I was looking forward to last weekend for almost six months. I dreamed of who I would meet, how we'd get along and my performance overall. I was a little concerned that after all that dreaming the weekend wouldn't be what I had imagined. Except it was so much more.
I called Amanda in April and asked if I could run with TNT in her honor. With her blessing, I signed up and joined Team In Training, where they promised to make an endurance runner out of a heavy little couch potato. For six months, I did things I never thought I would to prepare for the Nike Women's Marathon on October 19th. And finally the big weekend arrived.
Last Friday, I was up at 4 am and at the airport not long after. I sat nervously waiting for our flight, listening to everyone's excitement. There was a large group of people in green and purple jackets, waiting to catch various flights to San Francisco. I knew many of them, I was one of them. I don't remember the flight or the ride from Oakland to the Grand Hyatt in Union Square (the hotel was lovely), I just remember the excitement. There were people--mostly women--everywhere. Nike Town was conveniently across the street from us, with all of the participant's names posted on a pink wall. The Wall and Expo, where we were to pick up our runner's numbers were already packed. Some of the activities were ridiculously 'girlie' and I gladly participated. Who am I to pass up free manicures and massages? But beyond the girlie-ness, while waiting in the lines you met other runners--many of them TNT members--who were there exchanging stories, encouraging and cheering each other days before the race. Among the more humbling moments was listening to Sarah Reinertsen--an amputee who competes in triathlons, marathons and other endurance events--speak about how she prepares for events. The whole time she was speaking, I kept thinking to myself that I have no excuse for being inactive. I have two whole legs!
Saturday was spent hanging out with my best friend from college, my husband and my brother who had both flown in to support me. I was touched to have my three favorite guys in one place looking out for me. M was commissioned with taking pictures and video of all the excitement. We eventually went to the big Pasta Dinner at Mascone Center, to be greeted by all of the TNT coaches, capitains and mentors, dressed in costumes and cheering us from the entrance all the way down the stairs and into the huge center that was setup to host thousands of giddy people. It was incredibly emotional being greeted by the people who have spent months training you, listening to survivor's stories and seeing slide shows of the people we are running for and with. My nervousness pretty much went away at that point when I remembered what and who I was there for. I was ready for the race.
Sunday morning, I was awake at 4am--again--and this time without my alarm clock. Our wake-up call wasn't for another hour, so I lay in bed thinking of Amanda and her family, planning next year's trip and thinking of things that a three-four year old boy would enjoy. I didn't really come up with many details, other than things that involved Ghirardelli Square and Mitchell's Ice Cream (sorry, Manda--kids love me for the treats). We got up at five, got ready and met what seemed like half the hotel's guests downstairs. By 6 am, the early starters had already left and everyone else was checking in their coat bags and finding their corrals. There was just so much excitement and anticipation it was hard to stand still. There were people EVERYWHERE. Almost 20,000 of them. And I was but a drop in this sea. The last thing I remember before I started running was our coach's advice to smile while we ran. I thought that was odd advice at the time. Once we started running, I was smiling almost non-stop.
The run was amazing. The temperature was perfect for running--cooler than the previous two days. The streets and views were gorgeous. Unfortunately, shortly after Mile 2, my right ankle started hurting and by Mile 4, my left knee was kicking in. Both are injuries I have had on my longer distances all season, but was hoping to avoid during the race. Neither injury stopped me. I ran up the first hills, and about half way up the Giant Hill. I walked the rest of that hill going up, took a few pictures with my cell phone and continued to run again. Every step of the way was literally amazing to me. The views, the cheering volunteers, our coaches and the sign holding survivors all made the 13.1 miles go by so quickly. The last three miles were the easiest both because the path had evened out and because the energy just moved us forward. As I approached the finish line, I saw my Three Men again (they had greeted me at Mile 7) cheering and taking pictures. I was greeted at the finish line by a group of very well dressed firemen handing out Tiffany's boxes. I could not believe I had finished my race. I felt nothing but joy as I watched others follow me across the finish, claiming their necklaces and sneaking in hugs from the firefighters (yes, they were all exceptionally handsome and polite). I actually bumped into Sarah again, shook hands with her and thanked her for her talk. She graciously congratulated me and encouraged me to keep up the good work.
After I checked in, got my post race massage and got my Finisher's shirt, we went back to the hotel, where my college roommate was waiting for us. I hadn't seen her in almost 3 years and seeing her then was just like icing on a giant piece of cake. We spent the rest of the afternoon talking, eating and resting. My cheer team had been up at the same time I was and had watched hundreds of runners go by in an attempt to yell out my name as I slowly passed. We were all exhausted.
All in all, this was one of the most amazing things I have participated it. My intentions were completely altruistic when I joined--in then end I derived so much joy from it myself. I am proud of the $18 million dollars that was raised for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through this event alone--and proud of my tiny contribution to it. I am grateful for the support of my friends and family (real and virtual) who helped get me to San Francisco. I am humbled by the strength of the men and women I met last weekend, some of them survivors running/walking/cheering at an event that was meant to honor them. I'm already planning on raising funds and going back next year. Times like these, it's good to be one of the crowd.