Friday, December 3, 2010

Philly Marathon (Spectator) Redux

When the wakeup call came at 5 a.m., I’m not sure who leapt out of bed faster, my wife or me.  Rarely is there an occasion to get out of bed at 5:00 with excitement, but perhaps race mornings are the exception.  Funny thing is, I wasn’t even running this race! 

My lady friend and I post-marathon
Back in June, my wife and I ran our first trail race.  On the bus ride back to our car, she looked at me and said, “I’m ready to run another marathon.”  It’d been three years since we suffered through the scorching heat in Chicago.  I’d gone on and run the Vermont marathon to qualify for Boston, and then run this year’s Boston.  She traded marathon training for school work.

Not one to drag her feet, she called her dad in the car on the way home to rope him into it, and before we’d stepped back into the house, they were signed up for the Philadelphia Marathon. 

Suddenly, my training program was not the only one hanging from the fridge.  In the past, we’ve talked about what a time commitment it is to train for a marathon, then we discovered it was something we could do together.  So, on our precious Saturday and Sunday mornings, one of us would bike alongside the other, playing both water jockey and moral supporter, while the other ticked off the long run miles. 

And while I wasn’t training for the marathon, I felt like I was a part of it. 

Fifteen weeks and six days later, I soaked in the race atmosphere in Philadelphia.  People of all shapes and sizes clogged the streets on the way to the expo, the majority clad in running attire and a water bottle nearby. 

“Do you wish you were running?” she asked as I watched them pick up their race packets.
“I do.  I’m quite jealous.”
“Here,” my father-in-law said, thrusting his number at me.  “You can have mine.”  We shared a half-serious, half-kidding laugh. Could I pull it off, I wondered?

On race morning, my wife dressed and spooned down some oatmeal while I got a backpack together of post-race clothing for her to throw on.  We leashed up the dog (thank you Westin hotels for being dog-friendly) and headed outside into the crisp, cold morning a.k.a. perfect marathoning weather.  Like ants returning to the hill, droves of runners converged on the Philadelphia Art Museum steps for the start. 

The slight flutter of butterflies came to my stomach as we got closer.  Glimpsing the starting line and the nervous energy of those about to run, conjured feelings of races past.  Damn I wish I had been running.

With a final kiss and pat of the dog, I parted from my wife and her dad while they slipped into the starting corral and disappeared. 

Mattie and I started walking back toward the line when the gun went off and the dam of runners broke free.  We started a trot to make it to the start so that I could click my watch and keep track of her progress.

Once they ran by, I dialed up my friend whose husband was also running.  We decided to meet up at the 10K mark.  Mattie and I speed-walked through the empty Philadelphia streets until we came back along the race course.  Runners were already making their way past us.  I met up with Caroline and she froggered across the street to meet Mattie and I.  Trying to pick my wife out was like a moving game of “Where’s Waldo.”  But I finally picked her teal longsleever and white hat out.  Mattie might have seen her first because she went into full body wag.

“Looking great!” I called.  She darted over and planted a sweaty kiss on my mouth, barely breaking stride.

From there, Caroline and I hurried back to the start to catch her husband and Rachel once again at the halfway.  Given our spot we not only caught those two, but also the elite men finishing up behind us.  I caught a rush of adrenaline as the leader, in the full throes of pain and discomfort, staggered by us with no one in sight around him.  You could hear the cheers build as he neared the finish line.

My wife went by us effortlessly.  “This course can’t even handle you right now!” I cried to her before getting another sweaty kiss.  She’d picked up time since the 10K.  Her dad, however, decided to drop back and run the race as a half. 

Half the race down for both our runners, Caroline and I headed back into town for a bagel and much needed dose of caffeine.  Then it was back to the finishline. 

We squeezed in among the other fans, families, and friends.  Normally, I’m on the other side of the guard rail, fighting my own thoughts, urging myself on, and trying to soak in the encouragement.  But it’s quite another thing to be watching it.  As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, one of the best things about a starting line is taking a step back to look around at the others toeing the line with you. Their stories are as unique as yours, their journey just as great.  To watch this same people cross the finish line, some in agony, some in elation, others smiling, while still more smiling through tears, is inspirational in and of itself.

I kept looking at my watch knowing that she’d be coming soon.  Any minute now.  Any minute now.  Watch for the hat.  Find the shirt.  Then, I saw her.  She strode forward.

“Go, Rachel!” I yelled.  Her eyes gazed forward a few feet in front of her.  Maybe she didn’t hear me, I thought.  “Come on, Rachel!  You’re there, you’re there!” 

She turned her head and gave me a slight smile and nod. 

Mattie and I rushed off to go meet her at the end.  I watched her cross, clicked the watch, and gave a little fist pump at the four minute thirty second PR she set.

“So proud of you,” I said.
“I hurt,” she said.  “That last 10K…brutal.”
“But you made it, and PR’d no less!”

We walked (well some of us did) back to the hotel.  Rachel showered, a long hot shower, then we kicked back and ordered room service, waiting for the time to come to go for massages (hey, spectating is hard work too).

While I had a great time crewing and watching, the most rewarding moment was when she said, “We did it together.”

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