Sunday, December 13, 2009

Pacing into a New Perspective

In Charlottte's local Thunder Road Marathon on Saturday, I got to see a lot of amazing things - not from the perspective of a racer, but from a perspective of a pacer. Admittedly, I was quite nervous about pacing Théoden. I was self-conscious about whether or not I would have any entertaining stories, of whether I would stay on pace, of whether I would be motivational enough for him to keep going at a steady clip if he hit the wall, of whether I would see him in the crowd of runners....Of course, I had plenty of time to ponder all of these things while I waited for Théoden at the stadium because I had arrived over 20 minutes early – after all, I didn’t want to miss him in the masses or anything like that.

During my wait, I became a sociologist by taking in all of my surroundings and observing the behavior of both the spectators as well as the race participants. My favorite fan was a man wearing an awesome curly haired wig, dancing wildly around as he banged on his cowbell. Actually, his beat was pretty catchy and several of the runners took the extra breath to tell him so. Of course, people familiar with the SNL skit from 2000 featuring Will Ferrell would yell to him “MORE COWBELL!” and I am fairly certain that all the runners who got the joke picked up the pace for that 50 meters.

After hearing the cowbell player having produced beats incessantly for ten minutes straight, I was startled when I didn’t hear it anymore and turned my gaze away from the oncoming runners, back to him. The reason why he had stopped playing was because a marathoner had stopped running the race to ask him a question. The conversation ensued as such:

Runner: Hey – do you have a cell phone I could borrow?
Cowbell Player (digs cell phone out of pocket): Sure thing!
Runner (dialing): Thanks – hey man – I really dig the Cowbell.
Runner (in voicemail to his wife): Hey honey, it’s me….Just wanted to let you know that I would be at the finish a little later than I had expected…I have a little bit of a hamstring cramp, so it’s gonna slow me up a little bit. Don’t worry about me though, I’m fine! See you soon!!
Runner (to cowbell player): Awesome – had to make sure the wife would know where I was on the course!

…And then he jumped back into the street to attack the last ten miles of the course with a cramped hamstring.

Hearing this man leave a voicemail for his wife opened my eyes into a whole different world of running. It honestly has never crossed my mind to call my boyfriend in the middle of the race to tell him I wouldn't be there when I expected. Did this make him any less of a runner than me? Of course not. Was I a bit surprised? Of course. Had I ever seen this happen before? Definitely not. Made me wonder if I should re-post one of my earlier blogs that proclaimed that runners in the front of the pack don't miss out on anything...After Saturday's experience, I am slightly inclined to differ. Seriously, the winner of the men's marathon didn't even get to run through the imitation brick wall in NODA because it wasn't up yet.

Ah, but I digress.

After hearing the voicemail, I immediately turned my gaze back to the incoming runners because I had this sick fear that if I ever turned away from them that I would miss Théoden and have to sprint him down in frenzy and I definitely didn't want to be doing any sprinting.

However, I had plenty of cushion time and relaxed back into observing everything going on around me. In the next ten minutes, I saw friends pacing other friends, I heard people shout !Go Charlotte Running Club! to me, saw Boriana running a marathon for a “long” run (!!!!), and families cheering on their loved ones.

And, eventually, I saw Théoden.

At that moment, my insecurities were pushed aside once I saw him running towards me around mile 16.5 near the stadium. I raised my hands, let out a welcome howl that no one heard but myself, and ran towards him. I immediately pointed out the man dancing wildly and pounding the cowbell. Within the first ten steps, Théoden was already moving to the right side so that he could greet his family and show his love and appreciation for their continued support.

In the next ten miles, I was amazed at the amount of conversation that Théoden participated in. I was impressed at Théoden’s ability to raise a hand and say “Thank you” to literally every single police officer we passed along the way, even at mile 25. I was awed at how obvious it was that Théoden appreciated every second his family braved the cold to support him in an activity that has potentially taken precious minutes away from time spent with them.

I walked away from my pacing experience having seen things I never would have imagined occurred in a race. I learned some new things about pacing: get out of the way when people want to slap the hands of the actual racer. I was mad at myself for taking away some of the hands that Théoden could have slapped. I also was disappointed that I didn’t start counting all the people we had passed until the last mile. In the end, I was elated to have taken part in pacing a man who has worked so hard in the past year to beat his previous PR. I was happy to see Théoden accomplish this task without even hitting the wall, while partaking in conversation, and with a studly last mile at a full minute ahead of the pace he had been carrying over the other 25 miles.

Most of all, I realized that running truly is something that brings friends and family together in a magnificently healthy and fun way.

---Great job to everyone out there on Saturday---The common theme for the day was PR, as I have seen those two letters stamped all over blogs on facebook.----


Anonymous said...

Where does one by a cowbell? Jay and I were wondering that? - aaron

caitchris said...


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