Monday, April 6, 2009

Support From A Sideline Sherpa

A few posts ago, I declared that I was totally content not to run the Great Bay Half. And I was.

A day or so after my post about the race, I did "a 180" and signed up for the race. Ready or not.

I'm not sure exactly what changed my mind. Certainly my friends encouraged me to give it another shot -- to mentally get over what was a tough race for me last year.

My memories weren't too pleasant, as I noted earlier, with thoughts of struggling through many miles of the race clouding any positive memories. Even the bellydancers weren't motivation to get back on the course.

I had a twinge of panic after I hit the "send" button to complete my registration. I hadn't really gotten any productive, long runs in and knew I'd need to put one on the calendar -- pronto.

Sometime last week, I blocked out some time for a good 9-miler. Incidentally, my friend's Facebook status noted she would be running later in the day and we soon concocted a good plan for me to ease the middle-miles with her. (I parked three miles from her house, ran to meet her for a few miles, then ran back to my car. It worked perfectly!)

With a good 9-miler under my belt, I felt pretty confident and ready to go... although as race day approached, I wavered with inexplicable doubt about the upcoming 13.1.

But I had a secret weapon with me this time -- some big-time sideline support.

This sideline support came in the form of a two-wheeled, Spandex-wearing Sherpa. (I'm actually stealing that term from a Seacoast TnT legend -- Sherpa Steve -- who carried water for and ran with his girlfriend every step of the marathon training. Every TnT'er -- and probably most runners -- want a Sherpa Steve. Like I said, he's a legend on our team.)

I extended an invite to my trusty companion shortly after I signed up, inviting him to watch the race and join the team for post-race festivities. But he took it a step further -- actually, a giant leap.

He mapped out a route he could access with his bicycle, keeping in mind the specific points where I might need the most support -- whether it came in the form of a water bottle, a GU packet or a smile on the sidelines.

Admitedly, I was a bit nervous about the idea of having him there. This was unchartered territory for me. Would I be distracted by having him there? What if I had a terrible race? Would I be embarrassed? Would I be hesitant to use his support as much as I might need it? What does one do, exactly, when they have a supporter on the sidelines?

As usual, I worried for nothing. Everything fell into place, naturally.

Somewhere after I left him at Mile 5, where I feuled up, took a sip of water andsoaked up some encouraging words, I decided I might christen him Sherpa Jr. or Sherpa II or Sideline Sherpa for purposes of this blog. (That idea seemed a lot better mid-race and even immediately following the 13.1 miles ... so we'll see if it sticks.)

He was waiting patiently precisely at every stop we planned -- water bottle in one hand, GU in the other, just waiting for me to tell him what I needed. I resisted the urge to stop and chat too long (I was in a half-marathon, after all!) ... and everytime I took off back into the road, I left hearing, "You still look strong" or some other encouraging phrase.

I later found out that Sideline Sherpa (still seeing if any of these work) also supported my friends along the way -- despite the fact that he had only met them briefly at the starting line. Big points scored, for sure, with the team and with me. (Not that I'm keeping score. No, not me.)

It wouldn't be like me to feel a bit of guilt for being so attended to -- isn't that my job? I urged SS to get a ride in on his bike and enjoy the day while I ran. Don't worry too much about my run. I've done this solo plenty of times. But he wanted none of that -- insisting that he was there to support me that day and his ride was secondary.

He certainly took his job seriously, even snapping photo at the finish.

I finished with my second-best half-marathon time -- 2 hours, 10 minutes -- and was certainly pleased with that, especially given the challenging nature of the course. (Last year, I came in around 2:21.)

Even more important than the clock time was that I felt strong -- and very much supported -- the entire way. Thanks, Sideline Sherpa. We're a pretty good team.


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