Saturday, October 15, 2011

On the Flip Side


Cheerleaders

Sunday was the Portland Marathon.  I spent all day Saturday a ball of nervous energy, pacing around trying to keep my hands and mind busy.  Saturday night I laid out my clothes for the morning, thought through my breakfast and snack plans, set my alarm for o-dark thirty, and went to bed hoping I could turn my mind off and sleep.   Sunday morning I woke to my alarm and bounded out of bed instantly awake and excited.  It was marathon day!  But instead of donning my running clothes and grabbing my bib number, I donned warm clothes to stay dry in and grabbed an extra cup of coffee for the road.  This year I was running the Portland Marathon on the flip side – as a fan, not a runner.  It’s been a week and I still can’t tell which was more fun.

our spot on the bluff
My quiet, reserved best friend Kelly volunteered to come with me so I wouldn’t have to run around the race course chasing friends by myself.  Sarah’s sister-in-law Mandee was also running so Sarah joined us at the last minute and we all set out early, but not nearly as early as the runners.  (BONUS for being a fan).  We staked out a perfect cheering spot on the bluff above the Willamette River just past the twenty-mile mark then took a quick detour to Heavenly Donuts.  We picked up a dozen donuts to eat while we waited (talk about an oxymoron) and giggled when the old guys in front of us line didn’t laugh at my joke about the donuts being heavenly.

my cheesy sign
Some of the big marathons, Portland included, print your name in big bold letters on your marathon bib so spectators can cheer for you by name.  I abandoned my chair and my donut, stood right on the edge of the road, and cheered loudly for each runner by name.  Sarah joined me.  Kelly stood back clapping quietly and inwardly giggling and our running monologue.  “Go Ben!  You’re doing great!  Nice pace Travis!  Don’t quit Theo.  Hey a girl – you’re awesome Megan.  Look at you hanging with the boys!”  Some racers got huge smiles and gave thumbs up or high fives.  Others appeared to be in great pain and just grimaced in our direction.  Some runners didn’t indicate they heard us at all, but it didn’t stop our enthusiasm.  At one point Kelly said, “They should pay you guys to do this.  You’re awesome!” 

Six of my friends were running the marathon: 
My neighbor Jon who runs marathons so often he could probably run one in his sleep.   He was shooting for a personal best time and we knew if we saw him he’d be in the early pack of racers. 
Carissa, my running partner in crime, who committed to training for this race with the intention of trying to qualify for Boston.  She trained relentlessly – miles and miles and miles – and went into the race in tip-top shape and running faster than she ever has in her life.
Tanya, my other running partner in crime, who entered the race attempting to run her first marathon on a bum knee that kept her out of weeks of training.   Fast and determined, I had no doubt she’d make it across the finish line in spite of her injury. 
Sisters and friends of mine – Ally and Mandee – both running their first marathon and committed to running the entire race together from start to finish.  
Kathleen – a new friend that I’m going to Haiti with – also running her first marathon after months of committed training.  

Carissa looking great at mile 20

I hoped to see all my friends on the course but HAD to see Carissa finish this race.  It felt almost sinful to let her run a big race without me.  The closer Carissa’s pace group got to our cheering spot, the more nervous I got.  When she came into view I momentarily lost my ability to breathe.  It was so exciting and so emotional.  

Weeks and weeks of getting up before her husband left for work to run, logging miles on the weekends, adjusting her schedule to be a wife, mom, friend and marathon runner culminated on this day, in this race.  Not surprisingly, she was running strong with the 3:30 pace group - still running an eight-minute mile pace at mile 20.5!  

I took off down the street with her, clunking away in my rain boots and talking non-stop.  I don’t remember much of our conversation, but I do remember praying with her and swallowing a lot over the lump of tears in my throat.  Do all spectators feel this proud of their loved ones who run?  Sheez!

Carissa and Tass at the finish
After Carissa passed, Kelly and I packed up and headed to the finish line to cheer Carissa (and hopefully my other friends) in to the finish.  Sarah stayed behind at mile 20 to wait for Mandee and Ally and ended up having her own Swallow Back the Emotions moment with them.  We found Carissa’s husband about three tenths of a mile from the finish line.  Shortly after we arrived, the 3:30 pace group ran by.  Carissa wasn’t with them.  

My heart sank and I started pacing and praying.  I think I may have actually been muttering under my breath,  “C’mon Carissa.  C’mon Carissa.”  Time stood still as we waited and prayed.  Waited and prayed.  Finally, after what seemed like forever but was really only 60 seconds, she appeared.  Clearly tired but still running strong, she was seconds away from finishing her second marathon and potentially doing it in a Boston-qualifying time!  

We chased her around the corner to the reunion area and I re-loaded the “Track Your Runner” web page.  We held our breath while it loaded and I lost it when it showed her finish time as 3 hours 32 minutes 47 seconds - a Boston qualifying time and good enough for 25th place in her entire division!  I must have looked like a crazy fool jumping up and down in the reunion area shouting, “She did it!  She did it!” but it was too exciting to be mature.  

Carissa and I - Boston Qualifiers!
When Carissa emerged we hugged and celebrated and I cried for both of us.  It was really special and I know I wouldn’t have appreciated how fast and smooth her race was if I would have been running next to her struggling to keep up and berating myself for thinking it was a good idea to try to run 26.2 miles.

We saw Tanya finish her race – just over four hours for her first marathon and with an injury to boot – before we had to leave the race to rejoin our families.  I stalked my remaining friends through the website and caught up with them after the race.

Tanya, me and Carissa
The runner’s high lasted all afternoon.  My brain was spinning and excitement ran high.  I couldn’t sit still even though I was tired and had to upload pictures immediately.  Running the race as a spectator felt eerily similar to actually running.  The only difference was that my body wasn’t sore and exhausted.  Bonus.  I loved running the marathon on the flip side as a spectator so much that I just might actually literally run it next year.  Thanks a lot Carissa!  


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