This past Sunday was the Portland Marathon. It would have been, and should have been, my 5th Marathon. But, it wasn't. It was a difficult decision, but I realized in April, when I could barely finish a half-marathon, that I needed to put myself on the injured list and sit out this year. I walked and finished my first Portland Marathon on 10/10/10, and before even finishing, I knew I wanted to do another. Running or walking a marathon is like getting a tattoo. It is absolutely impossible to stop at just one. There is no higher high, than the sense of accomplishment you feel after crossing the finish line after having spent the past several months training. You spend months putting in hundreds/thousands of miles while normal people are still asleep in the mornings, or out enjoying happy hour in the evenings. If you've ever had a desire to do a marathon, I would encourage you to start training now. Register for one. Train. Feel awesome. It will be the best decision you've ever made for yourself. It will change everything about life, from the way you view challenges and hardships, to what "fuel" you decide to put into your body. You will change your perspective on just about everything. When you train for, and finish, a marathon, your mindset becomes one of - "anything is possible."
If participating in a marathon gives you one of the greatest highs possible, then you can imagine the utter disappointment you would feel after having completed a few, to then know that your body is in no condition to do another. I can usually talk myself out of the funkiest of funks, but knowing I was too injured to push myself to train for this year's marathon, sent me into a horrible case of the blues. I was bummed. I was sad. I wasn't training. I was gaining weight. I wasn't getting to experience all of the camaraderie with my other runner and walker friends. I was upset with myself and upset with my body, even though I knew the decision to sit out this year was the right decision.
My husband didn't like to see me beating myself up. The day before the marathon he said to me, "you know what will make you feel better? You should go down to the marathon and cheer for your friends." I resisted at first. I told him I was afraid it would make me too sad. He persisted, reminding me, "you like it when your friends cheer for you, so now's your chance to go cheer for your friends." He was right. He was absolutely right. The minute I allowed myself to imagine my friends crossing the finish line, I was instantly filled with excitement and nervousness for them! I couldn't think of anything I wanted to do more, than to go and cheer on my friends. Well, I wanted to cheer and make posters!!!
I immediately messaged my friend Becki, who is pretty much the very best marathon cheerleader in the entire universe. She knows the best routes for cheering for a person in the Portland Marathon at multiple points throughout the entire course. I would never have been able to cross that finish line were it not for the support of my friends and family. They are both cheerleader and pit crew. Becki cleared her schedule for Sunday and happily agreed to chauffeur us so we could cheer on our old classmates. Becki was in for the race on Sunday, but she was busy Saturday, so I was on my own for making posters. After a not-so-quick-trip to Jo-Ann Fabrics & Crafts to get poster-making supplies, I finally started crafting our posters at around 10pm the night before the marathon.
We met bright and early on Sunday morning to figure out logistics of how to cheer for both our runner friend and our walker friends. Our runner friend is fast. I have no doubt that she could qualify for Boston, if that's something she wants for herself. The other two friends are walkers and they had told me their goal was just to finish. We had to strategize our stops in such a way that we would be able to cheer for both our runner friend and walker friends, and we wanted to see them all at multiple points throughout the race.
We planned to see our runner friend at the out-and-back along Front Avenue (which is around mile 6 - 11ish), then get her again on the other side of the St. Johns Bridge, then go back to the out-and-back to cheer on our walker friends. After seeing our runner friend, Shannon, we knew she was looking strong and on pace to meet her goal. I also knew she had other friends there to cheer her on. When we couldn't figure out the logistics, we decided just to stay there to cheer for our walker friends. During that time at our first post, we got to see thousands of participants, from runners to walkers, and everyone in between. We knew Shannon was looking strong, she would finish, and there was a high likelihood she could even set a PR. She was going to be just fine and she had lots of other friends there to see her through.
Shannon was in beast mode and totally came out of nowhere, before I could even ready myself to get her in focus. She's an animal and she did excellent!
Since our walker friends had said their goal was to finish, and almost alluded to the possibility that they might not make it, we made up our minds that we were determined to see them cross that finish line and we were going to stay for the entire race to make sure it happened! We weren't sure if either of our walker friends, Anita or Hillary, had family or friends there to cheer - so we were going to cheer enough to be both their family and their friends!
Our "will recycle this sign" sign, was a hit at stop one and people even stopped to take pictures.
I didn't take any pictures between our first stop, and the finish. We were too busy cheering! (NOTE: If you're reading this on an iPhone, these two pictures might be sideways. I'm sorry. This was perplexing. If they're right side up on a macbook, they're sideways on the iPhone. When i fix them for the iPhone, they're sideways on the laptop. Weird! Let's just pretend this didn't happen.)
After the first cheering post at mile 6-11, we drove over to NW Portland and cheered again around mile 12. By then, other runners and walkers recognized us from the first stop, and started to adopt us. Anita and Hillary were totally surprised to see us. I'm fairly certain they didn't expect to see us again. We then made our way down St. Helens Road and honked and cheered as we drove by. Again, I think Anita and Hillary thought that would be the last they saw of us.
We made our way across the St. Johns Bridge, which is exhausting, even when you're riding in a little smart car. By then, Becki and I had both sustained serious blisters. Cowbell-ringing blisters. We were determined to push through the pain. There was one upside to not actually participating in the marathon. After the St. Johns Bridge, we stopped at Burgerville for lunch. Now I don't think I'll ever be able to do another marathon without thinking about the Burgerville which is just on the other side of the St. Johns Bridge. I wish I hadn't learned this. After lunch, we then made our way to our next post, just around the bend from the St. Johns Bridge, which would have been around mile 17.5. The complete strangers who had recognized us from the previous stops were now commenting to us and thanking us for cheering them on. When Anita and Hillary saw us, I think the were in complete disbelief that we were sticking with them! We told them we're stalking them and would see them down the road a ways. Anita expressed her concern that she might not make it another mile.
Our next post was around mile 20, where we had just missed Hillary, but we were able to see Anita again and we were able to tell her that we would see her at the finish line. We told all of the random strangers who recognized us and adopted us as their own cheerleaders, that we would see them at the finish line as well. We wanted them to know someone was going to be there, expecting to see them cross that finish line, hoping it would help squash any little monsters of self-doubt creeping into their minds. At this point, not only were we fully invested in seeing Anita and Hillary finish, but there were hundreds of other people with whom we now had a connection. We were rooting for everyone!
After mile 20-ish, we had to head downtown to the finish line area. Most marathons and half-marathons have a time limit by which you must finish, or you're re-routed. You can still finish, but often times it means you're moved from the street to the sidewalk. In the Portland Marathon, they completely re-route you. As we made our way down to the finish, we could see they were starting to re-route the walkers. I was so stressed. The re-route looked like it was more difficult, and it seemed like it even added distance. I know how painful those last few miles can be, and the thought of a more difficult re-route made my heart ache for everyone.
We made it to the finish line area where we were able to cheer and cry and cheer and cry. We got to see lots of other finishers, including a dog, a woman celebrating her 70th birthday, an elderly woman near 90 years old who was doing her 47th marathon, a couple who held hands the entire marathon, and several people who when they saw their loved ones at the finish line, completely broke down into tears. Believe me, everyone cries at the finish line or just before. You're at complete physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion and when you enter the finish chute, your emotions come bursting out and there's nothing you can do to hold them back. Then add in your friends or family, and you're near complete emotional melt-down. The tears just happen. It's all good. Let 'em flow.
All of the sudden, volunteers started tearing down the finish chute. The banners came down. The Finish Line came down. Gone were the cheerleaders, the announcers and the giant timer clock...and then came something you just don't want to see; the police car that indicates the end of the pack.
Thinking the police car wouldn't arrive until every walker had finished, we grew concerned. Our friends hadn't yet finished. We checked the online tracker to find their whereabouts, and then had a momentary freak-out. According to the online tracker, they had stopped shortly after we saw them last. We were sad and in disbelief. They looked strong when we last saw them. They appeared tired, but strong, and like they would definitely finish. After some quick thinking, we tracked the bib numbers of some of the walkers who had just finished and the online tracker showed they had stopped as well. Clearly, they just crossed the finish line in front of our very eyes, so we realized that the on-line tracker was just down, and the police car was only there to re-route the finish to the alternate area. Our friends hadn't stopped. They would be finishing any moment!
Let me tell you what happens after the banners are torn down, the finish line is torn down, and the announcer stops announcing...what happens next is that the greatest athletes in the world start to cross the newly re-positioned finish line.
The finish line changes from a cordoned-off chute, to a little area near the World Trade Center. The remaining volunteers form a line to point finishers into the new finish area.
After most people have gone home, is when you see the biggest display of guts and relentless determination. I cried. We cried. Every person who crossed the new finish line was as determined and as strong as the first person who crossed the finish line. To me, they were even more brave. They had more guts. They had more relentless determination than a naturally gifted runner, because they weren't naturally gifted. They worked through each and every single step. They've been out there working twice as long as some people, but they never gave up. They kept going.
When we saw our friends nearing the finish, we nearly broke down as well. It had been a long, hot, very hot, day and they had just given it their all to cross that finish line. They dug deep. They did it. When we saw our friends, I thought it was pretty cool that we happened to know the greatest athletes in the world. Finishing = Winning.
Anita, Hillary and Shannon - congratulations on your finish! You're all awesome!