I have a new challenge in my life. Get enough race T-shirts to have a quilt made so when I move to an assisted living facility in 20 years I can wrap that sucker around me and maybe get out of doing group aerobics' day. I started running less than a year ago  and I collected 3 shirts from the 5 and 10K races I had participated in. Now I was ready to move up to a better quality T-shirt--the 1/2 marathon! I felt comfortable knowing I could probably beat the 3-hour time limit they put on the race while maintaining my slow but steady 13-minute mile pace.
I knew all the nuances of running a big race. I wore a T-shirt from another race (to intimidate the 14-minute milers), I pinned my number on the front of my shirt being careful not to mar the fabric that would be part of a blanket some day, I learned the all-important 'spitting' techniques, and I trained hard for 13.1 miles.
On race day, once we crossed the start line, the police car that was running up my heels pretty much confirmed that I had settled into my last-place-pace pretty quickly. Within minutes I felt a strong breeze go past me and saw that a man was running with a double jogging stroller with 2 large children in the seats. "Show off!" I yelled.
Around the 4 mile marker a woman ran up beside me and asked how I was doing. I said "great, how about you?" feeling the great camaraderie of fellow runners during a race. It was only when she moved past me that I read the back of her T-shirt--"disaster recovery team."
Around 7 miles, a race official came by on his bike to check on my progress. Actually I had started thinking about slowing down a bit because it appeared that I was running a 12-minute mile and I was concerned that I might be going too fast. But I put a happy smile on my face in case he decided to send that disaster recovery lady after me. He informed me that because the majority of runners had already finished the race, he would have to pull the marshals/mile markers/water stations and wanted to give me the option of stopping or taking a short cut that he could show me. While wild thoughts of pushing him off his fancy bike were running through my head, I assured him that I would finish within the 3-hour limit without the short cut, water, or marshals. I also said I had a map of the course in my pocket -knowing full well I'm navigationally challenged.
Right after 8 miles there were so many turns I realized that I was going the wrong way according to my sweat-soaked map. I backtracked and asked a woman gardening in her front yard which way the runners had gone. Amazingly enough she wasn't sure. Over 800 runners had gone right by her and she didn't know which direction they went? I shuddered at the fate of the flowers in her hand. A little further down the street I saw a man loading the race's Porta-Toilet onto a truck but he only spoke Spanish and all I knew how to say was 'mi casa es su casa'. Probably not appropriate for this situation.
Shortly after, a policeman on motorcycle went by me and I knew that he was probably sent out to see if the fat lady was singing yet. He informed me that I was at the 10-mile mark and that if I wanted to he would guide me the rest of the way. Wanted to? The hell with my feminist beliefs - here was my knight on shiny steed! "Show me the way, honey!" He rode a little ahead of me and stopped traffic at every intersection so that I could run through without becoming road kill. I was feeling good enough to remove the AAA HELP sticker off my forehead.
When we arrived near the finish line I noticed that all the buses had left, the people were gone, parking lots were empty, bleachers were deserted, trophies, water and fruit had already been passed out and tables had been dismantled. When the policeman saw that no one was there at the stadium, he very graciously stood up, turned on his blue light, and started clapping for me. I was genuinely touched but mostly wondering if he had some kind of urine container in his bike's storage unit that I could use.
I crossed the finish line, handed my stub to the one race official who was still there and got my printout of results. My official time was 2:55:12. My finish place was 759th - I came in last, but I had finished without any shortcuts. I returned to the only automobile in the parking lot, celebrated my victory with a banana I had left in my car, and drove home.
I'm going to run another 1/2 marathon next month because the T-shirts really ARE better, and I might even get to have water at this race!