Savannah Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon

Today I want to share my experience of running my first half marathon, the Savannah Rock ‘n’ Roll 2017.

It felt like a huge victory for this 56 year old wife, mother and grandmother to complete the event. This person who spent most of her life feeling uncoordinated and unathletic. But the experience itself, in the moment, was SO much bigger than simply hitting 13.1.

The morning began with my husband and I taking a 20-minute shuttle ride over from Tybee. A bright orange Old Town Trolley that normally transports visitors around historic Savannah was repurposed for our enjoyment and packed with lots of millennials. Okay I feel a little old, but the nervous chatting, taking of selfies, and pounding wind against the plastic zipped-down windows is a good distraction. This actually worked out perfectly as we’re dropped off very close to the start line on Bay Street. After finding a porta-potty we take a few pictures, I kiss my husband goodbye and gravitate over to my assigned corral. Chatted with a nice guy from Minnesota who had just flown in the night before by himself. His first time to Savannah. And I was feeling jittery. Really? Music blasting, electricity in the air, we’re ready to go, but not before noticing I missed most of the national anthem. Oh, that’s why people are looking across the street at a building draped with a flag. We’re surrounded by live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Rooftops with well-placed law enforcement (unsettling and reassuring at the same time). Wave after wave of runners (at least 13,000 of us) are released. The sun is just beginning to come up, casting a welcome glow. I quickly forget any remaining weariness from checking my alarm all night long.

The pack running down Bay Street is thick as we head up the only real “hill” on the course, a bridge. I drop my two SPI water bottles on the bridge, not once, but twice. I could medal for the delicate dance of retrieving them without face planting or injuring someone else. I should cinch that SPI belt tighter, but that means I’m stopping, and I’m not.

We’re leaving the historic district and venturing into some of the less prosperous areas of town. Savannah Rock ‘n’ Roll has live music all along the course and to my right are men in kilts playing bagpipes. My Scottish-Irish roots tingle. Dilapidated buildings and homes. Bars on windows. Beat-up cars. But there are still people on the sidewalks cheering us on. They’re overwhelmingly African-American. They’re young and old. Male and female. Sitting and standing on front porches. Yelling words of encouragement as we pass by. An older lady quoting scriptures of blessing over us from her front lawn. A little boy giving us high-fives. I noticed men standing by themselves, not saying a word, not looking at us. Smoking a cigarette or with their hands in their pockets, insulating themselves from the early chill in the air. As if drawn to witness this annual event of strangers running through their neighborhoods. Compelled to show up. This was all just a little too much for my heart. Butterflies in my stomach, blisters emerging on my feet, trying not to think about the prospect of posterior tibial tendonitis flaring up again (10 days before I was non-weightbearing on my right foot). All of this meant nothing. What I was witnessing meant EVERYTHING.

As the race progressed, we re-entered the historic district. The crowds thickened on both sides of the streets. Signs that say “Let me call Uber for you” and “If you think you’re tired, how do you think I feel holding this sign up for hours?” I spotted my husband around mile 4-5, but he was buried in his iPhone trying to track me with the race app. Oh well. It’s getting warmer. My legs and feet are beginning to feel like lead weights. I wouldn’t mind having one of the energy bites I packed, but I’m not stopping. I’m rationing the 12 ounces of water I’m carrying pretty good. I’m a camel! I passed mile 6 and realized I’m halfway done and going to make it. A tall black guy with shaven head and tracksuit yelling encouragement from the sidelines like a drill sergeant, “those that don’t do, coach, and that’s what I’m doing for you!” If he’s not a coach, he should be. Mile 7, I hear my name yelled out and it’s our Tybee architect, his assistant, and my husband. Never will I underestimate the power of cheering again. This gives me just what I need at just the right moment.

Things are a blur until about mile 10. All I have to do is run a 5k to finish this thing. I can do that. I’ve got some definite blisters thanks to these damn orthotics that are holding my ankles together right now. I see a couple of people down on the course, surrounded by angelic helpers. One lady looks unconscious. I say a silent prayer.

The last leg is taking on a more festive atmosphere. I just heard “Mustang Sally” blaring. The gracious residents of Savannah are handing out water, beer, and hoses. I run through a couple of sprinklers. That urge I had to pee many miles ago has completely evaporated. Is this thing ever going to end? I try to finish strong, but since I ran this whole thing without my Runkeeper app in the background, who knows? Finally, I pass the finish line after non-stop 13.1, arms up in the air.

After passing through the secure zone and collecting my finisher medal, water, banana and Powerade, I head toward the family/friend waiting area at Forsyth Park. I find my husband and get a text from a fellow Forsyth County runner friend. We meet up briefly and savor the victory together. It’s only 10 am and the concert headliner, Fitz and the Tantrums, doesn’t start for another hour and a half. I can barely walk on these dogs now and am leaning on my husband’s arm. Can’t even muster the motivation to walk to the spot to collect my free beer. Old Town Trolley it is!

Back at our Tybee rental on the marsh, my husband pulled off all my clothes (he’s getting really good at this after-race assistance). We drank a beer on the deck and I slowly began to process all that had transpired. We ate snacks, put on our bathing suits and headed over to North Beach. WE SWAM IN THE ATLANTIC OCEAN ON NOVEMBER 4TH. A salve to my exhausted body and banged up feet. Running has felt like a pretty solitary endeavor for me. Maybe it was the endorphins still flowing, or the baptism of salt water–I just felt so grateful to be in this beautiful place and to have my husband to share this experience with. As I explained to him, more than anything, this race gave me hope. Hope for humanity. We are all connected. In this world that feels like it is descending into an abyss at times, there are good people. People that will cheer and show up for perfect strangers. People that want to feel alive and be a part of something bigger.

I’d like to keep pulling on that string.