I did it. I ran a half marathon.
I didn’t walk; I didn’t stop at a portapotty; I didn’t stop for water. I steadily wogged for 13.1 miles.
I flew into New Orleans Saturday and met the original running mate, Carmen, at the airport. This adventure was her idea well over a year ago, hatched when she also decided we should jump from 5 to 10 miles on the Riverwalk in Chattanooga. I created a monster.
We checked into our hotel, walked down to get our packets, wandered a bit, and some good New Orleans food. Then we called it an early, restful night.
It was still dark when Carmen and I walked the block from our hotel to the starting line, wearing shorts and tshirts for the first time in months. The starting chute snaked in numbered corrals around and down the street.We chased it through the packs of preparing runners to the very end–corral 18.
From the back, among the n00bs and the walkers, we heard the starting sound go off. For the next half hour, we heard the steady interval of the start for each corral and steadily marched forward. Until finally it was our start.
We broke out into downtown NOLA, jogging cautiously on the horrendously maintained asphalt. A heavy fog settled ominously between the buildings. The air was heavy and wet, filling my lungs until my head felt like it was buzzing. The temperatures were moderate with the occasional tease of a wonderful cool breeze.
I was back in the South. All the runners were not lean and hardcore. The pack did not dust me and leave me trotting the duration alone in their dust. There were walkers in the first mile; there were people doing intervals to their watches the whole distance. We were surrounded by other racers the entire race; it felt like a real race.
And it was motivating to be able to pass people in every mile.
We departed the downtown building and turned down a long stretch down historic St. Charles. Live oaks reached their thick, twisted branches into the fog and light rain, creating an arch over the street. Large French colonials stood obscured by jungle-like vegetation. I looked above me and saw Mardi Gras beads tangled in the trees; I looked below me and saw them impacted into the asphalt.
In true rock n roll NOLA style, there was a band every mile or two. Jazz bands, high school brass, bayou sounds–all different, all with that local flavor. It kept us engaged, gave us a beat to push our feet to as the sounds faded away behind us.
With each mile sign and clock that passed, Carmen and I high-fived. For motivation. For solidarity.
Miles 1 through 5 were long and slow for me, painful. I was not winded once, like I have been so often in the thin, cold Colorado winter air lately. However, the running was hard. My body felt depleted, and I found myself questioning the depth of my endurance.
Yet around mile 5, the float appeared. My pace quickened; the heaviness and the doubt dissipated. Miles 5 through 9 flew by. Sign after sign, high-five after high-five. They all blurred together under the haze of a runner’s high, even as we moved back through downtown, across Canal St., and into the French Quarter.
The fog thickened on Decatur St. As we passed Cafe du Monde, the runners ahead of us all but disappeared into the mist. A glorious cool breeze swept across us off the river.
As we turned into another neighborhood of fascinating architecture, my float began to stutter. I was alternating between bursts of float and the drag of exhaustion. My pelvis was a ring of pain, hips absolutely aching. I was constantly aware of the protests of my body, but I was able to run above them.
Mile 9 well into the 12 were slow miles again, stretching out for what seemed to be disproportionate and unreasonable lengths. I kept pushing myself; I kept pushing Carmen.
We were so damn close.
In the last mile, I saw Carmen dragging. I beckoned her, I’m sure annoyingly, called her to keep going.
When we hit City Park, I felt the finish swelling; I felt the energy of the end rise in my body. Carmen told me to go, and I unleashed whatever semblance of a sprint I had left. I pumped my legs until I was panting, weaving through the finishers.
I could see it. 13.1 was right there.
I left whatever I had on the pavement until I crossed that line. My goal had been under 3 hours; I crossed at 2:46:55.
Then I went back to finish with Carmen.
We did it. Her goal over a year in the making, over injuries and interstate hurdles. We didn’t stop, and we didn’t die.
So now what?
Am I going to go full on and do a marathon? Um, fuck no.
Am I ever going to do another half marathon? Undecided.
I have checked it off my bucket list; I have supported my running mate. I just don’t know if I want to maintain that level of training. I like distances 10 miles and under; the 10K has emerged as my favorite.
For now, no more training. For now, just running to run. For health. For sanity. For the hell of it.
And, for the record, Cripple Creek is still the hardest race I’ve done.