Race heroes made miles endurable

This is the column I should have written after the News and Sentinel Half Marathon last weekend. And I promise I will not drag this subject matter out another week, but I should get a few things down before the window closes completely.

To begin with: I lived, I did not get sick or pass out, and I did not get swept up in the parade. In fact, I finished about 10 minutes faster than I expected to. “Faster” being perhaps not quite the right word for a 2:49:11:8 finish, but in my first half marathon, for which I started training on a whim only a couple of months earlier, I’ll take it.

In contemplating my finish time, I realize I could probably have shaved off a few minutes here and there if I had been as serious and focused as some of the participants around me. But that’s not my style. Instead, I found myself shouting “Thank you” to groups of onlookers who held signs and shouted encouragement; slowing down enough to drink my water and exchange a few words with the amazing folks who volunteer at the water stops; and taking in the sights and sounds of race day.

One sound that will stick with me is the goose horn being honked by a gentleman in a lawnchair in front of a home decorated with signs that said things like “only a few country miles left to go …” I laughed. In the middle of an event where at times I was miserable and hurting, I laughed, and it was just the push I believe the gentleman intended. Thank you, sir.

At a water stop in front of a church there was music and fun that drew me in. I could have stopped right there and just joined the party. But they had planned for such an occurrence, and the end of the water line was shouting “Keep going! You can do it!”

To the crazy person (and I say that with the utmost affection) in the white T-shirt who spent the whole race encouraging her two friends to keep up the pace – even backtracking occasionally to come back to them and urge them along: You were actually dragging a third person for several miles. I used you as a focal point for as many miles as I could, until the remnants of my cold forced me to stop trying to keep up with you. But by that point, I was past the halfway mark (a little to my surprise), and felt much more confident that I would make it to the finish.

Generally when a man standing on a street corner tries to hand out candy to strangers, he won’t get many takers. But the man who handed me a piece of candy at precisely the right time (and under police supervision, he pointed out) was my hero for the next half mile. Earlier in the race, at just about the point where I was reaching the farthest I had ever run in an official event, there was a man handing out high fives. To everyone. It seems silly, in retrospect, but even that little bit of encouragement added to the fire, at the time.

Though that fire had fizzled considerably by 13th Street, (oh, 13th Street, how I cursed you) it was amazing to round that last turn and realize the homestretch was lined with folks not only waiting for the parade, but clapping and cheering for even those of us at the back of the pack as we approached the finish line.

And, speaking of the finish line, the woman who handed me a cold, wet towel after I received my medal is a saint. Yes, the weather was absolutely perfect for the race, and I’ll likely never get so lucky again, but after 13.1 miles, that little wet towel was heavenly.

Thank you, Parkersburg – not just the race participants, but everyone in the community who made race day amazing. I might have been overheard muttering “This is the worst idea I’ve ever had,” at one point around mile nine or ten, but I didn’t mean it.

I’ve got a taste for this, now, and plan to tackle a few more races (and, by the way, if I can do it, you can do it), but I know with some certainty there won’t be another race with the personality that makes the News and Sentinel Half Marathon the best.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com