Monday, March 17, 2014

My Day as a Spectator

Yesterday, I gained the utmost respect for race spectators, especially those who support their friends and family members during marathons and half marathons. I was supposed to run with my good friend, Ann, yesterday in the New York City Half Marathon.  However, one month ago, I painstakingly decided to defer until 2015, a mature and responsible decision for me, a self-described crazed runner, who has at times decided on a Monday to run in a marathon the following Sunday on very minimal training.  Well, as I have gotten older, that trick does not work too well, and in my infinite wisdom, I decided to "sit this one out."

I've coached Ann through two marathons, Richmond in 2012 and New York City in 2013. When it comes to running, we have a professional relationship -- I am the coach and she is the student.  When it comes to friends, she is the BEST!  So,when the alarm began singing at 
4:30 am yesterday, I knew better than to hit the snooze button.  "Rise and shine, Judy, and know that you are in for a long day!"

Ann picked me up at 5:30 am.  We made the perfunctory Starbucks stop -- I needed the caffeine to wake up and Ann needed it to insure that all "excess baggage" was eliminated prior to race time.  Also, before  running in any long races, I always insist that my clients ingest caffeine to enhance free fatty acid metabolism -- more on the science behind this at another time, in a future blog post.  

As we drove into the city, we joked about the early morning hour and Ann wondered why she was crazy enough to be doing this on a freezing and very windy day.  At the same time, I could hear the excitement in her voice and I could feel her anticipation and adrenaline surge.  I know these feelings 'oh so well' and regretted that I would not be next to her at the starting line. However, I had a job to do and I planned to do it well!

The full moon was shining brightly as we drove south on the parkway.  The moon reminded me that somewhere in the nighttime sky was Ann's guardian angel, Tiger.  Tiger was Ann's very special dog, a golden retriever like no other -- Tiger died nine months ago, but we often feel his presence.  Since I could not be with Ann on her 13.1 mile journey, I asked Tiger to guide her safely from Central Park to the finish line in Battery Park.

Once we reached the Upper East Side, we switched places -- I became the driver and Ann, the passenger.  I drove south to Fifth Avenue and East 60th Street, and dropped Ann off by her staging area.  "Run like the wind," I said.  Ann smiled and was gone.  She jogged into the park with 20,000 other runners.

I proceeded to drive further south and found a parking space right in front of a neighborhood Starbucks in Chelsea.  I sat with my cappuccino and began sending texts to Ann before her official start:  "I am so proud of you," "Enjoy the journey," "Run Forest, run!"  Then, I set my smartphone to "Track My Runner."  

I tried to become absorbed in a book that I was reading about social media marketing, but I kept drifting away to a place I love, racing...  At that moment, I was envious of all those runners who were rhythmically placing one foot in front of the other, creating and chanting their own mantras to get them from the start to the finish.  I knew that I made the right choice by sitting this one out, but it was painful to be on the sidelines.  Sometimes, life gets in the way of running and that is what happened to me -- two deaths in my family in 10 months -- so much to deal with that I had to balance the amount of energy I dedicated to running with the energy that I needed to take care of all sorts of other 'necessities with deadlines.'

After tracking Ann through 5K and 10K, I decided it was time to drive down to Tribeca to get as close as I possibly could to the finish line.  Although Ann and I agreed to meet in the Starbucks on Broadway, I decided to be at the finish to greet her.  I negotiated my way through many closed streets and police barricades and finally found a parking lot that was about three-quarters of a mile from the finish line.  I tried to make a 'pit stop' at a (yep, you guessed it) Starbucks en route to the Family Reunion Area, but to no avail -- the line for the ladies room was out the door!  

I soon discovered that, although the finish line was only three-quarters of a mile from the parking garage, the Family Reunion Area was at least one-and-a-half miles away.  It was absolutely freezing and I longed for that wonderfully heated core temperature that all those finishers were experiencing, plus a mylar blanket to keep me warm.  The Track My Runner App showed that Ann had passed through 15K with a most respectable time.  I just prayed that she was keeping up that pace through 20K and the finish.  I stood on the street where the runners were exiting, eagerly anticipating Ann's arrival.  I anxiously awaited for Ann's finishing time to show up on my smartphone -- finally, it did! 

Ann ran a great race and I was so proud!  I wanted to give her a big hug, but minutes went by and there was no word from Ann.  It felt like an eternity until she finally called and told me that she would be at the runner's exit very soon.  As I waited for her arrival, I watched all the runners exit the chute in varied states of exhilaration.  I longed for that runner's high and assured myself that it would not be too long until I experienced it again.

Finally, Ann and I were reunited.  Ann was proudly wearing her mylar blanket and medal.  She looked great!  I, on the other hand, was totally exhausted.  It is truly work to be a spectator.  I have a new found appreciation for all those spectators who have endured hours of waiting, negotiating through crowds, dealing with the weather challenges, finding bathrooms, and computing the logistics of their next viewing stop.  

Alas, this is my Ode to the Spectator...