On Friday, we packed up the car and toddler and hit the road to Myrtle Beach, SC, where my husband and my friend Dana were running the half marathon the following day. They had been training since summer, and it was to be Dana’s longest run ever, and the longest my husband had done since he did a full marathon back in 2005. Pretty much, around our house, we’d been eating and breathing this race for WEEKS. So when we heard, on Thursday night, that there was a chance it might snow in Myrtle Beach that weekend, we thought: No way.
We got to Myrtle Beach in the late afternoon, had some dinner at a place where you throw peanut shells on the floor—a first for me, and one my daughter adored—then headed back to the hotel. Just after dark, the snow started. Seeing snow at the beach is just…weird. Truly. I mean, look:
At 5pm, the race officials decided to push the start back a half hour, from 6:30 to 7. Great, we thought. The snow kept falling, and falling, and we kept checking the race website and the news, but as far as we could tell, the marathon and half were still on. So we went to bed early, and got a good night’s sleep.
(Actually, my daughter woke up at 3:30 because her room was too bright and she was confused, and neither she or I ever really went back to sleep, but this story isn’t really about me, so I won’t go there. Yawn.)
At 5 am, my husband and Dana were up getting ready: eating waffles and cereal, drinking coffee, layering their clothes. I went into the bathroom to wash my face, and heard Dana call my name: “They canceled the marathon,” she said. I wish you could have seen her face. She was, like, CRESTFALLEN. I looked outside. There was snow on the beach, and some grassy surfaces, but the roads were just a little slushy. It seemed crazy that just a little bit of snow—two inches, maybe?—and no ice could cause the cancellation of an event that 6000 or so runners were there to do.
I know, right now you Canadians and people up north STILL digging out from under, like, six feet of snow are flabbergasted. But in Myrtle Beach’s defense, this is not a place that gets snow. This was the most they’d had in TEN years. And they said they were just no equipped to handle all those people and cars on the roads at the same time.
Well. I will be diplomatic and say my husband was, um, upset. Okay, he was FURIOUS. After staring in shock at the TV for awhile, he and Dana decided that since they were all suited up and ready to go, they’d head down to the race start anyway. So we all packed up and went down—driving on mostly wet streets, with a bit of slush here and there—where a few officials were standing around trying to defend their decision. It was not pretty. People were MAD, especially since the news was already reporting that they probably would not be able to give refunds because this storm was an “act of God.” The TV stations were there, wanting to interview angry runners, but my husband passed. He just wanted to run. So he and Dana found some folks who also were still up for it, and they decided to all start at 7, as scheduled. Call it guerrilla style.
A clump of about twenty, maybe thirty, folks gathered at the start line. Someone counted down—-five, four, three, two, ONE!—and they started running. There was no band, no loudspeakers, only me and my friend Barrett and Sasha and a few other observers, clapping and hollering. But that didn’t matter. They went off, following the course as best they could, which was kind of hard because there were no guides, no barricades, no water stations, just a few cars driving around and, well, some snow. I showed MY support by going to Shoney’s, then tracked down my husband and Dana around mile 6, leaping out of the car to cheer and jump up and down with my homemade sign. (Yes, I am a nerd.) They were cheerful and totally pumped up, and said they’d see us at the finish line. Which….was actually not where I thought it was. So I missed the big finish, which totally stinks. But when they DID get to the end, one of the race organizers had just pulled up with the race medals, so they got their medals AND a can of beer (which I guess is tradition, or something, although drinking beer at, like, 9:30 am after running 13.2 miles is kind of gross, to me). So we did our jumping up and down and cheering a BIT late, but since we had Egg McMuffins for them, all was forgiven.
I have to say, though, that this whole thing was just, so freaking inspirational to me. I can’t even tell you. All that hard work, and the elements work against you….but you just go for it anyway. The last time my husband ran a race, back in 2005, I was writing Just Listen and incredibly discouraged with the story and myself. Seeing those runners, though, pushing on through all the pain and wind, made me feel like I could keep going too, and I did. And this weekend, watching Jay and Dana and the other runners do what they planned and trained for anyway because they WANTED to, and for no other reason—not the accolades or cheering crowds—it just reminded me, again, of my writing. Because when it comes down to it, it’s not about the best seller lists, or all the amazing readers, or any of the other perks of this job. It’s about me, and the time I put in every day, working hard at what I do because I love it and it defines me. I’d write even if I had no readers: I know this, because I did it for years when I was waitressing. I wanted to quit because I was discouraged a million times. But I didn’t. And I am so, so glad. Because if you love something, it’s not what anyone else says or does. It’s you, and what you care about, and the only thing that matters is that you do your best. Even in the snow, guerrilla-style.