The Observer was tucking into his second drink at a local bar the Friday night before the Little Rock Marathon when a friend settled into the seat next to him. Turns out the friend had assembled a four-person relay team for the marathon, but one of the members had just dropped out. Could The Observer fill in, the friend asked?
Sure, The Observer replied, probably feeling the effects of his straight Pernod over ice. Not that The Observer had done any real running in years, but he plays a lot of sports and was in good enough shape. How hard could it be? His friend added further reassurance, offering to let The Observer do the last relay leg, which is the shortest, at 5.5 miles. Deal!
As everyone knows by now, the Sunday morning weather on marathon day was beautiful, and The Observer was glad he had a reason to rouse himself from bed earlier than usual. A bowl of cereal, followed by a quick drive to the Capitol, and a short walk to catch the shuttle to Murray Park, where the final relay station was located. Found a friend on the bus who answered The Observer’s question about where to pin the tags he was given. (Race number on the front, relay tag on the back.)
The worst part was definitely the wait for the handoff from his teammate. First, The Observer stretched. Then, he stood around. Soon, more stretching. The marathon leaders rounded the bend at an incredible pace. (This was in the middle of Mile 21.) Maybe I’ve made a terrible mistake, the Observer thought, as he got butterflies in the stomach.
Happily the Observer saw some people he knew, and conversation distracted him. Suddenly, without warning, the teammate appeared, and there wasn’t much to do besides hop into the path, take the ankle bracelet (which keeps the official team time), strap it on, and begin running.
Take it slow, The Observer thought. And so he did, at first. He spotted friends running in the opposite direction on Rebsamen Park Road, and he yelled and waved. Then he saw Governor Huckabee, and almost yelled and waved at him, but thought better of it.
This is not so bad, the Observer thought, and he ran a little faster. He was helped along the way by various kind gestures and funny sights. Like the people who blasted classical music from their home overlooking Rebsamen Park Road; the lady running with headphones on and singing at the top of her lungs; the little kid who ran over and slapped him five; the race monitor playing reggae/rap on Riverfront Drive; the young girl with the “Daddy Duke” sign who kept reappearing along the route (you’re a lucky father, Daddy Duke); and all of the people who stood along the road, cheering us on.
Speaking of daddies, the huffing and puffing Observer asked a couple of big hills he was climbing, Who’s your daddy? (It was The Observer, of course.)
It was exhilarating to round the corner on to Capitol Avenue and see the finish line, and humbling to mingle with those who ran the full 26.2. Inspirational, too.
Now The Observer sits in his office the day after. A little bit of aches in the legs and feet, but nothing to complain about. We’re thinking, why not run the whole thing next year? We won’t wait until the Friday before the race to make up our minds.
And yes, the Observer is sober.
A country music band positioned at the corner of Beechwood and Kavanaugh played for the runners. We were enjoying the electrified fiddle, but passing runners, early and earnest, kept their eyes on the road. But what a difference 20 minutes makes. The band’s lead guitarist took over the microphone and started singing “Ba-ba-balai la Bamba! and the not-so-earnest runners, happier-faced, started moving their legs in time to the Latin beat and gestured thumbs up to the singer.