Over the stormy weekend of March 7 – 9, 2008, Debbie Laney competed in her first half marathon. The 13.1 miles in Morehead City and Atlantic Beach was the longest distance she had run in her life – ever – including training and many long runs when she used to jog years ago.
Before the race, Debbie was mostly worried about finishing. Just before the starting horn, she upped her stated goal to finishing somewhere besides last. Not a problem. Debbie finished third in her age / gender category! Her total time of 2 hours 35 minutes was about the middle of the 300 runners. The fastest runner finished in 1 hour 23 minutes and the slowest finished in 3 hours 34 minutes.
I joined Debbie in a supporting role. I rode my bike along side, behind and in front of her. The idea was to give and take extra clothes from her if she got too hot or cold, give her water, navigational assistance and a moral boost. Fortunately, the race organizers did not shoo me off the course and he tried not to interfere with the other runners. In fact, all the organizers and other runners who commented thought it was sweet that I was even there. Most runners had no support, or at most a spouse or children in the crowd who hollered when they ran by.
But Debbie was so strong that all I gave her was a pre-race kiss, a post-race hug and handed her a water bottle once in the middle. She did not really need any other support – besides some conversation to keep her distracted from the difficulty of finishing the last couple miles. In fact, the toughest part of the run was ascending the tall, wind swept bridge over Bogue Sound, twice, coming and going from the mainland to the outer banks, and back. Debbie is so tough that she passed several other runners both ways!
The latitude and longitude above are not the finish line, or big bridge, or the center of the race course. It is actually a bunch of bushes beside the road on Bogue Banks where I stopped during the race to take a leak. Use Google Earth and see if you can find it! The first reader who sends me a map page with the bushes circled wins a free subscription to Blue Ridge Outings.
For much of the race, the weather was horrendous. The start was postponed for a half hour due to thunder and lightening. During the middle of the race, the wind was blowing reportedly 60 miles per hour. It was almost more than we could do to run and bike against it. At the same time, rain was pouring down by the bucket full. The wind driven rain hitting our exposed skin felt like needles.
Our residential accommodations were camping in a big tent at Cedar Point in Croatan National Forest, on the mainland a couple miles northeast of Swansboro. For Saturday supper we drove into Swansboro, went into a hardware store and asked the retirement-age owner for his recommendation of an inexpensive, good tasting, locals preferred, seafood restaurant. He suggested Bogue House Restaurant on the sound near Barrier Island Kayaks. It is one of the few places available with a broad selection of home cooked vegetables. The food was inexpensive and good.
Saturday afternoon, while Debbie napped, I attempted to go sea kayaking in an estuary of Bogue Sound where the While Oak River enters the ocean. But the wind was still blowing from offshore at nearly 60 mph. Every time I let go of the kayak to work on something else, it would start to blow away. I literally had to tie it to a tree. Upon setting the boat in the water at the edge of the estuary, the wind immediately “bridged” it against the shore. Both ends would be stuck, so that I could not paddle away. After about 45 minutes of exhaustive effort, assembling the gear and paddling into the sound, I could get no further than 50 feet from the shore. My mental ear could hear an imaginary weather radio announcer saying we are under a “small craft advisory,” it is not safe to go sailing today. I gave up and raised my paddle like a sail. In a few seconds the kayak bow was jammed far up on the shore. I headed back to camp.
I will tell you, to borrow a phrase from Bambi, several times during the weekend I got “twitterpated.” Watching Debbie keep her nervousness in check before the race with just a few comments to betray her nerves; chasing her (she actually ran faster than I could bike) as she churned up the two hills into the wind and rain on the bridge; seeing her gut out the whole race non-stop; hearing her say a couple miles from the end in greatly understated pain that “this is very hard for me;” enjoying her help to pitch in and set up camp; seeing her peek out of her warm sleeping bag in the freezing weather Sunday morning with a big smile on her face…I was so proud of her and so happy she agreed to be by wife I shivered with excitement.
The race was organized by the Carteret County United Way as a fund raiser. Surprisingly, this was their first race ever. As far as we could tell, it came off without a hitch. If they do it again next year, we will probably participate.