Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Spectation and participation

I had never been a spectator at a road race before. Let’s be honest, up until I joined TNT, I was completely oblivious to the sport—to the extent that I knew it existed, I thought it sounded horrible for everyone involved.

The VA Beach Half Marathon was the first race I ran that had any real spectator presence, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I especially appreciated the people who opened their hoses on the runners that day. It was not chilly that weekend, no it was not. During that race, Jackie and I decided that we would return the favor during the Marine Corps Marathon—in costume, no less. Or wigs. And cat ears. As the case may be.

I knew I wanted to cheer for Jeanne, and I knew that the end is where the cheering matters most, so I intended to hang out somewhere towards mile 20. But Jackie wanted to be near Georgetown, where we could get brunch, and also so she would have time to do the rest of the things she needs to do on her one day of weekend. So we agreed to meet in Georgetown at 9:30, in time to catch the second wave of starters, get some brunch, and then I would head towards the end of the course to continue my cheering.

I rode my bike to Georgetown that morning, and, not knowing how long it would take, ended up getting there at about 8:45 (answer: like 10 minutes)—just in time to see the men’s leaders fly through. I expected to be excited, and maybe a little bored, and grateful that I could stop and eat a bagel while all these other people were still running.

I did not expect to feel overcome. Yet here were these people who had trained for months for this day, this marathon, and this was their moment. I felt proud for these complete strangers, and worried for the ones who already looked a little ragged, less than five miles in. I was thrilled for them, as they waved at strangers, and hugged their friends.

My favorite runners were the ones who were in complete sync with their spectator partner. The ones who locked eyes from 20 yards away, grinning. They tossed their gloves or their long sleeved-shirts to their partners, gave them a big kiss, or just a wave and kept going. The partners ripped open their backpacks, threw in the discarded apparel and the camera, hopped on their bikes, and raced off to catch their runner another few miles later. One by one, these spectators smiled, took photos, waved, and peeled off.

More than anything, I was incredibly jealous of the runners. I desperately wanted to be out there on the course, having trained my hardest, floating through the early miles and pushing myself through the harder later ones (because that’s how a marathon goes, in my fantasy—no inkling of pain or injury in this vision).

When Jackie and Tim finally arrived (at 9:30, as planned), Jackie in a hot pink wig, and carrying pink leopard ears for me, we started cheering in earnest. We shouted almost every name we could read, and hollered for everyone else. We hooted for the people in costume (“Rock on Superman!”) and for the people wearing flags (“Yeah, Canada!” “Go Texas!). And we cheered for the people with charity singlets (“Go AIDS marathon!” “Yeah Team in Training! GO TEAM!”) and laughed over some of the mouthfuls we tripped over (Yeah St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital!”).

Most people seemed to appreciate the attention. Some complimented our Halloween flair. Some ignored us. But mostly we were having fun, working off each other, catching the people the other missed, and cheering together for the ones with Penn shirts or Eagles jerseys. Or at least, Jackie and I did. Tim didn’t seem to have the same cheerleader spirit, but he did clap for everyone, and cheer for the Eagles.

We cheered for Jeanne as she went by with her pace group, and eventually, when the rivers of runners had slowed to a trickle, and the buses were passing through, we walked down M Street in search of breakfast.

Later, after we had eaten, Jackie and Tim headed back to the metro, and I rode my bike towards the Tidal Basin, where the course would loop around for miles 15-20. It was still early, so I headed towards mile 15.

There were few spectators now, and these were the synched partners, leapfrogging the course in advance of their runners. They cheered for everyone who passed, until their runner appeared, and then they jetted off to the next spot.

Fifteen miles in, the day was heating up, and people were starting to look tired. Most were still going strong, although there was definitely some limping, some walking, and some set jaws. The runners seemed much more grateful for attention now than they did ten miles earlier, and one woman, who recognized me from M Street, smiled and said hello. It was harder work, though, cheering without Jackie, and when I ran into CML, from my TNT group, the jealousy kicked in again. He had joined up with the TNT training group as soon as he had gotten back from Anchorage, picking up the training at about week 4.

When Jeanne ran by, I couldn’t take it anymore, and I decided to start running. I told her (and myself) that I was running to keep her company, to cheer her on, and to help her get through the tough miles of the race. But, as usual, it was really all about me. It was about having an excuse to jump onto the course, to be a part of the action, and stop sitting on the sidelines.

I’ve read Jeanne’s account of the race, and she doesn’t give herself nearly enough credit. She was tired, and hurting, but she pushed through and never slowed down. She may have walked an extra interval or two, and she may have felt like she just wanted to curl up and die and never, ever, run another step. But she looked like a seasoned pro, and she always found energy to run for the cameras.

I babbled on about my weekend and my swimming and whatever else I could think of to keep her and W entertained, and sometimes I tried to cajole them into running more or running faster (not that it mattered—Jeanne ran when she could, whether I had suggested it or not).

At mile 20 we picked up Bex, who was even more high energy and encouraging than I was. She worried over Jeanne’s breathing and fatigue, then pronounced her fine, and reminded her how great she was doing.

And so we continued until the end, where the rest of Jeanne’s entourage was waiting with signs and flowers and more cheering. I had no intention of crossing the finish line, but totally did, and had to duck out of the way before a marine put an undeserved medal around my neck.

The only thing I regret is that I think, in our attempt to be good cheerleaders, we may have overdone it, and left Jeanne with the false impression that we were somehow partially responsible for her performance at the marathon. Of course that’s not true: no one can run a marathon for someone else, and it was Jeanne’s two legs, and nothing else, that carried her across 26.2 miles.

And after this account, you’ll probably not be surprised to hear that I’ve decided to start training for the New Orleans marathon. Maybe. Kind of. I’m not sure.

Given all the rest of the stuff that’s going on in my life right now, the logical part of my brain says not to. That I have enough to keep me busy, and that a marathon takes a lot of physical and mental energy, and that right now I need to save my mental energy for Senegal or Peace Corps.

Plus, it’s getting colder, and the sun sets earlier. And I only have 14 weeks to train—but if I want to go to Senegal in February, then the New Orleans Marathon (the first Sunday in February) is the latest marathon that fits into those plans.

Lots of reasons not to.

But I want to.

I think.

I made a schedule yesterday, and it intimidates the hell out of me. But the mileage for this week isn't too bad. So I think I’ll try it, and see how it goes.

And, if this is anything like last spring, I’ll just keep doing that until marathon day.


We’ll see.


Blogger Denise said...

What a fabulous idea to do New Orleans - I'm totally behind you!

3:35 PM  
Blogger a.maria said...

YEAH you will, and you'll love yourself for it!

hells yeah! get out there and run... your body, mind, SOUL, with thank you for it! ;)

(yeahhhh... i obviously am way missing running right now. i have to put all my energy into living vicariously thru other people still training their hearts out!)

4:12 PM  
Blogger jeanne said...

oh you so should do it!! what's a measly little 26.2 miles!! (How flat is the N.O. course? That would be my first question!) And stop yer worrying. You and your krazy antics and funny stories helped me, and you will just have to accept it!! Just like I did!

Great write up! I wish I'd been there to see all that!! Tee hee. (I do remember the cat ears though. And saying something to you in g-town.)

But the N.O. marathon? Just. Do. It.

10:17 PM  
Blogger Bex said...

I think it would be great if you ran the Mardi Gras Marathon. I bet you would do great, having already run one marathon. And you can provide encouragement to me when I hit The Wall.

12:00 AM  

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