Monday, May 5, 2008
'My mommy's running ... today'
The morning was cold, and I wore gloves in the car.
Still, when we stepped out and began the short walk to the starting line, we knew it would be perfect.
We joined the crowd fanned out from the starting line, and before long I found myself alone. I sought out a bathroom in the football stadium and then I stretched, savoring the last moments of stillness.
I found my friend, Cara, again and we ditched our bags of stuff in a truck staffed by National Guardsmen. Miss Nebraska was singing The National Anthem and we ducked into the mass of runners behind the starting line.
The gun went off -- actually, it was a cannon; seriously -- and we started slow, walking, as we inched our way to the actual line. I clicked my watch and we were off. All 6,000 of us.
Almost right away, I felt emotional. There is just something about being with so many other people on a cold, bright morning doing the exact same strange-to-so-many-people thing. Running. Pure and simple.
The spectators along Lincoln's half-marathon course are amazing. Little boys held their hands out for high fives (I, of course, obliged as many as I could). Little girls held signs with their daddies that said, "Go, Mommy! We love you!" or "My mommy's running 26.2 today."
Others had signs that said, "99 percent of Nebraska decided not to run 26.2 miles today."
My favorite: "Your reason thanks you."
You see all sorts of people on a marathon course. Old men with beer bellies and no hair. Old women with outdated running clothes and gray hair. Young women in sports bras and tattoos. Young men in nothing but a pair of running shorts. People of all shapes and sizes and ages in between.
It really is something.
And somehow we all fit. Running doesn't care what you look like, how old you are, if you have a successful career or if nobody really likes you. Anyone can do it. And everyone is welcome.
I looked around as I ran Sunday. I read the signs, I thanked the kids giving high fives. I noticed the people who were watching. Just like the runners, the spectators were all ages, shapes and sizes. A baby just learning to walk toddled on his front lawn while his dad stood, hands in his pockets, just watching us all go past.
I was happy to pass the first mile mark in 9:05, almost exactly the pace I had cautiously hoped for. By mile three, I was on track to finish in under two hours, but I didn't get my hopes up yet. I still had a long way to go.
Before I knew it, I was at mile six and then seven and there was my personal cheering section, who I was thrilled to see. I gave Rye a kiss and then kept going. I figured those four seconds were worth it.
At mile eight or nine I saw them again and then I was almost done. I passed a giant tub of jelly beans, the tiny orbs spilled out onto the ground, and it made me smile. I decided against stopping for orange slices or bananas either, grabbing only one more cup of water, swishing the liquid in my mouth and spitting it out before bracing for the end.
Just after mile 10 when the race heads into the final straight stretch, I knew I could do it. I could finish in under 2 hours.
So I just kept going. One foot in front of the other, over and over again. At mile 12, I saw a crying baby in a stroller. His dad was halfheartedly offering the boy a baby biscuit or piece of bread. The kid just kept screaming. I felt like saying, "I know how you feel." But I didn't. Because I didn't. I was tired, yes, but I was having a great time.
Around the final bend, I gave it everything I had. It looked like an awkward, hobbled-sort of sprint, I'm sure, but as I crossed the finish line and clicked my watch and heard my friends and family cheering for me, nothing else mattered.
I was nowhere close to winning this half-marathon or even placing in my age group (nor will I ever be), but this, for me, was a victory.
My official time: 1:56:50.
It's one of those memories you hope never goes away.
(Cara, for her part, ran twice as long as me yesterday and smashed her personal record. She finished the 26.2 mile course in 3:50. I caught her at the end and she said she wanted nothing more than to stop running. I remember that feeling. But she kept going, of course, along with so many others I saw out my car window afterward, who were running the whole damn thing. Way to go!)