It was about 9:45 in the morning on Saturday when most of the thousand runners in the Door County Half Marathon swarmed into place along Shore Road, packed tight and eager for the start of the 3rd running of the event.
They stretched back a couple hundred yards, self-slotting themselves in the runner’s hierarchy, pros up front, everyone else finding their spot behind. A few squeezed in a final warm-up dash along the shoulder, others just checked their sport watches over and over.
They were waiting for me, the race starter. Mine was not a complicated job. With about ten minutes to go I was handed the starting horn. About five seconds later the plastic cap that you press to sound the horn fell off. Uh-oh.
I placed it loosely back on the can, hopeful it would still work. With so little time left before the start, and a thousand runners ready to pounce on the pavement, I couldn’t give it a test run. Not good.
A friend in the crowd that had assembled to watch the start shouted to me, “Don’t screw this up Myles!” and laughed. I laughed too, and joked that now this was sure to go wrong. The can would be a dud, I said, and the race would start with a squeak rather than a bang. I was joking, but after the cap fell off, I was indeed a little nervous.
As I counted down the minutes, then the seconds, to the start, I was told to make sure I pointed the horn toward the sky, to make sure I didn’t blast it in one of the runner’s ears. This would prove to be bad advice. At 30 seconds we walked the runners up to the line and the crowd cheered in anticipation.
Most of the runners had trained for months for this race. Some had traveled from several states and time zones away. Many were about to embark on the culmination of a life-changing experience. Despite ominous forecasts and an overnight storm, the weather had cleared for the race. The morning shown bright through the glistening spring buds of Peninsula State Park. Somehow, in spite of all the variables, everything had gone right for this race. All I had to do was send the runners on their way.
Ten seconds, then five. Then the wait for the horn. Then somebody stepped on a duck. Or at least it sounded like it. The horn worked…for about a nanosecond, then stuttered into a whoopee-cushion-esque squeak. The crowd laughed, the runners chuckled. Well, at least the runners that heard it chuckled. The cap was not the problem. Pointing the can straight up in the air was. The 3rd Door County Half Marathon did not start with a bang.
It may have been anticlimactic, I may have been embarrassed, but the end result was the same. The runners were off and the race was on.
I fought the urge to corral the runners to try a re-start, and simply let them go, confused faces and all.
Fortunately, nearly everything else on the day went right, making my meager start but a footnote.
Next year, as another wave of runners puts in months of running leading up to the race, I’ll be putting in my time practicing my air horn technique.