October 12, 2008

Different Point of View

I went to my third Chicago Marathon today, only this time I wasn't running. I was supporting friends and was there just for fun, a totally different experience than my past two years at this race. I didn't have to worry about my horrible hydration and eating on Saturday or the fact that I'd gotten a sum total of 10 hours sleep in two days. I had as many drinks as I felt like the night before without feeling guilty. I was able to roll out of bed an hour before the race, get dressed and walk out the door without wondering if I'd had enough water, eaten early enough or forgotten anything. All I had to do was walk to the race, meet up with the group I was spectating with, memorize what the runners were wearing and remember the miles we promised to be at. Not hard at all.

A New York friend dropped out of the race so I was primarily there to support my friend Tony, who I met at Ironman Wisconsin, and some others from Beginner Triathlete. It was nice to have a group to watch the race with, especially since a couple are also doing Ironman Wisconsin next year. It was really humid and already getting warm at the start, but not nearly as bad as last year. Everyone looked good and seemed ready to go.

We walked up to mile 3.5 and found a good spot right at the curb on the left. Once we saw our runners, we planned to walk one block over to mile 11.5 to see them again, then split up for the various finishes. We grabbed coffee along the way and still had time to see the elites come through. They make it look so easy. We also got a laugh out of the water stations. After last year's debacle, they weren't taking any chances. The tables were stacked 5 high and they added several extra stations. There was no chance of a shortage this time.

We were scanning the crowd looking for Tony and Louis since they were expected first when I heard someone yell my name. They were already past us and we almost missed them. Turns out this spectating thing is actually harder than it looks. All of the runners looked the same to me. My eyes were burning from staring at thousands and thousands of people and I still managed to miss them.

I headed over to the next spot where we had about an hour to wait. We took the opportunity to sit on the curb for some rest. I'm embarrassed to say I was getting tired from all that standing! My back and feet were really aching. I suddenly had a new appreciation for my supporters over the years. About 15 minutes before we expected Tony to come by, I got up and found a spot along the course. Again, he and Louis ran by and had to get our attention, we missed them again. I realized then that I pretty much suck at marathon spectating. I wished them luck and said I'd see them at the finish.

I hung out for about another 1.5 hours with the group to watch the race. It was getting hot and the shade was rapidly disappearing. People were starting to slow down and it was such an early mile in the race. I couldn't help but think of last year. Then I realized we had not made a finish line meeting plan. Not very smart when there are over 35,000 runners and their friends and family all piled into a small area. I was carrying the keys to the condo, his cell phone and people's clothes. I figured if I couldn't make it to the finish, I could just walk to his apartment and wait there. He'd have to show up eventually, right?

But I used my New Yorkness to shove my way up to the fence along the finish line shoot, about 100 meters from the finish. What a great place to watch the race. I saw the 3:35 - 3:50 finishers and it was a wide variety of emotions. Some people looked great and seemed to be in good spirits others were totally defeated. One guy collapsed right in front of me and medics had to help him off to the side so he could hold himself up on the fence. He couldn't even stand let alone walk or run that last stretch. Then another runner came along, exchanged a few words and put his arm around his shoulder and started to jog with him. A total stranger gave up several seconds of his finish time to help another runner cross the line. There are a lot of great people in this sport.

A few shades of pink later - I was standing in the direct sun - I finally spotted Tony making the turn into the park. Of course he was in the middle so it was almost impossible to get his attention, but just as he was about to pass by he saw me. He looked good and was finishing in under 3:50.

It took me far longer to fight my way out of that crowd than it did to fight my way in, but I finally made it and miraculously found him right at the first runners exit. He wasn't feeling well from the heat so it was a long, slow walk home. I was reminded of what the marathon can do to you and I was finally glad I wasn't running. I have a few more weeks to prepare myself and I need all the time I can get.

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