Sunday, January 15, 2006

Houston Marathon

This year I had the bright idea of watching the marathon splits for the lead runners on my computer before going out to my favorite corner near mile 23 to watch. This worked perfectly. Instead of getting out there way early or just barely too late, Dan and I were out there and ready when the first runner came around the bend five minutes later. I was very surprised that there was no helicopter this year. Usually the lead runner gets a helicopter in addition to the pace car and police escort. Oh well. If I were an elite runner, I'd insist on a helicopter, but that's just me.

Runners trickled by slowly for the first half hour. Many of them were grimacing in pain, but their bodies kept going strong. The next half hour we started seeing runners whose forms had deteriorated. Pain was etched on their faces and there were odd little things like flailing arms, a catch in a step, a sideways tilt of the pelvis.

Things settled down a bit after that. Dan had to leave and I ran home too, to use the bathroom and shed one of my shirts. It was turning out to be a warm day. I would've liked to have ditched my jacket, but I had loaded the pockets with things that my friends on the course might need, and it wouldn't be a disaster if I got a little warm later on.

I ran back to my corner about the time the 3:40s were going by. Then the 3:45s. This is always about the time I start getting misty-eyed. I look up Memorial Drive and think about what I could've done if I wasn't dealing with an injury and if my training had gone according to plan. I can be pretty chipper out there watching the fast runners and the ones who are slower than I would've been even on a worst case day. But when the ones in my pace range go by it's hard to keep my mind from drifting into whatifs.

But luckily I didn't have much time for that. I saw Steve, introduced myself and ran with him to the next water stop. He was doing great and I hope he thinks so, too.

Then I went back to my corner and waited for my friend Bonnie. She came around the corner alone and off pace but looked strong and was chatty, so I fell in with her and we ran up Allen Parkway together. I was disappointed at the music this year. Last year there was music almost the entire way up Allen Parkway, but this year it was pretty scanty. And when we got downtown here was no music at all until we turned the corner onto the last straightaway to the finish line. The finish was six blocks away but even I, who had only run three miles, felt like it kept receding the more we ran. At least we had music, though.

We were almost to the barricades when a guy collapsed up ahead of us. The only person who moved to help him was a guy with a half marathon finishers' medal around his neck, so I said good-bye to Bonnie and went to see if I could help the guy on the ground. His name was Mark and his calves had locked up. I tried to massage one and it was like a rock. I took a packet of Bio-Freeze out of my jacket pocket, gave some to the guy with the medal, squeezed the rest into my hands and we went to work on Mark's legs.

"You're a cyclist," I observed, hoping to distract him from the pain.

"Uh, yeah."

"I could tell by your razor stubble," I teased. "You do tris, too?"

"Not today, he's not," Medalguy said.

"Well of course not today," I replied, and we all laughed.

It took a few minutes, but we finally started making a little progress. Mark's calves were hardly loose, but they weren't bricks any more, either. We got him to his feet and I walked him to the final barricade ahead of the finishing chute. I wished him well and he took off at a slow trot that must've felt like it would kill him. It brought tears to my eyes.

After that I started walking back up the course, looking for other friends of mine. I was around mile 24 when I ran into Sylvia. She was running alone, which isn't typical because she has lots of friends. So I fell in with her and found she had been dealing with a hurt foot since mile 8. I ran with her to the start of the barricades and then walked back up the course again.

I was starting to think I wouldn't see anyone else when I saw Felix around mile 24, walking with the big American flag he always races with. I ran up to him and asked what was up, why was he walking? He said everything was hurting and it was too hot out. I've never run with Felix for very long because he usually has an entourage, but this time he must've been in a pretty bad spot because as I fell in with him and he kicked up the pace to a shuffle, he asked me to talk to him. So I talked. I talked about anything that came to mind. And every time I fell silent, he'd say, "Keep talking." And so we went along like that, sometimes trotting, sometimes walking, down Allen Parkway, into downtown and up to the barricades where I stopped and watched him run through the crowds as the announcer called his name.

By now the race was almost over. The race clock read 5:52 and there wasn't much time for anyone still out on the course. A heavy man, shirtless and jiggly slogged past me. I glanced at my watch and smiled. He was going to make it and have bragging rights forever over all those skinny people at the office. An elderly woman passed me, head up, striding confidently. She would make it too and put the lie to anyone's assertion that you're ever too old to chase your dreams.

I wound through the shadows of the downtown skyscrapers and back into the sunshine and green of the paths along the bayou. Stragglers were still coming in, chased out of the roads and onto the sidewalks, most of them holding up bravely, all of them disappointed. Just finishing a marathon is something to be proud of, and I know they’ll understand once they're beyond the disappointment of today.

By now I was tired and hurting. Both hips hurt and my feet hurt from my new insoles. My muscles were tight from yesterday's run. And I was thirsty. So thirsty! I hadn't taken any of the water offered by the volunteers, so I was glad to come up to the water fountain at Eleanor Tinsley Park.

It seemed to take forever to walk all the way home. Three miles is a long way when your feet and hips hurt. But it was nothing compared to a marathon. So I soldiered on, stopping to help a straggler give directions by cell phone for someone to come pick her up by the dog park at Montrose.

Then there was another water fountain, Waugh Drive, a little dog-leg and I was at my bridge to Jackson Hill. The bridge seemed higher than usual. I guess I was more tired and sore than I realized. At the top I stopped and looked down on my trails and looked toward downtown where so many people achieved their dreams today. It made me smile.

And then I walked down the other side of the bridge and up the street to where my own finish line and my own fans were waiting for me.

Recent Workouts
Today: approx 5 mile run, 5 mile walk


nancytoby said...

Good for you for cheering folks in and helping the runners! The Houston Marathon doesn't have a great reputation for supporting back-of-the-packers, unfortunately.

Bolder said...

wow! such selfless acts. you're a good person. good on you!!

Kewl Nitrox said...

We need more people like you at the races! Inspiring post!

Barbara said...

That was so nice of you to take the time and effort to help him out. I bet you won't forget that moment!

Steve Bezner said...

Thank you for running with me yesterday. I'm sure I wasn't the most pleasant person to talk too at the time.

I hope I can re-pay you for your kindness to fellow runners.

Thank you,

PuddyRat said...

I dunno. Sounds to me like you did your own darned marathon getting to and from the race, then running back and forth between mile 24 and the barricades. How about you come run with me at mile 24 of IMC? I'd sure like the company. This is by far one of the best spectator race reports I've read. Thanks for sharing your experience and for being such a terrific race supporter. I hope you are feeling better.

Chris said...

Wow! I love this post! You've got me all psyched up and ready to run (except that I have another half day of work here in the office :( ).

Kudos to you for the support you gave those runners all day long!

Ellie said...

Oh, wow. I have got to do this at one of these marathon... instead of running it myself. You ROCK!!

Sorry I missed your birthday. I'm glad you were born!

Cassie (TIGGS) said...

that is so awesome! way to support the runners :) :) )