I went on a 40-mile ride yesterday afternoon. It was nice, but I would prefer to tell you about what I did yesterday morning. I watched my wife run her first half marathon.
This was the scene at the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon, just a few minutes before the start. I had accompanied my wife to the 7:00 AM start a few miles west of Fredericksburg and joined 8,000 other runners plus friends and supporters. If had been like most of the spectators, I would have been stuck looking at only this view for the entirety of the 13.1 mile race, or I could have elbowed my way onto a shuttle that was to run continuously from this point to a spot in Fredericksburg. Fortunately, I was not like most other spectators. I had a bike.
I brought Old Ironsides out of mothballs, where it has sat patiently since the winter and evening ride season ended. The flat pedals and flat handlebar made it ideal for the task I was to ask of it, namely zipping four miles into the heart of Fredericksburg and taking me to several points of my choosing to cheer on the missus, all while dodging other spectators, police officers, Marines, and the occasional car.
I was very excited for my wife and wanted to give her as much support as possible. This required proper attire and a very loud voice. The voice was provided to me by The Almighty and a little preparation ensured I had the attire. I studied the race route and picked an avenue that would deposit me in Fredericksburg where I could quickly move to different places on the course to cheer her on as she passed. To aid me, the race would send me text messages of her progress every five kilometers, which was really cool. More on that notion later.
So, after the flyover of biplanes and the speech by the town crier of Fredericksburg, and the singing of the national anthem, and the firing of the howitzer, the race began. I was nervous about finding my wife in the crowd, but she had no problems locating me (she is always better at finding things than I am, which plays out in any number of domestic situations). After seeing her and screaming wildly, I mounted Old Ironsides and made my way to Fredericksburg via Fall Hill Road.
This was almost entirely downhill and I arrived there in great shape, only 20 minutes after the cannon fired. I picked out a spot at the corner of Amelia and Prince Edward Streets (Mile 7) and waited, sipping my water bottle and monitoring my wife’s progress via automatically generated text messages. The town had an air of expectation to it. Many residents were on the sidewalks, eager to cheer people on. At certain points, music could be heard. On my way into town, I passed a quartet preparing to strut their stuff.
In a few minutes, the first runner arrived. He was completely alone and moving impossibly fast. Surely, there was someone in the 8,000-person field able of keeping at least within sight of the leader? Apparently not. Then the rest of the field started to arrive. I watched several hundred pass, waiting to see my betrothed, and suddenly – there she was, sporting a huge smile and looking great.
I jumped up and down and hollered and she gave me a quick hug and then she was off. I hopped back on my steed and raced down Amelia Street and set up camp at Mile 8. I knew when she would arrive as I had taken notice of a man and woman running the race as Batman and Robin, running slightly ahead of her. These races always seem to have a few characters running in costume and this race was no exception. Shortly after the Dynamic Duo ran past, along came Joyce, looking strong and still smiling.
I was able to see her once again at Mile 9, but missed her on my final attempt as the route passed under the Jefferson Davis Highway (too short a jump for me). Once I figured out she was already by me, I skeedaddled back up Fall Hill Road to the Start/Finish Line. Let me just say that even by cycling standards, that 1.5 mile hill is not insignificant. To run it, and to do so after already running ten miles, requires a level of running fitness I can only aspire to.
I found a spot about a half mile before the end and was able to give her one last huzzah before the finish. I then made my way through the throngs of spectators, past some blaring music played by a rock band, to the runner/spectator link up point. I found my wife there, proudly wearing her medal, smiling broadly, and eating a banana. I couldn’t have been more proud. She finished with a time of 2:02:26, which put her in the top 20% of all runners and 38th out of 280 runners in her division. Awesome.
We eventually made our way to the car, where we had a brief ceremony. Last Christmas, I had purchased my wife car magnets which said 13.1 and 26.2. Runners often put these magnets on their cars after completing a half or full marathon. Joyce had earned her first magnet and we affixed it to the rear of the vehicle. It was a special moment that commemorated all the hard work she had put into this achievement.
And with that, we loaded up the bike and made our way home to enjoy a beautiful Sunday.
Some Thoughts On Running vs. Cycling Events
I’ve been to a few organized rides and a few running races over the past two years and it there is no comparison to the level of spectacle and organization that running events enjoy over cycling events. From the packet pickup and race exposition the day prior, to the flyovers, mascots, howitzers, Biggest Loser TV show contestant appearances, and the super cool automatic text updates for any runner you cared to follow, the running races have it all over the cycling races in spades.
Organization was superb, from the hundreds of porta-johns, properly closed streets with Marines and/or police at every intersection, not just the ones where you turned, the runners wanted for nothing. Water points were properly supplied and staffed. Meeting your runner afterward was a snap. There was plenty of post-race food for the runners, including a free beer. It was simply a first class event, and although other running events aren’t always this nice, they are still far better than the cycling rides I have attended.
Even the townsfolk got into the event, with thousands coming out to cheer, offer water to drink, or mists of water to run through. My wife reports there was even one resident who offered shots of rum to any racer who wanted it. Now that’s support! I can’t say I have seen anything remotely like this on a cycling ride, even though I have been on some through the heart of DC.
Much of this can be explained by the economics of scale. It is virtually impossible to get 8,000 cyclists into an event and therefore cycling event organizers have smaller budgets to work with. It won’t make me hop off my bike anytime soon, but I couldn’t help but be a bit jealous.
I will join my wife on the roads during the Army Ten Miler this October and will once again put on my cheering T-Shirt when she races in the Marine Corps Marathon a few weeks later. Until then, this space shall return to cycling-related business.