Monday, May 12, 2008

Returning the Favor

When I woke up Saturday morning, I listened for rain -- even before opening my eyes.

I had told myself that if it was raining I wasn't going to run the Big Lake Half Marathon in Alton. But I didn't hear the sound of raindrops on the windows, so I reluctantly peeled my eyelids back to face the morning.

Within a few minutes, I was dressed in my running gear and packing a bag of things to keep my body fueled throughout the day -- a couple of GU gels, jellybeans, a banana, an orange, Gatorade and water. (I didn't end up eating all of those things, but thought that it was better to be over-prepared than under-prepared.)

I met up with Erin in Rochester so we could carpool to Alton, where we filed into the parking lot with the other runners. (Neither of us had an official number for the race after some last-minute changes in plans, so we decided we'd jump in at the starting line and jump out before the chute at the end of the race.)

We found Coach Jack and the TnT-ers in the school gym, dressed in their distinct purple singlets. Erin and I both wore TnT shirts, convincing ourselves that it wouldn't be as bad to 'illegally' run the race if we were there to support the other TnT-ers.

We lost the group somewhere near the starting line. As the race started and we made our way around Alton Bay, Erin and I chatted about nothing in particular -- running stuff, personal life stuff, plans to run the Maine Marathon (she's also signed up).

Somewhere between Mile 3 and 4, Erin decided that she was going to turn back. I felt pretty good and knew I could finish the 13.1 miles, so I kept going.

As I ran up the steady incline along Route 11, I found myself passing bunches of runners. From time to time, I'd end up chatting with the person next to me for a moment (wearing a Team In Training shirt sparks a lot of conversation).

There was a woman who told a story of running an Alaska marathon with TnT -- and having the race diverted because a moose was crossing the trail. And there was a TnT-er from the Boston team who was running her first half marathon. Then I caught up with Kara, one of my fellow Disney teammates.

Soon afterward I found myself running alone for a while. The steady incline continued and I made my way up the hill, taking in the views of the Lake Winnipesaukee. I passed an entertaining mile marker at Mile 5 that featured loud disco music, people in leisure suits and bubbles in the air.

And then Scott found me.

Scott's training for a marathon in San Diego on June 1 and was working on his longest run of his training on Saturday. He arrived before the race to get in 7 miles and would complete another 13 with the race.

Somewhere along the route, I told Scott that I felt bad that I didn't have a number and was running unofficially. He said not to worry because I was there supporting him today as part of TnT. Maybe he was just helping to rationalize my race entry, but it did help to know that I was helping him that day.

During the half marathon at Great Bay last month, Scott really pulled me through the last few miles. If not for him, I would have done a lot of walking. I couldn't take the hills anymore and just wanted to quit. He helped me mentally finish the run.

So Saturday's Big Lake was just the opportunity for me to return the favor.

I could tell that somewhere around Mile 8, Scott was getting less interested in talking. (It was Mile 15 for him.) He was approaching what is sometimes referred to as the Bite Me Stage -- a point at which you just want to finish and hidden parts of your personality will leap out at whomever is nearby.

Scott just got quieter, so I ceased the small talk and just focused on running next to him -- encouraging him up the hills, offering whatever fuel I had in my pouch and generally just moving forward.

As the mileage increased, so did Scott's pace. By the time we met up with Erin at a water stop (she stayed to help out during the race) around Mile 10, he was running at a pretty good clip.

Erin and I picked up with chit-chat as Scott continued his now-silent run. I could tell he just wanted it to be over. We offered some words of encouragement here and there as Scott neared his 20-mile mark.

As we make our way down the straight-away to the Finish Line, Erin and I left the pack (running unofficially, we couldn't run through the timing chute at the end). Scott continued to pick up his pace and press on toward the finish, determined to hit the 20-mile mark that day.

We lost Scott in the crowd at the Finish Line, which is unusual because he's 6'5"-ish and usually easy to spot. Erin and I hoped that he made it through the Finish okay and figured that he just wanted to get home and left immediately after the Finish.

I finished the 13.1 miles feeling pretty good -- it was the first time that I actually felt that I could have kept running, not that I was just pushing myself to finish the race.

It also felt pretty good that I could help out a fellow TnT-er. It's one of the great things about being part of a team, even if not officially.

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