Friday, May 15, 2015

Discovering Why We Run: Carmel Marathon

I hadn't even gotten onto the plane yet, and already I had some random guy tell me I was crazy.

Standing in line to board the plane, one of my fellow passengers had just noticed my Boston Marathon 2014 jacket, and asked me if I had run Boston.

"Yes, it was amazing," I answered.  "And now I'm headed to Indianapolis to run tomorrow's Carmel, Indiana marathon."

He looked at me as if I were a Kardashian who was about to give up all her worldly goods to follow in Mother Teresa's footsteps in India. 

"You runners are crazy.  Who would want to run a marathon, all those miles, on city streets?  There's nothing," he paused and took a sip of his soda, "nothing that feels as good as sitting on the couch."

I thought:  Running is wonderful!  I feel like a kid again when I run.  I'm free... the everyday worries of my life and the problems of the world melt away.  I feel stronger, happier, healthier.  I love the friends I've met through running.  I feel like a rock star when spectators cheer for me on the sidelines.  I love crossing that finish line, exhausted but thrilled with my accomplishment...

I said:  "Running is a lot of fun for me."

He mumbled again that I was crazy.  The line started moving and I got onto the plane.

My seat mate noticed my jacket, and asked about Boston.  I answered briefly, and explained about Carmel.

"Think you'll win Carmel?" he asked.

What part of 30 year old Kenyan was he seeing in me?  I explained that the winner of the marathon would probably be a man in his 20's or 30's.

"But then you'll win the women's race?"

"Ahhhh... that would be nice, but same thing, usually the woman who wins is in her 20's or 30's."

My seat mate looked shocked, also probably thinking this plane ride was the first leg on my journey to India.

"So why are you running this marathon?"

I adjusted my imaginary nun's habit, and had no other answer but:  "I love running marathons."

I couldn't wait to get to Carmel, where I could be among people who understood my passion.

A few hours later, and for the rest of the weekend, I was with people who got it.  My friends Sue, Ilse, Lesley, Lea Anne, Marie and Brittany were my people, my kind, my tribe.

Sue I met in the wild Pampas region of rural Argentina.  We instantly bonded when we discovered, on our husbands' hunting trip, that we were both running our first Boston marathon in 3 weeks.  Together we trained in the afternoons, running alongside wild animals, and crawling under electric fences.  Boston's Heartbreak Hill?  That sounded easy compared to our Argentina training!

The rest of the gang were Floridians who I met through our running camp, Set Goals Not Limits, in Melbourne.  We had been training for months in 80-90 degree weather, so the forecast for temperatures in the 70's for Saturday's marathon didn't phase us Florida girls one bit.

Carmel is Sue's hometown - that's why we picked this marathon.  We spent time the day before the marathon driving through the streets, seeing where Sue went to school, eyeballing her old neighborhood and her family's home.

At the marathon's expo, Sue and I picked up our bib numbers and posed for our pre marathon photo.

Little did we know that this was the last time our bibs would be displayed correctly.  Due to an error by the staff placing the timing chips on our bibs, we had to wear our bibs vertically instead of horizontally.

On Saturday, we ran Carmel's marathon.  On a warm and beautiful day, we ran through neighborhoods and wooded pathways in one of the prettiest American towns I have ever seen.  It's also very upscale, but never garish.  We ran 26.2 miles through this city and never saw a bad part of town.  Think Beverly Hills meets Midwestern values.  But instead of, well, the Kardashians and their crowd, Indiana families stood on their front lawns and waved and yelled to us as we ran by.  By the end of the race, I felt like Carmel was my hometown, too.

The spectators spent the marathon turning their heads to the side when they called out our names to cheer us on!

But that is one of the charms of a small marathon.  Not everything goes perfectly, but there is so much to enjoy when running a marathon with 700 runners instead of 25,000 - 45,000 runners, like most of the 13 marathons I have run.  People talk to you more.  It's easier to get water at the water stops.  You can see your friends on the course.  I even got to run with Lesley for awhile. 

And it was easy to find a pace group.  I got to run with Pacer Lonnie, which was a really cool experience since he talked to us the entire time.  I felt like I was on a training run instead of a marathon, listening to his stories.  He even let me hold the pace sign for awhile - I felt like an official pacer!  Running with Lonnie's pace group helped me, after a year of running with injuries, get back to my faster times.  Finishing healthy with a time of 4:23:40 felt so good...

And when I finished, I felt as if I were running a race back home.  Ilse was cheering for me at the marathon's finish line.  Brittany and Marie were standing on the sidelines.  And Sue, as she has done before at Boston, Chicago, Marine Corps, and Honolulu, was waiting for me after the finish.

Together my wingman and I traded stories about our race as we made our way back to the hotel.

The post marathon celebration dinner with all my friends truly was a celebration - of finishing the Carmel Marathon, of our friendship, of hilarious and silly running stories from the past.  Running a marathon with friends is so much more fun than running one alone.

Maybe I could have told that to the gentlemen I met as I flew to Indianapolis:  that the friends I've made from running have changed and enhanced my life in so many ways.  Add to that feeling healthy and stronger, and happier, and yes, like a kid again (but with way more expensive running shoes!) - these are incredible benefits I wish everyone could have.

And then there's the sign.  Runners see lots of signs during marathons (Worst Parade Ever, Smile If You Peed Your Pants, Go Random Stranger!) but the one that always brings tears to my eyes is this one, which I've seen at several marathons and also at Carmel...

So I guess that's why I run:  that sign, and all the reasons listed above.  And more reasons that I hope to discover at future marathons.

And then there's what Sue said, when I told her about the man who called me crazy for running marathons.  "He's half right.  Here's the thing.  Nothing feels as good as sitting on the couch - after a long run."

Sue, Ilse, Lesley, Lea Anne, Brittany, Marie and all my running friends - here's to many more long runs.  See you on the road!