The 10th Annual Ogden Marathon played host to a good group of Rexburgers, including me and my brothers. Was it fun? Sure! (I can say that now that its over). Was it worth it? Yes! (I wouldn't have answered that question the same way at the start of the race, though). Marathons...(sigh). You know, although growing in popularity, it's really just not normal to intentionally wake up at 3:30am to drive up a canyon where you wait in freezing weather until 7am just so you can run 26.2 miles with 2000 strangers. But people do it. We did it. And we'll do it again.
For any given runner, a marathon doesn't really begin the day of the race. For some, a race begins with the first day of the typical 18 week training program. But for my brothers and me, our marathons all started way back in 1986 when our Dad ran his first 5K race at the New Hampshire Greenfield State Park 4th of July Fun Run.It's all his fault, you know. Dad didn't have to run, but he chose to and the dominoes began to fall. (It's always good to have someone to blame, by the way. We love our scapegoats). My brothers Don, Jim, Jon and I watched Dad run his first race, watched him finish and fall on the ground, pleased and panting, and watched the paramedics bend over him in concern. He was fine, just tired. And that's when I realized you run a race not because it's easy, but because it is satisfying.
That summer, Jim, Jon and I started running on our own. Jim joined the High School cross-country running team. Later, when Jon was in High School, he also joined the running team. I never joined a team, but I always ran on my own. We'd caught the bug.
Leave New Hampshire for a new setting: nearly twenty years ago, Fourth of July, Rexburg, Idaho. Aka, "Whoopie Days." The 5K Fun Run. There was my dad. And there were my brothers and me. Don "ran" in the fun run in his wheelchair, driving it with the electronic sensors in his head-rest. We tied a bathrobe belt on the end of the chair to hold on to so we could help Don steer straight. It was a slow 5K, but it was fun. Ah, yes, those were the days.
Now jump forward to yesterday, May 15th, 2010. Ogden, Utah. The full 26.2 mile marathon is about to begin. Don has an adult running chair, complete with a helmet we don't use, various pillows and blankets to prop him up, and an official bib # pinned to his winter coat. Jim, Jon and I hop around in the dark, trying to stay warm. It is 5:30am, and the race doesn't begin until 7am. They told us to be at the start before 5:45am or we wouldn't be allowed in. It is cold. It is dark. Don and I both have miserable colds. But we've been training for Ogden - our third sibling marathon - since we signed up in January. And the day has come.
As a side note, the problem with actually signing up for a marathon is that you kind of feel committed to do it. You get a thrill telling people you've signed up - as if signing up is equivalent to already running it. But when it comes down to race day, you seriously question your sanity. If only you hadn't told anyone, then you could just stay in bed and none would be the wiser...Meanwhile, the race day jitters are thankfully turning to race day excitement, and the further you get from that 3:30am alarm, the more alert and eager you become. The thrill replaces the dread, and you remember why you like to run...(unless you're sick on race day like I was - then the thrill didn't show up until mile ten!).
We had a special permit that allowed Dad to drop us off at the start. No other cars were allowed except official race vehicles. We arrived before any other racers, but it wasn't long before they came.
There we were, up above Huntsville, just below Red Rock Outfitters Ranch, standing out of the way while 80 buses pulled up and dropped off their load. They kept coming and coming, bus after bus, depositing runner after runner. They walked stiffly off the buses into the black cold air. Warming fires were burning in the field - there must have been fifty fires at least. Banks of port-a-potties welcomed their guests in a constant flow all the way through the 7am race start.
Water and sports drinks, Clif bars and GU, people with their secret running weapons in their running bags (arsenal to help them through the next few hours), murmurs in the cold, lines and more lines, circles around the campfires as people took turns scorching their freezing legs, hands shaking, cups sloshing...some of the shaking was cold, some was nervousness. The tension and excitement were palpable. As the black night faded and day began approaching, the dull murmur changed to enthusiastic chatter. A shift in everything as darkness made way for dawn and our nerves scooted over to make room for excitement. We were in a group that instantly became a community not of strangers, but of runners. And we knew we weren't competing against these new campfire friends, instead we were running with them, cheering each other on, each in pursuit of our own goals, but all collectively in pursuit of the identical and ultimate goal - to run this marathon.
I really like running with my brothers. It is an entirely different race when I run solo. I push myself when I'm alone, and it's not much fun. But when my brothers & I are pushing Don, it's a huge adventure. Don has a magic about him, of course, that attracts good Karma. Good vibes. Good people. Don brings the good out in the world around him. I like to hover around him just to get a taste of the goodness he both exudes and attracts. We met some really good people at the race. Or, I should say, DON met some really good people and I stood next to him, smiling.
(For example, see this blurry picture: Bart Yasso - a famous runner - now knows who Don is!)
Of course we'd meet great people anyway, but it's just easier with Don's smile. I have to say that it restores your faith in humanity when you see a group of freezing runners voluntarily give up their fire to make room for a stranger in a running chair, and the same shivering runners linger to chat and share ours and their stories.
Finally it was time to line up. Runners positioned themselves according to their projected pace - the fastest 6 minute milers line up closest to the front, then 7-minute milers behind them, and so forth, until the runners who were there just to run their best and finish take up the majority of the queue. We belonged with that majority, but instead we stood at the very very front, along with one other buddy runner team - "Team Bart" they called themselves. A white-haired gentleman pushing his neighbor and friend Bart in their own make-shift running chair. We are instant comrades.
Wheelchair racers always go first, that's the reason we're in front, not because we're vying for the enviable position. In fact, usually (and we were told this would happen in Ogden) the wheelchairs are supposed to take off a few minutes before everyone else. This keeps everyone happy as no one has to stumble over an awkward chair or team of running buddies. However, the early start was cancelled and we had to begin with the speedsters beside and behind us.
The countdown. The stopwatches. The excitement. Finally, the race began. A wave of runners washed over us, and we tried to be as helpful as possible to the crowd. We ran on the far right while long, fast legs whipped past us. Thankfully, we didn't trip a single runner. After a few minutes, the race settled down. We waved goodbye and good luck to Team Bart, then hunkered down for the long haul.
Runners are really nice people. We had so many high fives, cheers, and smiles that I couldn't even begin to count them. I loved that people would say, "Good job!" and Don would say, "You, too!" He talked for us which was great, especially when we were breathless. The miles passed slowly at first, then they just passed with little notice on our part. We did mark the miles so we could switch pushing Don every two miles. It took us a little over an hour to do the first 8 miles. Long enough to get into a rhythm. Dad had agreed to meet us at mile 8 to check on our status. Since Don had not felt well in the morning, the first 8 miles were a trial period. He could back out at mile 8 if he still didn't feel well.
Like so many things, however, once you get started you find it's not as bad as you thought. Don never even played with the idea of backing out when we saw Dad at mile 8. We stopped briefly just to drop off the warm clothes we had shed, then we were back on the course for the next three plus hours.
At mile 13.1 we ran under the starting banner for the half-marathon. Crowds lined the streets and cheered wildly. It was very cool. Then we hit mile 14. The one big hill.
You could see the hill for a good half mile or so before you even got on it. It looked really long and steep from the side. But - once again - like so many things it wasn't as bad as we'd thought.
True, it was bad enough, but it was over quickly.
Along the race we kept passing or being passed by the same people. We would walk at aid stations, they'd pass us. They'd walk at aid stations, we'd pass them. It became a game of leap frog, and we got to know our new friends by face, even if not by name. I think one favorite was a guy (I don't know his name!) who we found out lives in Sugar City, the town neighboring our hometown of Rexburg. I don't know how many times he'd run up from behind, calling out, "Hey, Rexburg!" and we'd call back, "Hey, Sugar!" I can only imagine what thoughts crossed the minds of runners and volunteers around us as we called the man Sugar...
The volunteers and the aid stations were fabulous. Water, Powerade, GU, bananas, oranges, Clif bars, and encouragement were all available at each aid station. A well-organized, well-staffed, and well-stocked race like Ogden all combined to make running the marathon relatively delightful!
The scenery really was spectacular. After wide views of the country around us, we made our way between high, sheer cliff walls that flanked either side of the road and the reservoir. We poured down the narrow, winding canyon until we were dumped out onto a paved
walking/running path. The tree-lined path meandered through parks and beside a creek, and at last the miles really began to count. Mile 23. Almost there. Bart Yasso, the famous runner we'd met the day before, passed us with an encouraging word. Mile 24. Still almost there. Mile 25. Aren't we there yet? Then the last mile we ran down the city street where we saw the Finish banner up ahead. Out of the crowd came a yell, "STEPHANIE!!!" It was my husband and kids, rooting for us. That one little moment made any pain during the previous hours melt away - and I was thrilled.
Mile 26. A little bit more. The clock was running before our eyes. 4 hours, 28 minutes and 40 seconds - Mile 26.2 - FINISH! It was over. We had done it again. Bart Yasso high-fived us as we stopped running and walked now to volunteers ahead. One by one we each bowed our heads as a volunteer placed a yellow ribboned finisher's medal over our heads. We made our way through the crowd, by-passing the runner's court. We wanted to go directly to our families: our dad, my husband and kids, Jim's wife and kids, and Jon called his family who couldn't make it. We all missed Mom who was in Maine, but still somehow we were all in this together. Our sibling marathons are definitely a huge family affair. None of us would have even considered a race without the example of Dad, the support of spouses, and the cheers of our children. It makes running fun.
Since Don was the first of the wheelchair racers to finish the marathon, he got to bring home a First Place plaque. It is very cool. Team Bart has the second place. Just as cool.
There were quite a few people from Rexburg running the different Ogden races that day. We had friends - a married couple - run the half. They were new to running, and it was their first half ever. They said afterwards they'd do it again. Another runner friend ran her first full marathon that day, and finished in 3:30! That's a good fifteen - twenty minutes under the time needed to qualify for the Boston Marathon! Everyone has different reasons and goals, and everyone has a chance to succeed, whether it is in the 5K (3.1 miles), 10K (6.2 miles), half (13.1 miles) or full marathon (26.2). A race like Ogden is a huge conglomerate of strangers brought together for different reasons, where each person plays their part in making the community function as a whole, and makes the whole succeed in the ultimate goal of starting, and hopefully finishing, a race together.
Everyone's success was mine, and mine was everyone's. Part of a whole. That's the difference between going out for a run and joining a race; that's why I race.