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Getting To The Tobacco Road Half Marathon

Finishing the race: pretty sure I'm not actually this blurry in real life
Finishing the race: pretty sure I'm not actually this blurry in real life

Like most half-drunk ideas that come up on Caribbean beaches, Misty or I weren't too sure how serious we were about the whole idea: she'd just run her first 10k in years and I was in the middle of my worst training month in the past five years. Still, between her words about running (and enjoying!) the Air Force Marathon 10k I could sense a very real excitement -- an excitement that projected the kind of genuine, unironic joy that isn't as common as it should be.

Perhaps it was based on the fact that Misty had just gotten married to my best friend (probably), or that we were all sitting on a beach a few thousand miles from home where beers cost 1.30 each (also probably this), but I figured why the hell not ask?

"Do you think you'd ever want to run a half marathon?"

"… I think so."

"Alright, then let's run one."

"OK."

Five months ago on St. Kitts, Misty and I decided to run a half marathon together. The entire exchange took maybe ten seconds in total. There were still a lot of details to fill in, but the premise was there. Half-drunk promises are meant to be kept, and this one would be: I just had no idea how difficult it'd be to actually get to race day.

Misty and her husband live in North Carolina. When searching for a race, I looked for one that would have as few potential objections from Misty as possible. The Tobacco Road Half seemed to fit the bill perfectly: it was only a few miles from their house, and the Higdon training plan that I sent Misty's way started a week after a Crossfit competition that she was planning to compete in. Misty agreed to run the race -- it seemed to fit right into her schedule. This is the point where I start to feel smug and pat myself on the back for finding a race with a perfect location and perfect timing.

A month after finding the race and agreeing I was invited to a wedding the day prior to the race. I told Misty about this and expressed reservations about running the race. She'd already signed up for it, and was a bit annoyed that I was possibly backing out. I told her I'd go to the wedding, skip the reception, and run the race with her. It's only a 4 1/2 hour drive from DC to Raleigh; I should make it down with no problems. This is the point where I feel relieved to have avoided a potential conflict.

Sometimes I am absent-minded, and I put off signing up for the race. New Year's Resolutioners tend to fill races early in the year to capacity -- especially half marathons. The race sold out before I remembered to sign up. Just like that -- and totally due to my own negligence -- I wouldn't be running the race that I'd convinced Misty to sign up for. I told Misty that I wouldn't be able to run the race. This is the point where I feel like an asshole for being 1) lazy and 2) stupid.

The first week of February brought great news: the race had opened up 'charity' registrations for the half marathon. I signed up, far more than double the race registration cost. I told Misty that I got in and would be running with her. This is the point where I feel like a lucky sonofabitch for checking the website that day.

Fast forward to last Saturday: after taking a spin around the National Mall (while Ryan was laying down in a tent somewhere), my wife and I attended the wedding and picked up a friend who was riding down to Carolina with me. I dropped my wife off at the Metro and we got on the road, or at least tried: my brakes were grinding -- just like they had a month prior. My car couldn't make the trip, nor could my friend's. I told Misty that we might not make it down because my brakes were bunk. (For those keeping track, this is the third time after she'd signed up that I told Misty that I probably wouldn't make it to the race). This is the point that I feel totally awful about the race, my car, and the fact that I'm apparently an over-dramatic piece of shit who despite years of alleged 'education' can't manage to do much correctly.

We ended up getting a last-minute rental on the cheap, and three and a half hours later than we'd planned to get on the road we were off to Raleigh. The race was at 7 am; we got to Misty's place at 10:30 pm. Despite my many failed attempts to screw up the whole "run a race with Misty and help her finish" plan, I got to the starting line with her in one piece.

We got dropped off at the race in the morning, and Misty and I ran it together. I'll have a more detailed race report tomorrow, but to me the details of the race itself are ancillary to what's actually important: Misty ran her first half marathon, and even with all of my needless bullshit surrounding her training, she ran it really, really well.

Getting to spend just under two hours with her on the race course was a delight. Knowing that I played a minor role in her getting to the starting line -- regardless of how many times I wasn't sure that I'd make it there myself -- makes me happy. At the risk of sounding overly sentimental, the half that I ran this weekend was one of the best races I've entered -- not because of how fast I ran, or how good I felt afterwards (my legs are totally beat to shit this week), but because I had the chance to get to know a friend better and really see how happy she and her husband are. There are a lot of ways that you can get to know friends better; it's not too often that you spend a few hours running in a race with someone. For me, that experience was worth all of the bipolar will I run/won't I run bullshit that I put myself through (though I still feel awful about having put Misty through it all).

Star-divide

I like to think that this whole story (I suppose it's a story) has a number of lessons in it:

  • I'll do a hell of a lot more to ensure something gets done when a friend is depending on me. Misty would have finished the race without me, to be sure. I don't think I'd have made the trip to run the race by myself. Unfairly putting her out on a limb made me re-assess where my priorities lay. Now that the race is over and I know how well it went, I'm glad I managed to make the right effort and run the race.
  • After we pass certain milestones, it's always good to get a fresh reminder of the excitement and tired pride that comes at the end of a race. Sometimes we get a little jaded; going through the experience with a friend who is accomplishing something for the first time does a lot to scrape off some of the patina of experience and remind us how bright and shiny it really can be with the right appreciation.
  • Lastly, things can be done regardless of how brazenly you fuck up the planning. After writing a whole post about setting up an infrastructure to enable running and racing, I did exactly the opposite. Even when aggressively neglecting my own advice, I still managed to get to the race.