Last year my cousin ran the Phoenix half-marathon. Which, according to a bumper sticker I bought her, made her only half crazy. You can read my version and/or her version. They’re both entertaining, even if I do say so myself.
This year, she ran the full marathon. That’s 26.2 miles if you were wondering. And, she did it in under five hours!
Pretty impressive! Or full-on crazy.
Training, Training, and Training
She logged a boatload of miles while training for this run. There were twenty-mile training runs, eighteen mile training runs, six-mile training runs, all sorts of running happened frequently outdoors and indoors. Imagine running for three hours on a treadmill. Can you say mind-numbing?
Keep in mind that my cousin holds down a full-time job and does volunteer work as well. She woke long before most of us even begin to drop into dream number three for the night. For months she did this! Her dedication and perseverance astound me.
Cheering from the sidelines took on a different feel this year. For logistical reasons I didn’t even show up at the side of the road until mile twelve. Last year at that point she’d be nearly finished with the race. This year it wasn’t quite the half-way mark. I arrived a bit early to stake some semi-permanent one-word signs in the ground. “Breathe” “Smile” and “Stroganoff.”
Yes. A story she told me about a friend of hers she often and unintentionally ended up eating stroganoff with. She suggested that before the race my cousin should write “Stroganoff” in Sharpie marker on her arm to remind her of her friend who’d be cheering her on in spirit. So I figured, if I included the word “Stroganoff” in a sign, she’d know the little series of three signs came from me. She said it worked.
I had a fresh water bottle waiting for her and a backpack filled with possible items she might need. The forecast had called for one hundred percent rain, which changes a race you thought would be warm and sunny, into a different animal altogether. Luckily, it only sprinkled a bit a couple of times. The deluge came later, raining out the Cubs spring training game, filling up water retention ponds and raining on various “parades.” But that’s another story.
I stood with my sign, and a whirligig. Yes, a whirligig. So my cousin would notice me among the crowd. My first sign said “YES YOU CAN.” Many runners say “thank you” when they read an encouraging sign. A couple of runners said, “Yes! I can!” And one said, “Boy, did I need that reminder.”
I made eye contact with some, others were focused, moving forward without notice of anything going on around them. Every face told a story. Some spoke louder than others.
Once my cousin found me and got her fresh water bottle, I got back in my car and headed to our next agreed upon meeting spot, at mile eighteen. Navigating streets blocked off by a race this big takes some planning and luck and some good parking spots. I did better this year than last year.
Many of the same runners ran past that I’d seen at mile twelve. Makes sense if you think about it. The stories on their faces had changed a bit with eight more miles to go. More of them were walking, running slower or at least looked more worn.
The ones that really intrigued me still had smiles on their faces. I’d like to get their stories!
I was glad to see familiar faces and relieved to see them progressing. I was caring about these total strangers again, just like last year. Wish I understood that better.
My cousin ran by without needing any water, so she got my cheering and hopes.
Not much past that point she said it got really hard. Walking didn’t help, so she just kept running. I’m hoping she’ll write about her experience and let me post it here. I think her telling this story makes the most sense.
I hustled to get to my next stop near the finish line. I missed her crossing that line last year. Bad planning, heavy traffic, lots of closures.
This year I watched eagerly, not just for my cousin, but for the woman in the burka head covering, and the older woman who ran with such conviction and determination it nearly hurt to watch her move. And the woman who ran with a smile. There was a dad whose three young kids joined him for the last hundred yards. Some nearly burst into tears as they rounded the corner and saw the finish line so close.
I wanted to cry and cheer for all of them. What an accomplishment!
That last stretch looked like it hurt. My cousin wasn’t interested in seeing me there. Her focus zoomed in entirely on that finish line and getting her body across it. She managed to give the official camera a thumbs up and a smile as she crossed.
Simply being on the sidelines is an honor. Witnessing such a feat feels like something almost intimate and privileged.
Completing a marathon is an act of devotion and dedication, one involving the heart in more ways than we know. That’s something my cousin has a ton of.