Jeff and I were about to actually do this shit!
I was now a whopping 100 pounds lighter than I was before starting this whole running thing a little more than a year earlier. But I was still scared. I knew I wasn’t 100% ready; there was no way I was going to run the whole thing. That was never really the goal anyway; all I wanted to do was run half, then start walking as needed to get in under my 90-minute goal.
With butterflies in my stomach I headed into the city with Dustin and BJ, my brother and wife, the night before the race. Jeff was going to meet us the next morning near the finish line where we’d pick him up and drive to the start, instead of taking the shuttles provided by the race.
After picking up my bib, the three of us went to a restaurant where a friend of ours had just gotten a job as manager. We walked in and sat down at a big table. We knew we’d be getting a spread. I mean, hell, I am running six fucking miles in the morning! Better fuel up, right?
Well I fueled up all right. Cheese boards and wine and steak, followed with cheesecake and whiskey. I have trouble even writing that down as a pre-race meal; I want to go back in time and slap myself silly. It wouldn’t have worked, of course: the then-me couldn’t be told shit!
After eating I went to bed early to rest up for my big day… which started with a clusterfuck, and only got worse from there.
The next morning we drove to city park, to pick up Jeff near the finish line. But it soon became clear that we weren’t going to make on it time, due to our lack of experience with a very common race day issue: traffic! (Newbie mistake #1)
The gridlock near City Park was crazy, but bailing on the traffic to get back to the start on time was not an option: we had to scoop up Jeff.
But Jeff was held up trying to get his bib on race morning, about an hour before the start, and six miles from the start corral (Newbie mistake #2). Eventually we decided that Dustin would take me back to the start line in the French Quarter, and Jeff would take the shuttle. Hopefully we’d be able to find each other in the pre-races hoard gathered around Jackson Square.
While I was back at near the start at Jackson Square, stretching, stressing, and second-guessing I was trying to come to grips with the fact that I may have to take off on the run without Jeff: my buddy since kindergarten, my pacer, my pain-in-the-ass-never-on-time running partner.
I heard the gun go off for the first wave, Jeff popped up out of nowhere as I was ambling toward Decatur Street where I was to turn right with crowd of stroller’d moms, in the shadow of Cafe’ Du Monde. He said he’d run nearly a mile to make it there on time. I smiled. We fist-bumped. A homeless sitting atop a garbage can guy cracked a joke about how a Kenyan had probably already won. And before I knew it I was off on my first race ever.
When we ran up S Peters Street and made a right onto Poydras, my baby snapped a photo of me as I weaved through a group of pedestrians crossing Poydras. They had been waiting for the “real” runners to pass before they dared wade into the path of us wannabes and walkers.
At Poydras I grabbed my first cup of water. We were one mile in.
We turned right onto O’Keefe and headed toward S Rampart, where I had to stop and pee. We were in mile two.
Then it was left onto Esplanade and on toward the park/finish line, where we had started the morning waiting in traffic for Jeff’s overly optimistic nah-I-got-time-to-get-my-bib-in-the-morning ass.
As we ventured up Esplanade, it dawned on me that we had never really run during the daylight hours. Sure, I was running two businesses and all that, but in truth the early morning run strategy was mostly to keep anyone from seeing my big man-tits and fat rolls flap, flop, and jiggle around.
Luckily, I thought to myself, I had mitigated the aforementioned jigglation by activating a fatboy clothing trick that my brother and I had perfected.
I was wearing an undershirt one size to small (no Spanx for men in those days) with the sleeves cut off. Removing the sleeves hid it from view, and also made it slightly less hot. As I jogged and bounced through the race, it surreptitiously held my titties and rolls in place.
To be fully effective, this corset/muffler was tightly tucked into the cargo shorts I had decided to wear on race (Newbie mistake #3) to muffle the percussive slapping that would otherwise broadcast from my belly.
The pièce de résistance was the black cotton “FREE SEAN PAYTON” t-shirt worn atop it all (Newbie mistake #4), as if I were just casually wearing a t-shirt with no girly concern for how my boobs would look.
As these poor attire decisions met the New Orleans heat, I began to seriously waiver during mile 3. My already slow jog became even slower, until the I-10 overpass at Claiborne. As we entered the Tremè, I gave in and started taking full-on walk breaks. SHIT! I was disappointed. I had been hoping to stave off walking until mile four, but here I was barely in mile three, head hung, miserable, hot, sad, walking.
Jeff saw my misery and immediately suggested that I cheer up. I tried.
We stayed on the shaded, grassy neutral ground up Esplanade, rather than the paved road thinking it would be easier on my joints and calves, which were barking like Rottweilers at this point. My feet hurt. My shoes were soaked with sweat. My 90-minute goal was already blown, and I was only halfway done.
Jeff endured the miserably slow pace with me the rest of the way up Esplanade, onto City Park Ave, and then past the New Orleans Museum of Art. We took a slight right onto a bridge behind the museum, where I had to stop and stretch out my cramping calves, before giving a final push to the finish line.
And then we crossed the finish line. It was all I had. My ass was beat. And my time was a humbling 01:43:15. One hundred and three minutes. To say I was disappointed would be a huge understatement.
After the Race
As we walked back to the truck that Dustin and BJ had eventually parked near the finish line, we stopped and posed for a picture that BJ took. When I looked into her eyes, I realized something shocking: she was proud of me.
And that’s when I realized something even more shocking: even though I was beat, and disappointed in my time, I was proud of me. Proud in a way that felt like the beginning of something. At the time, I had no idea what seed that race had planted within me. I was just glad I was done, and was really looking forward to my favorite Uptown bar n grill, Down the Hatch, for some pulled pork nachos, a massive cheese burger, and a few cold beers. I mean, I deserved it, right?
And later on, as I started to see other people’s pictures from the race, I wondered why there hadn’t been an official photo of me. Then I realized that putting my race bib on the back of my shirt, so all could read my “FREE SEAN PAYTON” on the front, preventing me from being able to locate my race photo from my bib number (Newbie mistake #5).
Little did I realize at the time how many more times I would be doing not only this race, but many others, including some more than 16 times longer. But I think back on that 10k as my first ultra; six miles felt as unfathomable at that time in my life as 100 felt four years later.