Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Illinois Marathon

Running, especially marathon running, can be a pretty selfish and solitary pursuit. I don’t live near most of my training buddies so I run many miles alone. When I do meet up with them, most aren’t at my pace, some are faster and some are slower. Sometime I just want to run where, when, how far and how fast I want to run. I dare say we, as in we runners, are all a bit like that at times.

But sometimes running becomes a shared experience, even an experience where we depend on and relish the company of others. This past weekend at the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon the concept of “it takes a village” to run a race was evident at every turn.

Exhibit #1. Transportation/Lodging/Meals. I was running this race with running blogger/buddy and friend Joe. The Illinois marathon was the seventh time we’d met up to run a marathon. I always fly in from So Cal while Joe drives in from Indiana. As in several times in the past I was relying on Joe to pick me up from the local airport. We share a room at a local hotel, a meal or two, maybe a few miles in the race and then Joe takes me back to the airport and heads for home himself. It’s a plan that has worked out well for us.

Exhibit #2. Packet Pick-Up. One of my fellow CA Cruisers, also chasing the 50 state goal, was in Champaign-Urbana (C-U) for the Illinois marathon as well. John is 75 years old. Illinois would be his 31st state. I arrived at Chicago’s Midway airport at 3:00. On the ride down to C-U it became apparent that we weren’t going to have sufficient time to pick up our bibs and goodie bags and make it to the planned start of the 5K event that was to run at 6:30 on Friday evening. Thankfully John was able to pick up our stuff for us. We met him just outside the expo, grabbed our stuff, beat the cops through two road closures, parked, stripped off street clothes, laced up shoes, pinned on bibs and ran to the starting line with seconds to spare and thanks to a late start ran the 5K. Sometimes getting to the starting line requires a little help from a friend.

Exhibit #3. Marathon Maniacs. Joe and I had planned to run the race together, using a 4:1 run:walk combo that was expected to get us to the finish line in 4:45. We’d both worn our Marathon Maniac singlets and had met up with about a dozen other Maniacs before the race. It is always an easy conversation with a fellow Maniacs. It is always good to have other like minded “maniacs” to share the fun.

Exhibit #4. Misery Love Company/The More, The Merrier. I don’t recall ever seeing so many groups of people running together. There were the four girls with the Hawkeye tshirts, four girls in matching black shorts and turquoise tops, the pair in blue tops with orange and white strips on the side, the pair with “I Run for Jesus” on their sleeve and the lady in the chocolate colored jacket and the guy with the safari hat using a 3:1 routine that Joe and I leap frogged countless times throughout the day. One of the girls in matching outfits claimed that running together gave them a good reason to shop. Each member was there for there for the others.

Exhibit #5. Sarah. Joe and I came upon Sarah around mile 6. She’d volunteered and then ran with a friend for a few miles until she couldn’t keep up his pace. Sarah was in ROTC at the U of I, with plans to join the Marines. She ended up running the next 5 miles or so with us as the route wound back to campus. Joe had a great time connecting with an engineer and future Marine. Sarah helped not only her friend but she made those miles all the more interesting for us.

Exhibit #6. The ultra-guy and his girlfriend. I’d seen the guy at the start of the race. He was easily recognizable by the military style vest he was wearing. He would run ahead and then double back to check on his girlfriend. I noticed him several times. We came upon the girlfriend once and I asked her where the ultra-guy was. That’s when I found out he was using this race as practice for an ultra and his doubling back tactic served two purposes – helping her through her first marathon and getting in some miles and feet time for him. Sometime the motivation is different but covering the miles together is better than covering them alone.

Exhibit #7. Volunteers/Spectators. The citizens of C-U came out in a great way with great attitudes. The volunteers were plentiful, helpful and quick with a smile. We ran through many neighborhoods in both Urbana and Champaign and the folks there turned it into one big block party. Neighbors gathered together in driveways around breakfast buffet and coffee and cheered us along the entire way. It was a great way for them to get together and share the beautiful day.

Exhibit #8. Me and Joe. Although this was the 7th time we gotten together to cover the same 26.2 miles this was only the second time that we decided to run side by side. Joe and I stuck together, in our matching Maniac singlets, for 24.5 miles before I finally convinced Joe to go nab a 5:00 finish since I clearly was the one holding us back. We’d done the same thing in Memphis but that time it was me that galloped strong to the finish with Joe not far behind when his leg seized up from running on the camber for so many miles. Earlier this year, we’d met up and run the Austin Marathon. I selfishly ran my own race in a ill fated attempt to break 4:30. Joe and I ended up finishing only minutes apart when my race fell apart. In retrospect I should have just run with Joe and vowed to do so here in C-U. It was good to share so many steps side by side. Thanks to Joe for sticking with me for so long.

Sometimes running is a selfish and solitary pursuit, but sometimes, like at the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon, running is a shared endeavor with each person’s experience being all the better for sharing it.