• Watch a photo slideshow of the Lincoln Marathon and Half-Marathon.
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An exhilarating and terrifying thought crosses my mind, just like it does just after daybreak on the first Sunday each May.
I have trained religiously and set my goal: Finish in under two hours. I have hydrated properly and stretched my calves and eaten a sensible banana. I have pulled on my lucky blue T-shirt, a long-ago, tongue-in-cheek gift from my wife, Sarah.
Cardio King, the T-shirt says in big block letters.
Now I am standing with 9,999 other fidgety men and women wearing Dri-Fit shirts and Nike shoes and edging our way closer and closer to the inflatable arch that serves as the starting line for the Lincoln Marathon and Half-Marathon.
And suddenly I am in motion, left foot and then right, the first two baby steps of the 13.1 miles that lie ahead.
The spectators who line Lincoln's Vine Street scream and cheer and shake homemade signs and stomp their feet. My adrenaline spikes into the stratosphere, momentarily rendering my brain a useless pile of mush.
I swing left onto Vine, and then turn right onto the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's fraternity row, and the feeling gradually starts to return to my legs. The thought returns to my head, like it does each year.
I cannot believe I am doing this. This is the terrifying thought.
I cannot believe I am doing this. This is the exhilarating thought, too.
Luckily, there is not much time to consider the reality of this Sunday morning, not much time to think about the fact that in the Lincoln half-marathon there are no shortcuts, do-overs or anything but one foot in front of the other until the finish.
There is not much time, because during Mile 1 I pass an Elvis impersonator, several drummers and a church band belting out Christian rock. In Miles 3, 4 and 5, here is a man dressed as a gorilla and handing out orange slices. Here is a man dressed in a tuxedo and handing out sports drinks. Here is a real nun, and here is a man who looks like Santa Claus dressed as a nun, and they are both urging me on. And here, on nearly every mile of the half-marathon, is grade schooler after grade schooler leaning onto the course and offering me the ultimate in nonverbal encouragement. A high-five.
I run through Lincoln and pass thousands of spectators who decided to climb out of their warm beds, stand in the gray morning chill and do something both simple and heartwarming.
They see my shirt and scream, “Cardio King!”
They cheer on complete strangers.
They stand outside and they urge us on because the Lincoln half-marathon isn't just a race. It's a citywide group hug. It just so happens that marathoners and half-marathoners, people like myself, are the lucky recipients of the embrace.
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha. Read more of their work here.|
By Mile 8, when I reach the Lincoln half-marathon's lone extended hill, the crowds start to lose their ability to distract me.
I begin to check my watch more and I struggle to stay on my two-hour pace.
The truth is that the Cardio King is not much of a runner. I've been jogging for a decade and running half-marathons since 2009, and yet the fastest my stubby legs have carried me to the finish line is two hours and five minutes.
World-class half-marathoners can finish 13.1 miles in just over an hour. So Steve Prefontaine I am not.
And yet what the Lincoln half-marathon makes you realize is that it doesn't really matter.
What matters is that myself and many other Omaha runners on this Lincoln course have been running four or five days a week since Christmas. We have tromped through the snow and the cold of the spring. We have made endless loops around Zorinsky Lake and passed each other countless times on the Keystone Trail.
This year, to counteract the boredom of the treadmill, I have watched several seasons' worth of “West Wing” reruns as I gradually increased my pace. (Thanks for the help, President Bartlet.)
I have done all this with the two-hour goal lodged firmly in my mind, and maybe because of that goal a funny thing happens when I reach 10th Street, where the Lincoln half-marathon turns back north, into the wind, for its final leg.
For the first time ever, I am not running like I'm lugging a baby grand piano on my back.
I look at my watch again, and again, and the watch doesn't lie — I'm beginning to speed up.
I pass a group of runners. I pass another group. I pass friends. I pass strangers. And as I take the last turn and wind my way into Memorial Stadium, I feel roughly as good as a person can feel after running 13.1 miles.
For a moment, I feel like King of All Cardio. I stop my watch and glance down for the moment of truth.
It is Monday now as I write this, and my thighs ache. My calves burn. I'm battling a nasal drip. The toenail on my pinky toe is black as midnight.
It feels wonderful.
And I pull up my official race time, just to double-check.
1 hour, 58 minutes, 50 seconds. Some 6,825 runners finished the Lincoln half-marathon Sunday. I finished in 2,073rd.
It feels like first.
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