Crazy Running Girl Meets William Ira Halstead

In an area without enough runners for or interest in an organized running community, the handful of us out there on the handful of pedestrian-friendly roads quickly become familiar to one another. We greet with the internationally used “runner’s wave,” a brief display of acknowledgement by showing the upheld palm of one’s hand in passing, and then I make up a nickname unbeknown to my brother or sister strider. 

On any given outing I might see “Navy Guy,” whose Navy-logo clothing matches the stickers on his SUV; “Serious Runner,” who never breaks his blazing pace or cracks a smile; or “Phoebe,” a women who lives in my townhouse complex who really logs her miles with the haphazard, half-skipping form made famous by Phoebe on “Friends.”

Then there’s “Crazy Running Guy.”

On our weekly long runs, my former running partner Ken and I had more than one discussion of Crazy Running Guy. Neither of us is a qualified mental health professional, nor were we attempting to evaluate a stranger’s psychiatric condition. Rather, we were somewhat in awe of CRG’s brazen habit of strapping on a CamelBak and heading out on the highway, looking for a workout if not adventure. From our safe vantage point on the multi-use path, Crazy Running Guy truly was born to be wild to run along U.S. Highway 17, part of the “Ocean Hiway” that passes through northeastern North Carolina on its journey from New York to Florida. “17,” as it’s known locally, is a busy four-lane roadway with speed limits of 60-70 mph and a very narrow shoulder in most places.

Who knows, maybe we were a little jealous? At times it felt like Crazy Running Guy was having the time of his life on the stand-up roller coaster, while Ken and I held on to the carousel with both hands.

(By the way, I met “Crazy Running Guy” at last year’s Waterway 5K. Turns out he’s a talkative transplant from New Yawk — accent and all — with a long running resume. While he stubbornly turned out a 20-minute 5K despite limping on an injured hip that day, I wouldn’t really call him “crazy.”)

This morning, I dismounted the carousel and decided I was tall enough for the big ride on “17.”

“Crazy Running Girl!” hissed in the zoom of passing vehicles — or maybe it was Ken, who I dearly miss since he abandoned me, I mean, moved his family overseas for the once in a lifetime opportunity of a work assignment in The Netherlands.  Running partners build a special connection after hundreds of shared miles, after all.

My reason for playing in traffic was, of course, the quest for altitude at sea level. Half a mile from my favorite path for long runs, the William Ira Halstead Bridge looms. I do not know its height, but am certain it is the peak elevation point of Camden County, if not the entire northeastern North Carolina region. The Halstead Bridge was built in 1982 and spans the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, a narrow canal that somehow earned a towering overpass almost a mile long. The bridge’s namesake was a prominent judge and state senator born in the nearby township of South Mills in 1878.

Tentatively I headed south alongside traffic, feeling uncharacteristically self-conscious. I felt more exposed than I had while wearing the littlest black dress in a 5K race and showing half of my naked butt in the Fattest Butt 50K. Why, if I could simultaneously run and moon people twice last month, was I concerned that every motorist was pointing and laughing at the appropriately dressed runner trotting along the grassy shoulder?

As I approached “Ira,” my nickname for the structure, feelings of awkwardness were replaced by safety considerations. I hugged the railing on the far side of the bridge’s wide shoulder and kept my mp3 player silent to hear vehicles coming up from behind. I repeated to myself that no harm would come to me from an accidentally swerving car or road projectiles kicked up by one of the speeding semis that sounded so loud and fast. I wonder, would knowing as I now do that the Halstead Bridge is classified by the USDOT as Not Structurally Defective and Not Functionally Obsolete, have eased my mind?

Climbing higher, I could look over the railing at the canal, road, and empty fields beneath. Suddenly I felt the all too familiar mix of dizziness and fear. Vertigo. I suffer from it near ledges and edges that give way to steep drops. More than once I’ve been paralyzed and even gotten physically ill at an overlook, and made the butt of family’s or hiking buddies’ teasing as a result.  I shifted my focus to straight ahead and breathed deeper until the dreaded feeling subsided.

Neuroses aside, Ira disappointed as a hill drill. I summited its .4 mile ascent with barely an increase in perceived exertion. The descent afforded a nice pick-up in speed and leg turnover, but not enough grade to require my attention to downhill running technique.  Ira was better than nothing in terms of Boston Marathon training, but only because there’s next to nothing available for course-specific preparation. Ultimately, Ira failed to meet the challenge I seek. Had it been worth it?


Like most people, I’ve been warned against running in to the road since I was first able to run. Breaking a lifelong rule was liberating and more importantly, a venture outside my comfort zone. Every time I go past those self-imposed boundaries, the act rewards with confidence.

I’m also certain I’m the only person who saw the exact scene I studied today. A road shoulder’s mix of pebbles, sticks, scrap metal, the odd stray glove or sock, tiny purple blossoming weeds, and more litter than we notice at 60-70 mph isn’t scenic or special, but it was my own secret world for a few miles.

On my second trip across Ira, I felt like pointing and laughing at the drivers. They were immobile and sedate behind glass, disengaged.  I was moving self-fueled in the world, kicking their debris, refreshed by the wind their fossil-fueled speed blew at me. They were the crazy ones, not me.

How different would our world be if runners crowded the highways, and motor vehicles were regulated to a handful of auto-friendly roads? There’d be more “runner’s waves,” for a start.

Maybe I’ll come upon my CamelBak-wearing, highway-bound brother again one day. I’ll greet with the “runner’s wave.” And then I will begin thinking of a new nickname for him.


4 Responses to “Crazy Running Girl Meets William Ira Halstead”

  1. 1 Amy February 3, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    Shamrock won’t be the same without Ken, Tricia and Ken’s dorky ear protectors.

    I wish we could run together more often, but I’d probably be too distracted by mutant insects trying to make a nest up my nose.

  2. 2 Andrea February 3, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    Ken & Tricia will definitely be missed at this year’s Shamrock, I agree.

    Poor Amy the insect magnet. I was right next to you with nary a buzz. 😦 The NC flies smelled out-of-state flesh I guess.

    But as I recall one of the last times we ran together I whined most of the way because I was stuffed up, slightly dehydrated from cold meds, and couldn’t breathe!

  3. 3 Leslie Halstead December 9, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Aw, this is my great grandfathers bridge. Me and my sister cut the ribbon when we were little.

  4. 4 Andrea December 18, 2008 at 11:57 pm

    Leslie, that is so cool! Thanks for stopping by. I can tell you your great grandfather’s bridge serves as the only place around for runners in that area to get any hill training!

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