We quickly got our things together and headed out the door. The house was dark and quiet as we whispered a good-bye to Jason's mom who was staying with the kids. As we drove down misty morning country roads, we sipped coffee, talked, and watched the world wake up.
We arrived at the start line around 6:00 a.m., made a quick pit stop at the port-a-potties, and then went to pick up our race bibs and shirts. My tummy didn't feel quite right, and Jason didn't have any extra time to warm up, but we gave each other our usual 3 good luck kisses at the race start and lined up ready to run, come what may.
The race began without much fanfare and we were off. I was feeling a little tired, so I started easy. I'd decided to treat this race as a long training run and simply enjoy it. As the first hot half marathon of the year, I considered it the "just-get-through-it" portion of our streak (the same goes for the July and August races).
Before we got to mile two we encountered the "hillbillies." A man in cowboy boots and a cut off t-shirt ran beside me for a moment, and I had to hop over a gutted snake in the road. After I turned around I was petitioned by a pregnant lady (in costume, I presume) holding a cigarette and large beer who asked if I'd be her baby mama. There were also some extremely colorful (in language) political signs that my dad would have enjoyed and, as promised, some banjos. I laughed and continued on.
The course was beautiful, as so many in Tennessee are, and I enjoyed the views. The sun never peeked from behind the clouds, and I was extremely grateful for that. It was very humid, but it didn't feel oppressive.
Around mile 10 I began to pick up my pace a little. I'd been keeping Peach Tank Top and Purple Tank Top in my sights most of the race, and I could tell they were slowing down. Quite a few people were slowing down, actually, so to take my mind off the heat and my complaining tummy, I tried to catch as many females as I could see. It helped pass the time, and before I knew it, I was rounding the corner to the finish line, finishing in 1:54:35.
I received my camo finisher's medal, which I thought was fun and unique, grabbed a water, and started to look for Jason. I couldn't find him anywhere. I stood there, sipping my water, and scanning the crowd, but he was nowhere. This was very odd. He is always about half a mile out from the finish waiting for me, but I knew it was a hot and humid day so he might not have felt like running extra.
Still... he was nowhere. I started to get worried so I headed for the car to see if he'd been there, but when I got there I could tell he had not been to change into dry clothes. I was headed back to the finish line to start asking race volunteers or paramedics I saw parked nearby if they'd had to take anyone off course or if Jason Reneau had finished... and then I saw him.
As we walked toward each other I was looking him over to see if he looked hurt...but he looked fine. Except he looked mad. And he was. He told me he'd been in a strong second place, most likely to finish around 1:22, when he ran off course around mile 10. He was supposed to turn, but neither the policeman sitting in his car, nor the two volunteers at the water stop directed him, so he went straight. There was no cone, no arrow, nothing written on the street. The first place runner was not in sight, neither were those behind Jason.
When he got to mile 12, he realized something had to be wrong. He'd seen nothing since mile 10, so he headed back. Sure enough, runners were turning where he had gone straight. He waited for me for a while, forgetting the race had started at 6:30, not the usual 7:00 starting time, so I had already been by.
Because of the half marathon streak we'd started together, and because he knew I'd want him to finish, he ran through the finish line at 2:08, having run 17.6 miles. I was relieved he was okay, but so disappointed for him. Sure there have been and will be lots of half marathons for him to run, and many will most likely be better than this one would have been... but still. He had a 6 minute lead on third place (who finished in 1:28), and it would have kept his own streak of winning the Masters Division in all our half marathons going. So it stung a little, and he was disappointed.
I thought he handled it quite well. I was impressed he'd finished (I'd probably still by lying on the road in the middle of nowhere, crying), and I was proud of how he handled it as he told a race volunteer what had happened. She wrote it down, but who knows if she passed it on to the race director, or if it mattered to them at all. I hope it will mean they place a cone or an arrow there so this doesn't happen to anyone else, but who knows. When these things happen, there isn't much anyone can do to fix it. It just is.
After Jason spoke with the race volunteer, we left. We changed into dry clothes and enjoyed a Cracker Barrel breakfast on the way home. We joked about me beating him and laughed about what we could say, but every once in a while he'd shake his head, and I knew it was hard letting it go. Later that day we went to a movie together, and I would say, despite his unfortunate race experience, we can still look back on the weekend fondly.
I am always so proud of Jason. His finish times always amaze me. He can run through heat, he can run up hills as if they are nothing, and he is so humble about it all. On this day I was proud that he finished despite being so tired and disappointed. I was proud of how he handled it as he spoke to the race volunteer, and throughout the rest of the weekend, he did not let it get him down. I am so proud of who he is as a man and as a runner, and I am honored to be his wife.
I am looking forward to our next (hot...and hilly...and TRAIL) half marathon...and the next...and the next, and to whatever experiences and stories and adventures we have as we run them. And I am so glad I get to do it all with such a wonderful man by my side.