Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Best. Cheering. Ever.

A bit of set-up is required for this story, but it's worth it. Trust me.

I went to Grandma's '02 marathon with three friends from college; Chad, Pete and Tim. They weren't running, but they had nothing going on that weekend and wanted to see what a marathon was all about. Chad's girlfriend at the time had family in Duluth, so we had a place to stay.

As previously mentioned, 2002 was the year the Grandma's start was delayed about a half hour due to dangerous thunderstorms to the South. I heard (but never confirmed) that the aid station tables at either mile 7 or 9 blew over & had to be reset. The race directors made the right call. Unfortunately, they made the call after I dropped off my sweats.

So there I sat, at the start line, shivering in a singlet in a light rain, waiting for the race to start. After what felt like hours, the race finally began.

The shivering took it's toll - my legs were heavy from the get go. I was out of the race mentally by mile 5. It didn't help that I was borderline over-trained going in.

By mile 7, I knew I couldn't make it. I also knew I was miles from anything & I had to hang on a little longer so I could find an aid station with some space blankets so I wouldn't freeze. I didn't know it at the time, but mile 7 was the worst I'd feel all day.

I chatted with other runners & tried to stay positive. I saw some spectators wearing Luther sweatshirts at the halfway point, and that cheered me up. I knew my friends would be between mile 17-19, so I convinced myself to run to them & then drop out.

I spotted my buddies a bit after mile 17. I was sure they had lost their minds.

They were standing in a line, just screaming their heads off & clapping for every single runner that passed by. These usually stoic, Mid-Western Lutherans had transformed in to enthusiastic mad men. My friends weren't runners. They weren't really sports fans in general. For whatever reason, watching thousands of runners stream by lit a fire under their collective behinds.

Then they spotted me.

Chad saw me first. He sort of hunkered down & leaned toward me, turned bright red, and began swearing encouragement like you've never heard swearing before. It was something along the lines of, "F**k yeah Colin, you g*dd**n m**herf**ker! Keep that s**t up! You f**king kick f**king a*s!!" ... and I'm toning that down. Fortunately there weren't any kids around. It may sound offensive, but it was exactly what I needed to hear.

Pete yelled some encouragement similar to Chad. He also did an arm-waving jumping-around maneuver not unlike a jumping jack. Now I know I was tired, and my brain was low on glucose, but I'm certain he was floating 4 inches above the ground. I will swear on a stack of whatever holy book you put in front of me (Bible, Qur'an, Lydiard) that Pete was levitating above highway 61 while cheering like a mad man.

Tim had just spent a year in Norway, so he was cheering in Norwegian and English, just to switch it up. He was yelling in Norwegian before I arrived, so he stuck with it. To this day, I have no idea what he was screaming about. It could have been a grocery list for all I know. Whatever it was, it made me want to go faster.

I spent over 2 hours wanting to be done...then they happened. Two hours of misery vanished in seven seconds of high-energy freak out. My mindset went from "I can't wait to walk off the course" to "I'm going to kick this course's ass and it's going to stay kicked." If I dropped out, I'd be letting them down.

I was still grooving on their cheering when I crossed the finish line.

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