Saturday, April 26, 2014

Race Report: Spectator Edition!

This is one I never expected to write - my experience at a race from the sidelines. Thanks to the stress fracture in my foot my quest for Maniac Gold was cut short, but I chose to still go to Raleigh, because the weekend was about much more than running a marathon.

Having said that, it was still a weekend about running, because eleven of my classmates were lacing up on Sunday morning for either the half marathon or the full, and I decided that this was my big opportunity to set a P.R. in ringing my cowbell!!
Extra bonus: Julie, my dear friend and roommate from my first two years at West Point, joined us in Raleigh as a non-runner, too, and having seen each other exactly one time since the day after graduation 17 years ago, it was an awesome opportunity to just hang out for a few hours and enjoy being together again.

The first thing I learned about being a proper spectator at a race: it takes serious preparation. Before I headed to Raleigh, I got as far as making enlarged copies of everyone's Firstie pictures from the Howitzer. My plan was to make a sign for everyone, so I spent 30 minutes at the copier giggling at how hilariously funny I am!

Unfortunately, that was about it for preparation. Oh, wait, I also remembered to grab Sharpies and glue sticks to take with me, and my two cowbells. Okay, now I've covered it. That was it for my preparation.

Fast forward to Saturday night, and Julie and I are in the hotel room talking and talking and talking and... then it was midnight, and I realized we hadn't made the signs yet! Spectator Fail #1: staying up until 1:30 in the morning because you haven't done the signs!!! Of course, in trying to figure what to write on the signs that was just the right balance of funny and motivational without being the corny, overused race sign cliches, we realized that is also harder than you would think it is. Luckily, at 1AM, everything is funny, so we managed to finish them up, turn off the lights, and get some sleep ahead of the big day.

Sunday morning, briiiiiiight and early - race day!!! We had planned to meet in the lobby with the whole group to get a group photo, but dang y'all, 6:00 is early. We didn't get the whole group together, but I managed Race Day Spectator Success #1: I was there, on time, with my camera!
We got some great shots of the group, showed them the awesomely hilarious race signs we made, and then the runners made their way to the start line while Julie and I hung out for a bit longer in the hotel lobby. As luck would have it, we randomly ran into another classmate and his wife who were down for the race. Winning! Definitely have to get a photo - and then not long after that, Spectator Fail #2: I inadvertently deleted the picture from the camera. DOH. Sorry, Kelly and Pete!!!!

The rest of the girls showed up, we took our last photos, even got face tattoos (Go Army!), and then... then we realized that the glue stick we used had apparently been in my desk drawer since the last time Julie and I had seen each other twelve years prior, because the pictures starting peeling off the signs. No need to panic - the front desk had tape! Problem solved, signs ready to go, and we were out the door to the start line.

There is nothing like the energy of a big race at the start line. Raleigh had over 12,500 runners between the half marathon and the full 26.2 distance, and the air was electric. With friends in lots of different corrals, I did my best to find them, and managed to capture a little bit of the fun of anticipation:
It was also my first time seeing the actual start of the race from the vantage point of a spectator, and that was really, really fun. As a runner, I definitely feed off the vibes from the crowd, and am always so thankful for those who line the streets to yell words of encouragement and make noise for the competitors. But there is an energy for those of us on the sidelines, too, and the cheering from one person to the next builds and builds throughout the crowd until it's a veritable frenzy of positive energy. What I've never appreciated before Raleigh, though, was how hard it is to pick our your friends in the crowd of a huge race. Even with the corrals releasing with time between, we only saw a couple of the folks we were looking for, so after getting our first cowbell ringing in, we decided to get going.
The plan: hop in the car, get out on the course, and find our friends on various points along the way so that we could cheer and take pictures.

Spectator Fail #3: we were parked at a point that made it impossible to get outside of the course.

It had never crossed my mind that we should look at the map ahead of time, pick specific spots to park and cheer along the route, and know at about what time we should be at each spot. Lesson learned (the hard way)! We had gotten in the car, of course, and didn't figure out that we were stuck until we'd driven in circles for about 30 minutes. At that point, we couldn't even get back to the hotel without risking missing our friends along the way - some of those ladies are wicked fast - so we parked and started hiking to where we thought we could catch a glimpse of the runners. We got LUCKY - we did see two of the women, but Spectator Fail #4: I got so excited to see Christie and Heather I forgot to take pictures!!! DOH!!!

At least we rang the cowbells, though, and I think we managed to grab the right posters for each of them. Of course, at this point Julie and I had driven in circles; rang the cowbell; missed breakfast; and had no coffee. Eesh. Coffee - that was a priority at this point. Thank the good Lord it was a beautiful day, and Raleigh is a beautiful city, so other than my broken foot, it was the perfect morning for a stroll around downtown. We turned a corner to head back toward the finish to make sure we didn't miss our fastest friends and found... *insert choirs of angels singing here*...

KRISPY KREME!!! Spectator Success #2: we had coffee and donuts in the down time between seeing friends on the course. And based on the line, I think that particular Krispy Kreme location had record sales that Sunday morning!!

We were on a roll at this point - we had our coffee, we were headed back to the finish line, and the timing was excellent. We got to see the fastest of the fast - which included Jim, the intrepid husband of our classmate Heather, who had so graciously welcomed us into his home and been the uncomplaining photographer for all of our group photos.

Turns out, dude has some WHEELS.
1:35:59 - in top 1% of finishers!!
Julie and I kept our eyes peeled, and it wasn't long until Julie ran by, then Heather:
Julie ran a 1:50:09 and Heather a 1:53:26... smokin' fast...
At this point, even as a spectator, I was hot and thirsty. Spectator Fail #5: I hadn't brought any water out on the course with me. I didn't account for the fact that I would be on my feet as long, or longer, than the runners, and there are no aid station for the cowbell ringers! 

Lucky for us, spectating didn't require going up and down all of those hills - we had driven part of the course the night before, and I had looked at the elevation chart, and I knew this was a tough one. Tougher, I think, than the Hogeye Marathon I had run a couple of weeks before. Throw in the temperatures approaching the high 70's, and it was a very tough day on the course.

After Julie and Heather ran by, the finishers began to come fast and furious. Julie and I yelled and rang the cowbell for as many as we could, knowing that this last corner to turn toward the finish line came at the top of yet another hill, and it was getting hotter and tougher out there for all of the competitors.
Spectator Success #3: setting up camp near the finish line is awesome. The smiles and determination I saw on the faces of the runners gave me chills, even moved me to tears a few times. 

The half marathoners continued to stream by, and despite Spectator Fail #6, somehow missing two of our friends in the crowd, we yelled and held the signs and rang the cowbells and took pictures and in general had a blast. 

Spectator Success #4: I got some great photos. Of all of the pictures I manage to get during the race, there were none better than when Missy and Ali ran by. The spirit of the weekend could not have been better expressed than by the joy on their faces and the victory in their body language!!
The runners were coming fast and furious now; we kept our eyes peeled for the friends still on the course. They came by one by one, and I felt like I shared the joy and triumph with each of them. 
As my friends finished, they returned back to hang out and enjoy each other's company: 

We laughed about the signs, and reveled in each others' company and accomplishments. The joy and elation was a palpable thing!

The half marathoners had all finished. Now... now it was time for the two intrepid marathoners to make their way to the finish line. Jason and Rachael, Rachael and Jason... we had spent months sharing our stories of miserably cold winter training runs; dealing with injuries; and learning how to mentally prepare for a race. 

Jason is a seasoned marathoner - in fact, he's an ultra marathoner, having run the JFK 50 miler last November. I knew he had a time goal for finishing this one, but nobody counts on hills like Raleigh had and temperatures approaching 80 by the time you finish. As he came up that last hill, he looked strong, but I could tell from the look on his face he had already mentally accepted that he wouldn't hit his time goal. I think, though, that runners never forget that the gift is truly in the ability to run. 
This was Rachael's first marathon, inspired to honor Jaimie's life and memory, and nothing about getting to the start line had been easy. Knee pain had almost hobbled her during her training; Aleve and ice packs had become constant companions. The strength and grit she showed just getting to the starting line was such an inspiration. As I saw her in the distance, coming up that hill, I was overcome - pride in her doing this thing, sadness that I couldn't be out there with her, love for all of the friends who had come together this weekend. I yelled for all I was worth, and the look on her face as she saw all of us waiting for her will always be with me.
She had made it - everyone had. It was time to make our way back to the finish line, to celebrate, relax, recover.

Spectator Success #5, and this one trumps all of the fails: I was there. It's a powerful thing to be a spectator of strong, beautiful women as they complete a journey - not of just 13.1 or 26.2 miles, and all of the training that led up to it, but also in finding some closure from a loss and the advent of a new journey of friendship and rediscovery of the bonds of the Long Gray Line.


  1. Glad you had a great time, Honey. There will be more great times to come!

  2. I loved every word of this, Amanda. And I know there were emotions all over the spectrum for you -- way to keep the focus on people and running, and everything that means.