Showing up to a race when you're not racing is like showing up to a bar when you're not drinking. When you're the only one not drinking, the slurred speech, loud voices and manufactured confidence at the bar are painfully obvious. Similarly, at a race the game faces, focus and nerves are painfully obvious. That being said, I much prefer the race to the bar! Much less desperation in the air!
At the same time, showing up to a race as coach rather than an athlete is also a particular experience. Yesterday was the big day: the Cleveland Marathon, Half and 10k. I've been preparing my sister for this day for many weeks and finally there we were in surprisingly sparkly downtown Cleveland heading to the start. Once there we held hands as we navigated the sea of runners until we found the appropriate pace group. I saw the pacer and because we only had a minute to spare, quickly said, "this is my sister, Miss A and she is to stay with the 4:15 pace group until 22 miles. Then and only then may she run faster!" Of course, she was allowed to run slower, but that fact had already been long established and we weren't going to talk about that possibility on the starting line--bad mojo.
I decided to just stay with them and trot out through the start until I had a clear exit from the crowd. While we waited there and "Cleveland Rocks" blared from the sound system and I took a couple photos of my nervous trainee I felt so immensely proud of the moment. We had come a long long way. Sure, we still had 26.2 miles to go, but just being there was a victory in its own right.
The horn sounded and some people way up ahead were off, but we had some time to stand, then walk, then trot and then we were jogging. I slapped her some 5's and made my exit when I had the chance. "See you at mile 12!" This was her race.
I had some time to kill. I stood there on the edge of the course for a few minutes soaking it in. It was a perfect morning for a race. It was cool, but there was sun. It felt good. Really good. Something was in the air. I wandered over to a hotel and found some coffee. Then I went out and watched the 10k start, yelling for E as she passed.
Last year, very few decent Ohio runners showed up so even though I ran a shitastic race I was in the $$. This year, I was hoping the same thing would happen for E, but no such luck. In front of E were about 7 of Ohio's fastest women. Oh well. But who wouldn't rather have a kickass race than a few bucks. As E later said, the race performance lasts a lifetime while the money is gone in a blink of the eye. True dat.
As I alluded oh so eloquently above, I ran the 10k last year and had one of my more pathetic races. I remember being miserable when I came to the last hill. I decided that is where I needed to cheer. Last year it was Stupid Hill. Today it would be Happy Hill. I found a spot under a tree and laid out my Boston shirt to sit on as I sipped my coffee and watched a train pass by. I was all alone and it was nice. As the minutes moved to a reasonable end to an elite 10k race, a few more people came down. That was nice too. I got up and walked over to the edge of the road to take my cheering place. While there I met a nice family who were waiting for their pregnant daughter\wife to run by. The mother in particular, was worried about the effect of running on her pregnancy. I think I helped her feel a little better about that.
The male leaders started trickling past. Fast. fast. super fast! Yikes! And then the women started coming. Whoa! They came in 30-60 second waves. One, two, three, four and five, six. I saw the last Ohio ringer chick go by and before she was even up the hill I saw E! Holy!!! Whoa! AWESOME! I was SOOOOO FREAKING EXCITED! Finally! The breakthrough. The race I knew she had in her. It was there. On this perfect morning the stars aligned and she looked fierce, y'all!
I am not the best cheerer, but I let out whoops and wails and probably acted a complete fool! I didn't know the exact time, but I knew it had to be well within her A goal of sub-38. WOW! I saw one more friend behind E (E wasn't quite up the hill when friend 2 came in sight, but I waited to yell for friend 2 long enough that it wouldn't freak out E! She had nothing to worry about--big enough gap for sure, but didn't want her to worry there was someone coming for her).
After friend 2 was on her way up the hill I ran myself up it and to the finish area. The clock still said 39:xx by the time I got up there so I knew E had herself one fantastic race. I walked through the finish area and didn't see her, so I called her and left a vm just in case I didn't get to see her the rest of the day and then started over to mile 12. On my way, E called back and luckily she was headed the same way, so we got to do a celebration walk along the freeway as we cheered for friends. 37:36! This is the same woman that I had to convince she could run sub-20 in a 5k just 2 years ago! See. I was right. (of course!)
Whoa. This might be a really long post.
E and I waited to see our friend NC who was running her first full. We screamed at her as she ran by just a bit ahead of the 3:00 pace group. Sweet! I also saw my friend Carmen running her first half-marathon back after her battle with cancer looking strong and having fun. Extra sweet!
E needed to go all the way to 10 and being you know, 8.5 months pregnant I just couldn't risk overdoing it so I stayed around mile 12 waiting for my sister. I saw lots of friends and enjoyed hearing others cheer for their friends and loved ones.
Finally I saw the 4:15 group and my sister was a little ahead--not so much that I needed to yell at her though. I hopped in and we chatted. She was doing perfectly. The 9:40 pace was still feeling super easy and she felt like she was holding back. She was having fun and thoroughly enjoying the company of her pacers and fellow-pacees. Yes! About a half mile later I ran up ahead to where our mom was supposed to be waiting. I found her and told her my sister was coming and my mom shook her cowbell with abandon! I dropped off my bag of stuff with mom too and then headed back to the course with my sister. I proudly watched her expertly navigate a water stop--seriously, she is one talented drinker on the run! And then went over our plan one last time before exiting stage mile 13.
The plan was to stay with the 4:15 pace group no matter what until at least mile 22. She could fall back if she felt bad, but under no circumstances was she to run faster. Miles 15-22 are pretty desolate on the course and also always tough in a marathon, especially for first timers. What once felt easy starts feeling difficult. It can get lonely and doubts can really set in. These are the miles that must be babied and planned for and respected. I was hoping the pace group would help her not feel so lonely and doubtful during this time and this hope was reinforced by her experience up to mile 13. I was still feeling that something in the air!
I needed to meet my mom a few blocks up before bolting to mile 23 (about 2 miles away). I had several good friends competitively running the marathon and I really wanted to cheer for them and give them position info if helpful. I knew I had a very tight time frame to run to that part of the course. I finally found my mom and grabbed my phone and my water and took off running all pregnant through the semi-hood. I was a little worried about that aspect of it, but it turned out fine. There were enough other like-minded (though not like-bodied) people doing the same so I wasn't the only running fool in the hood.
I have to say it was the longest 2 miles of my life. I so wanted to hustle, but I so don't have much hustle right now. The blocks just putzed by (or maybe I putzed by the blocks). But I finally made it and saw a woman who was very competitive with my friend NC, just as I arrived. Based on the mile 23 clock, this woman was on pace for about a 2:57. I kept my eyes peeled for NC. I saw another local woman in about 3:00 position, but no NC. Then I saw a few more in the low to mid 3:0x's, including my girl AR who I met last year while running the Akron Marathon. She ended up with a 3:06 in her second marathon ever--a 23:00 pr!
No NC. Around 3:10 pace I saw a girl who looked like NC and I thought it was her and I started cheering and then quickly realized it wasn't her! Ok. That must mean one thing: NC is AHEAD of 2:57 pace! Oh yeah!
I texted E with this info and within a few minutes got confirmation. NC was winning at mile 25! She went on to win her first marathon ever in 2:55 (after running a 1:29 first half, mind you). BADASS! (You can see where I get my name in this post). See something in the air!
Also around 3:10 position, I saw Joe Positive who was looking happy as can be and still light on her feet around mile 22.5. JP is not one to fake her feelings. It was a good day for her too. I ran with her here last year when she also came to Cleveland and I really missed the ability to do it again, but I had to behave. I gave her a Woo! and ran with her in my head.
I also saw many other friends. I don't think a single friend of mine had a bad day. Everyone seemed to be breathing that air.
In the meantime, I was walking from mile 23 to 22. Once I got to mile 22, I found some stairs and made myself sit for 30 minutes as I waited for my sister. I was not allowed to stand for 30 minutes. I MADE myself behave. It was hard. But I did it. #2 thanks me I am sure.
I got up after my rest period and walked a bit to get the blood flowing. And then right on time the 4:15 pace group arrived. I looked for my sister and didn't see her. And then a dude moved and there she was--a vision in a blue singlet and goofy white sunglasses. YES! She was executing the plan perfectly! YES! YES! YES!
I jumped in and she immediately started to cry. NO! NO! NO! Oh crap! I immediately thought she must be hanging on for dear life and feeling awful. I needed to calm her down. I was remained quiet and calm and ran around the water stop while she made it through. On her way out she was composed and I realized it was going so well she knew she was going to do it and was overwhelmed with emotion. Not yet! I warned her. Let's focus. We can cry in a couple of miles! She still was doing great. The pace was much harder now, but not too hard. She was exactly where you would expect anyone to be at mile 22 of a marathon when running the appropriate pace. It required much more focus on her part, but she was still managing just fine.
We got to mile 23 and saw my mom. My sister jumped off the course and gave her a hug. I normally wouldn't advise this, but it was ok. She was doing fine. I got her back on track and caught her back up to the pace group before letting her go again. I'd see her again around mile 25. I ran back to my mom and told her where to go next and booked it the mile down the street back through the semi-hood to mile 25.5 and then walked up the course a bit. I figured I had lots of time based on the runners who I saw passing me, all of whom were well ahead of her last time around. But much to my surprise I saw her WAY ahead of the pace group (in fact I never ever even saw them again!) She was hauling ass and looked relaxed and smooth!
OH YES! This is what legendary first marathons are made of. Let's do it!
So I jumped in and we worked on passing everyone in sight. We made the final turn and it's tough because you can see the finish line for 9.5 blocks before you get to it. It was getting hard for her, but we focused on the runners ahead letting them pull her to them. Meanwhile, I got the spectators cheering for her and all the people accomplishing the marathon. I made an even bigger fool of myself than when E ran by, but I didn't care. THIS was amazing!
My sister was a chubby nonathletic kid all her life. No one ever thought she could complete a marathon, let along run a negative split 4:10:46 in her first shot! No one. Not even her. But she did.
And no one ever thought E who didn't believe herself that she could run a sub-20 5k could ever run a 37:36 10k, but E did.
And no one ever thought that a novice marathoner could run a 4 minute negative split, winning her first ever marathon in 2:55 (that she only ran because she wanted to see if she liked marathons), but NC did.
And no one thought that a working mother of two very young kids could bounce back from cancer and run a 1:40 half just 5 months after getting the all clear from her oncologist, but Carmen did.
And no one ever thought that a lifelong smoker would pick up running after finally quitting in her late 30's, find out she is incredibly naturally talented and win prize money running a p.r. well into her 40's, but JP did.
And no one ever thought an overweight nonathletic mother of 3 who started running to lose weight, who ended up losing almost 100 lbs within 1.5 years would run a 3:06 in her second marathon ever, but AR did!
Forget Lebron. Believe in you!