Thursday, February 21, 2008

Marathon Saga: Part II

Once the course completed its 5 mile loop across the river, we all descended back towards the downtown area. Crossing the lake once again, we could see thousands more cheering fans holding signs that were sometimes difficult to read in the glare of the rising morning sun. This was my first indication that this marathon was a popular spectator event. The din of the roaring crowd easily drowned out the music that was being fed directly into my ears. I momentarily muted my music to soak up the euphoric experience. Although no spectator at this early point was friend or family of mine, I still heard several strangers yelling my name and shouting encouragement my way.

"How do they know my name?" I thought. "Have they seen my Math Shows on TV? Unlikely. Is there another Kevin running nearby? Am I merely usurping the verbal support?" Then I remembered . . . my name is printed in my bib number. Cool. For a brief moment, I imagined what it must be like to be a sports star, with thousands of cheering, adoring fans all around. I couldn't imagine topping that feeling, but I also knew that I had my own family waiting for me somewhere up the course. I increased my pace slightly, eager to get to them sooner.

As we left the downtown area, I knew we were heading far away from the starting line and that it would be several hours before we finished the giant loop. I tried not to look at my watch. The course winded along the Town Lake, which was now serving as a giant urinal for the many men stretched along its banks. I wondered if all these people just had bladder problems, if they just drank too much before the race, or if they just liked the attention. Just seeing them relieve themselves made me wonder if I should do it to. Was it part of the whole "experience" that I would otherwise be missing out on? I'd make the decision if I felt I needed to go, but that would hopefully come later when I'd be ready for a break.

Around mile 10, I got my first phone call. My family was waiting at the point where the marathoners and the "halfers" diverged. I was getting close to my fan club. Fumbling to put the cell phone back into the tight, neoprene sleeve on my right bicep in mid-stride, I saw the split ahead. I ran right past my family. I didn't see them, and they didn't see me. It wasn't until several strides later, over the music in my ears, did I hear my name being yelled in an all too familiar voice--it was my beautiful wife. I ran over, kissed the wife and kids, greeted my mom, dad, sister, and two nephews, then kissed the wife and kids again. They had made signs for me. Just for me. . . . . and my sister-in-law who was also running the race. I really didn't even read what they said at that point. I felt rushed, and my sunglasses were covered with haze and sweat. It was the thought that counted. I'd get a chance to read the signs again later, when I'd be needing a boost of confidence.

As I left them, knowing that they would be getting into a CAR and DRIVING to the next spot while I RAN there, I went straight along the course, following the half-marathon course, instead of going left along the full marathon course. Luckily, I realized this before descending down the long, steep hill (my sister in-law would not be so lucky.) With the proud smiles of my loved ones still fresh in my mind, I trudged along, feeling strong and rejuvenated. A steep hill now lay in front of me. I bound up it effortlessly, passing several bystanders and runners along the way. Onlookers began clapping and cheering. "Man, I could get used to this type of adoration," I thought.

Cleaning my glasses atop the hill, I could now read signs: "Pain is temporary, Pride is forever," "Each step brings you closer to the finish line," "Run, Paul, Run," "Keep Going (That's what she said)," and "Will kiss for support." "I really should read more signs," I thought. Another mile down the road, several small kids were holding their hands out for "high fives." They wanted to touch the "celebrities." Not wanting to crush the spirits of the adoring youths, I obliged, giving them all "double fives," thanking them, and reminding them to "do their homework!" I took some Gummy Bears from one of their trays.

I thought of how generous and supportive the general community was to the runners. Austin is a pretty health-conscious town, and it was evident in the multitudes of homeowners along the route who were offering pretzels, drinks, towels, music, and encouragement. My faith in the benevolence of mankind was now restored. I was inspired by the kindness of strangers, and my stride picked up a new spring.

I ran for a while more, interacting with the pedestrians and other runners, until my phone rang again at mile 15. Again fumbling to retrieve it in stride, I finally answered. It was my wife. "We just got to mile 14. Where are you?" "Um, I just passed the mile 15 marker." "Man, you're fast," she said. But what I heard was "Man, you're awesome." They decided to stay there until my sister-in-law passed, then they'd move ahead, trying their damnedest to keep up with me in their AUTOMOBILE!! They were heading to mile 21. That was still 50 minutes away for me. They would be safe, getting there in time . . . . they hoped.

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