Saturday, April 23, 2011

From the Othe Side of the Fence (or the Restraining Rope)

"The brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it bad enough. They're there to stop the other people" - Randy Pausch

I usually try to write different themed posts each week, depending on my mood or what side of the bed I wake up on. Hopefully all of them, though some may be thinly veiled, will have a connection to some aspect of the running community. Well, this week, we can look at this as simply an extension of last week's post when I was anticipating viewing the Holy Grail of marathons - Boston! Ok, not everyone skips a beat when you start talking Boston, but I think those that have earned a BM bib number anytime in their running lives never gets it out of their blood, or do they want to!

So, last weekend, I went up to Boston to visit Adam (my grandson) and family, and it just so happened it was the same weekend as THE RACE (life works in mysterious ways). Sure, the absolute highlight of the trip was to play with Adam and marvel how much he had grown since I last saw him in January (he's 18 months old now). Never realized what the big deal about being a Grandpa was until God smiled on me. He is a joy beyond description. But, this post is RUNNING WITH AL, not BEING A GRANDPA WITH AL, so back to the race.

In Boston, the race is televised live, on a major network, from 9-3. It's ridiculous that the only way you can see this race outside of Massachusetts is to fork over 5 bucks to to watch it on the Internet. Even now, a week after the race, they still want to wring the 5 skins out of me to watch a frickin' replay!! Why doesn't the government forget about fighting about the budget for a while and look into big problems, like why I can't see a race that's a week old without paying a pound of flesh (or a gallon of gas).

So, last Monday morning, I sat in front of the TV with Adam and my wife to watch the race begin and followed the women till about the 19 mile mark. Poor Kim Smith (from New Zealand) was 50 seconds ahead at this point when she tore a soleus muscle, and had no choice but limp to the curb. At that point, I put on my old Boston jacket, and my old Boston hat, and walked the .74 miles (measured on my Garmin of course) to the 23 Mile mark of the course. I was able to situate myself at an area that was in the middle of the block in Washington Square between two intersections about .2 miles closer to Boston than the actual 23 Mile point. The block where I stood was on a 100 foot uphill just past an aid station. Because there was not a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd in my little corner of the world, I dipped under the restraining rope and stood in the road awaiting the onslaught of 24,000 runners. I didn't have to wait long. Now, you have to remember, I'm used to being "back there" and never see the warriors battle up front - I read about it in the paper the next day. So, when the lead truck, the motorcycles, the press truck, and the TV truck came around the bend, I wasn't fully prepared for the excitement of seeing these truly gifted athletes running at impossible 23 miles...up a hill. Eventual women's winner Kenyan Caroline Kilel, looking smooth, but at the same time, pushing to her limits, holding off the close challengers. Among those challengers, were Uncle Sam's two hopes; Desiree Davilla, who would finish 2nd by two crummy little seconds, and Kara Goucher, who would finish 5th, but with a new PR, just SEVEN MONTHS after having a baby! The noise from the crowd was electrifying, but the best was yet to come.

About 10-15 minutes later came the same, but different, train of trucks and motorcycles around the curve. Following them were the men, who started 30 minutes behind the girls. If I thought the women were flying, the men were shot out of a cannon. Up the hill came Geoffrey Mutai (who was 3 miles short of being $225,000 richer), followed on his shoulder by fellow Kenyan Moses Musop. Mutai would go on to set a new world best of 2:03:02. That's 57 seconds faster than the current World Record! Not impressed?...Ok, how 'bout this - he ran 4:40/mile for 26.2 miles!!! Poor Musop finished in 2:03:06...broke the WR by 53 seconds AND FINISHED 2ND!! But the loudest cheers were held for American Ryan Hall. What a thrill for me it was to see Ryan gliding up the hill, pushing for all he was worth, the crowd screaming "USA, USA, USA". He later said after the race "The pace was sick. I was running a 2:04 pace and couldn't even see the leaders!".

But, as amazing as it was to catch a glimpse of these professional athletes in action, I found that cheering on the "regular" folks as they made their way through Mile 23 the most inspiring to me. I'm usually the one struggling up the hill, feeling like crap, thinking running really sucks, when somebody comes out of the crowd and gives some encouragement that spurs you to keep moving forward. Well, for a couple of hours, I was the the one walking folks up the hill, urging them to focus, and reminding them "it's the Boston Marathon, man!". I yelled "Go Team" to all the Leukemia runners, and "Go (insert name, state, country)" to all that I could. And a special 30 yard walk up the hill was with my good buddy Ken. Just when I thought I had missed him, there he was. I had been looking for a half-naked black man, but he turned the tables and wore a singlet, almost slipping by me!! "The leaders might have a tail-wind, but I sure as hell don't feel it". And off he went to finish in a great time of 3:29.

Yeah, sure, I wish I was running this year, but I totally enjoyed this new side of the fence. I saw determination in the runner's eyes, from those running 2:03 to those doing 5:03. I saw runners pushing through their pain, and I saw the gratitude in their faces as they used the roar and the kindness of the crowd to carry them.

From either side of the fence, I'll see you on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"

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