow. Forever.