Does this look like fun to you? Look at the guy’s face up front. This was at about mile 11 of the Country Music Half Marathon, and he’s secretly thinking, “WTF? If I never carry a 3000-pound dragon head around the streets of Nashville for 13.1 miles EVER again, it will be too soon! And if those two yappy bitches right behind me don’t cork it, I’m gonna blow a fricking gasket.”
Yes, several weeks ago, I was part of the Dragon Team, and we hauled that monstrosity the whole way through the parade route I mean half marathon route, bellowing BEAT THE DRAGON! every 50 yards. Someone had to do it. Prior to the event, we were instructed to “run” the half no faster than 2:30 so that a shitload of people could pass us, thus ensuring their “winning” a certificate at the finish line for one of those appetizers at PF Chang’s comprised of a head of lettuce and a small bucket of oddly-seasoned ground round. Exciting!! And nutritious!!
So before the event, Cheryl and I were all, “2:30! My grandmother could run 2:30 while carrying a canoe and eating gazpacho! Ha ha! LAME!” Yeah, well I’m here to tell you that we got our derisive asses mildly kicked. At first, it was all laughter and posing for cameras (at least 10,000 strangers have a picture of me holding up a dragon part now. Creepy? Yes.) and taking in the sights (high of 90 that day and chicks in tights and windbreakers). But by mile 5, I vaguely mentioned to Cheryl that holding a bamboo pole with a dragon segment over your head while jogging creates a bit of an unnatural gait. By mile 8, I was trying to figure out a way to wedge the bamboo pole into my bra so that I could give my arms a rest. I suppose we were only holding up about 8 pounds (except for the 20-pound Gargantua-Head that we took turns carrying…DAMN!), but after a while that gets mightily taxing on ye olde chicken bone-wristed runner arms.
By mile 11 (see pic above again for happiness level), I had heard, “Hey! Your ass is DRAGGIN‘! and “Don’t start DRAGGIN‘ now!” for the duodecillionth time and amusement on all fronts was growing a bit threadbare. Well, except for the treasured vision in my brain of getting to go to the VIP tent at the finish and merrily drinking mimosas while watching all the wretched full marathoners collapse in heaps around us. Around mile 12, we all walked for a while since we were ahead of the 2:30 goal pace. (At this very moment, I’m physically pained to type “2:30 goal pace.”)
But as we cranked it over the Cumberland River and entered the finish chute, there was such an uproar from the crowd, that suddenly we felt like this:
That’s Cheryl hauling the Monster Head and actually laughing at mile 12.9. (Note: There is not a race photo anywhere of Cheryl where she doesn’t look like she’s having tea and crumpets and simply the grandest time of her life. Conversely, there are no race photos of me where I don’t look like I’m mere moments away from either bursting into tears or having a nervous breakdown.)
As we walked through the finish area, we were asked this possibly 3 dozen times: “Uh uh! No. Y’all didn’t carry that thang the whole way, didja? Ain’t believing it.” Some guy in a Hawaiian shirt from Fox “News” crammed a microphone in my face and said, “How long did you all train together for this?” I gravely considered how I’d never even seen The Dragon (or even met half the people carrying it) until we walked it across the PF Chang’s parking lot earlier that morning, so I told him “about 5 minutes,” and his fair and balanced eyeballs popped out of his head and rolled away.
When we finally made it to the VIP tent (because we’re totally very important!), we all sat around a table eating important food and talking about how like totally awesome we were. Now that it was over, the general consensus was that it had been a pretty fun time. After two mimosas, I announced that it was my fave CMM Half ever. When we were surprised with $100 gift cards to PF Changs (nutritious!!), Cheryl and I both weepily agreed to be Dragon Runners for the rest of our lives.
Anyway, it was a true experience and a good time. I have to say that I’ve grown to be less and less of a fan of the Country Music Marion and Half Marion as it’s become, like all of the Rock ‘n Roll Series races, more of a parade than anything else. It’s a spectacle, a 32,000-person trotting party, a bucket item, an excuse to wear a belt with 75 little brightly-colored bottles on it, a way to see Nashville, a concert, and some “free” beer. But it’s not really much of a race anymore. And it’s definitely no longer a marathon. Ninety-five percent of the participants joggle the half, but the marathon, of course, remains part of the event so that the word “marathon” can appear on everyone’s shirts and souvenirs.
Those facts made me ultra-angsty the last time I mistakenly used CMM as a goal race. But when you’re carrying a 40-foot dragon the entire way? Top-notch event. Sign me back up!