On Sunday morning, I had the pleasure of taking the short drive up to New Brunswick to watch several friends run the Rutgers Unite Half Marathon. Runners: the only breed who will wake up early on a Sunday when they are not even racing to watch a race….My experience ended up being just as rewarding as if I had actually ran the race, however.
You see, I decided I would bring a cowbell. Not just any old cowbell, but the one I had picked up at mile 18 on the course in Boston and rang for everyone at mile 21 less than a week before. Everyone at Unite was running to show their support for Boston, so I thought I’d bring a little piece of the crowd support at Boston to this race. Emphasis on “little,” as there is nothing quite like Boston. Speaking of showing support for Boston: it was kind of funny to see all the messages that had been communicated throughout the week on what to wear for the race. It definitely increased our sales at the store Saturday, as runners were told to wear: blue and yellow for B.A.A., purple for peace, green for Boston (?), and red for Rutgers…or the Red Sox…or America, I don’t really know. Either way, it was a sea of colors one might normally find at a race, and it was, regardless of unity or lack thereof, nice to see.
I got to the race after it started, but that was okay. Parking was easy, and I wanted to situate myself at a location where the race was tough, as in, the final miles. I happened to have my bike in the car, because that is typical of me, so I rode out to mile 11 across the river. I ended up arriving just as Martin was passing, and thus began my cowbelling. At first it was really carefree, really innocent and fun. But then, friends, things got intense.
I saw Brennan, and Amy, and many others who I yelled for and cowbelled like crazy. They were all doing so well! As it turned out, the spot I was in was just after music and spectators in Johnson Park, during a gradual uphill, and before more crowds in Buccleuch Park. I stopped cowbelling for a second after Brennan went by, and that’s when it hit me. I was the only one here. In this awful, mentally tough stretch of the half marathon, at mile eleven, which from my limited experience is where the going gets rough, I was the only one here making any noise. I knew what I had to do. I had to KEEP COWBELLING. Never before had I felt such responsibility, such an obligation to the runners in this race! How could I stop cowbelling and live with the complaints and stares of the runners headed my way as I turned and left?! There was no other choice but to cowbell on.
I saw dozens of people I knew, including the girl who I had sold a red top as the last transaction of the day the night before, who recognized me. Runners would approach the stretch of road where I stood, clearly feeling the effects of the race so far, and suddenly smile at the sound of my cowbell. I yelled things like, “up and over!”, “power up!”, “two to go, two is a small number!” – things that would have helped me at that point in the race. Many people yelled, “thank you!” as I rang the cowbell, others raised their hands up and called out, “more cowbell!” to which I rang it higher and louder. Some people laughed, happy to see me there making noise. It was a glorious feeling, to in some small way make so many people smile heading into the eleventh mile! Brennan called to tell me she had finished and got a PR! I held the cowbell in one hand and the phone in the other, explaining that I would love to meet her at the finish but I couldn’t stop cowbelling yet! This was hard work.
At one point a woman walked by (this did not happen often) and said, “you must have a strong arm!” It was at that point when I realized my arm was getting quite tired…but I was in a rhythm now and could deal with any pain that might surface. I would not stop. I cowbelled until people who passed were walking up the hill. I decided I would be okay making my getaway when people passed who seemed to be okay with walking up the hill, and had probably been walking most of the race. I still felt bad, but I left to go meet up with Brennan and Amy for a post-race celebration! I admit I did tie the cowbell to my bike and swerve a lot to make it clang on the way to the car in some effort to keep cowbelling.
It was strange to spectate a race like this one and not be sitting out due to injury, but rather just because I didn’t plan on running this race. I felt a little left out, but I’m glad I didn’t run it. I have quite the beast to tackle in less than two weeks, and that is what my mind is on right now. Everyone who ran did awesome – Brennan, Anne, Craig, Zophia, and Melissa all got PRs. Possibly others I don’t know about as well. And, my friend Bill ran his first half marathon ever and is now addicted. I sold him a Garmin the day before and he told me how much it helped, which made me happy. This day was a reminder of why I love what I do, and why it feels so awesome to help other people, and I would not have rather been anywhere else but at mile eleven getting some odd blisters from a cowbell. 🙂