Monday, June 13, 2011

Participating from the Bench

Not being able to run sucks. No way to sugar coat it.

Except for my once-a-week, against-the-advice-of-my-trainer runs with Back on My Feet, I'm on the sidelines.

I've spent the last few weeks moping around, pouting, complaining. I haven't feel like writing. I don't really want to talk to anybody. I rarely shave. I'm not very good company. I'm cranky and pissy and short on the ol' temper.

This weekend, though, I may have found a cure.

Friday night I watched my youngest kick some serious butt at his first track meet of the season. Last year, his first season, he struggled. He just wanted so bad to be faster. I explained to him that kids mature and get stronger and get faster at different rates. And in this race, the little dude was flyin'! It was nice to be proven right. It felt better to see the look in his eyes when he held off the kid in the next lane to get his first blue ribbon.

Really, just walking around the infield, watching the kids out there running, just for the fun of it, was uplifting. They know that running is fun.

Gaggle of young sprinters waiting patiently for their crack at the 100m dash.

After the meet, I was stoked. And starving. Before I knew it, I'd eaten an entire small pizza (Bazbeaux: sausage and mushroom). It was delicious, but I DO NOT recommend eating the whole thing, especially if you are not running regularly. But with a stuffed tummy, I was sleepy and ready for bed.

Good thing, because early Saturday morning, I wedged myself out of bed, stumbled to my car, and wound through the streets of Carmel to find a more-or-less random spot on a more-or-less random street.

I've been involved in distance running for many years. I've run countless races. I've perfected my hydrating technique while snagging hundreds, if not thousands of cups of water from anonymous volunteers. But before Saturday, I'd never worked a water stop. I'd never been on the other side of that frantic, splashy exchange.

I had a blast! Our crew was small but lively. Ten minutes into setup and we were already making each other laugh. We were having so much fun, that folks from the neighborhood came out and joined us. Spontaneous volunteerism! The highlight was the trio of kids who setup a competing lemonade stand across the street. I'm pretty sure they out sold us, and I know they out yelled us.

The competition stealing another customer.

Waterstop #11 was voted the best stop on the course. This poll was unscientific in that it didn't actually exist, but I can't imagine another stop as entertaining as ours. And the runners were amazing. Halfway through their race on a hot, muggy day, well over half summoned the breath to say "Thank you." as they plucked a cup from our hands. Such a polite breed we are.

If was exciting to see the elites zip by, but it was inspiring to see those for whom a half marathon is a real challenge. They were pressing forward, one step at a time, with determination and spunk, and usually a smile.

Water Stop #11 during a rare lull.

After all the fun of cup duty, I was ready to get home and release the hound.* Unfortunately, because there was this marathon thing going on, I couldn't get home, not in my car, anyway. Believe me, I tried.

One of the thousands of advantages of being a runner is that you get to know the streets around you. Not just the main streets, all of the streets. I used that knowledge to little avail. I managed to get within half a mile of home. I was closer to the finish line, so I went there.

It was a good choice.

There is no better place to get motivated to train for a marathon than the finish line of another marathon. It is a rejuvenating, energizing, moving place to be. I stood there for 90 minutes in the hot sun watching complete strangers finish their race. Ok, I didn't actually know these people, but they weren't strangers. They were runners, marathoners. People like me. And together, we were sharing their achievement, though aside from adding my claps to the applause of a few dozen others', my sharing was of the vicarious sort.

Need a lift? Hang around a marathon finish line.

When the finish dried up, I finally made it home. I really, really wanted to go for a run. Even though I couldn't, I felt a little bit better about it. I'd spent most of the last 24 hours soaking up to my neck in my sport, experiencing it from different perspectives, letting it remind me why I miss it so much. And now, I love it even more.

Good running,

* That is not a euphemism. I literally mean letting the dog out.