There we were.
In the shadow of the beast, completely surrounded, adrenaline firing madly with the steady drone of anticipation buzzing in our ears.
Did I mention we were freezing our butts off?
Flashback two months ago. I get an email from Jeff stating that he’s just signed up for his first 5K and that my presence and participation were requested as well. Actually it went something like this: “I just signed up for my first 5K. I love you. Please run with me.”
How could I say no?
Nevermind that he’d chosen an early morning race in November (I’m not much of an early morning person. Or a cold weather person. I’m especially not a run-early-in-the-morning-in-the-cold-weather person.) But I would be there, damnit, running side-by-side with Jeff during his first big race.
About that side-by-side thing though? Somewhere during the climb of our first big hill (there was a bridge you had to run up, then down, then turn around and run up and down again on the way back) I began passing people. I’m not the most competetive person in the world, but when I saw that I was moving up through the ranks, I couldn’t help but push my speed.
First Jeff was beside me. Then he was trailing just behind me. The next thing I knew, I was passing up a wheezing four-year-old whose mom was more concerned about her time than the fact that her small child was about to hyperventilate. I’m not sure who was the worse person, though – her for not letting him slow down, or me for making him want to speed up as I passed him.
I looked into his helpless little eyes and saw determination.
And then I passed him.
Cold, Amanda… Cold.
Eventually, I made the turn back toward the battleship and could hear the music and the crowd and the timer announcing the names of racers as they crossed the finish line. And just as I was ready to start my final sprint in – my guts decided to set themselves on fire. Maybe they were cold, maybe they were hungry? Whatever the problem, my insides were having none of it suddenly, and I really thought I was going to lose my granola right at the finish line for the whole world to see.
A normal person would have stopped and walked, or at least slowed down.
I, however, heard the huff and puff of two runners coming up from behind me and knew there was no easing up. Instead, I closed my eyes, sucked in as much air as I could and blew through the finish as my name was called out over the PA. I don’t remember the way the crowd looked or the time on the clock or the sun rising over the trees or the little Wilmington skyline stretching out ahead of me. Because my eyes were still closed. All I remember is thinking, “Dude. She totally got my last name right!” That’s glory, my friends.
As soon as I slowed down, the burning immediately subsided, and my concern was now for Jeff. I turned and headed back to the finish line to find his red,white and blue headband bobbing up and down in the crowd now coming up to the line. And suddenly I felt very guilty for leaving him behind.
But there he was, sprinting it in and passing other runners and doing his thing. And there I was, jumping up and down, screaming my head off for him. I stretched my arms out as he came barreling in and for a second I thought we were going to go tumbling onto the ground. “Lean on Me” was blaring through the speakers, and it was like the final shot of a Hallmark Special. You can’t write sh*t that good.
So no, in the end we didn’t race the whole thing side-by-side, hand-in-hand. And we did finish in our own ways and at different times. But the best part was reveling in our individual successes and celebrating together and having that moment when our paths finally realigned. (You see where I’m going with this, right?)
Feeling like total rockstars (it takes so little, really) and a tiny bit high on life, we toured the USS North Carolina for the first time (how both of us lived in Wilmington for more than two years and never got on board is beyond me…), which is basically like a giant, floating historical playground that smells like old. Two pacifists have never had so much fun playing with big guns.
Eventually, though, I started to get claustrophobic on the lower decks and thought we were lost (envision the “Hello Cleveland” scene from Spinal Tap and you’ll get the picture – we even kept running into the same janitors over and over…). Girlfriend having minor paranoid meltdown = end of tour.
By the time we exited the ship, the lines for the two modes of transport back to the mainland (water taxi or trolley) were equally hellacious. We hedged our bets on the trolleys, but at the rate the line was going, next year’s race would be starting before we got out of the park.
Just as all hope seemed lost, a couple walked up to us and asked if it was just the two of us. (What gave it away? The matching USA sweatbands, or the identical red,white and blue tube socks??) Turns out they’d arrived early enough that morning to get one of the coveted spots in the battleship parking lot and had two extra seats if we were interested in getting a ride back downtown.
Not only did they not look like serial killers (much), but they’d been a part of the wedding ceremony between two runners at Mile 3 of the marathon. We’d been hearing about it all day, so we knew they were legit and we really didn’t want to wait in line. They turned out to be an awesome couple from St. Louis and we had a lovely chat about running and beer (a match made in heaven) on the short drive back.
I’m currently brainstorming (uncreepy) ways to pay forward this random act of kindness. Rock on, St. Louis couple. We salute you.
That night, after much napping and chillaxing, we remembered that it was, in fact, Sunday, and that we were, in fact, supposed to eat something new. While our ingredients weren’t exactly exotic, we did make something new. We call it El Fregadero de la Cocina – cilantro rice, habanero chicken sausage, grilled peppers, grilled corn, black beans and caramelized onions. Just try to fit this much taste into one pan. I dare you.
It was easy and amazing – and burned my taste buds off.