In March, 1985, I gave my heartfelt wishes to a good friend who was expecting and adamantly asserted that as she gave birth in October I would be jubilantly running past the cameras at the Chicago Marathon. Two months later, I lost my morning smoothie as I crossed the Lifestyle 10K finish line. It was not the stomach flu. Two days later, I called my friend to join her ranks of soon-to-be four kid families. I put my “Marathon Mom” book away and reduced my daily runs to a measly three miles. Little did we suspect then that it would be this spunky last-born who would be the one waving at the cameras as she exceeded my wildest marathon dreams.
In fact, Chicago was also the race Caitlin earmarked for her 26.2 debut but she had to pull out when friends chose that same day to marry 450 miles away. After some research, she learned the 4th largest USA marathon, the Medtronic Twin Cities (MTC), got rave reviews for its beautiful course, cool weather, fast times, and amazing crowd support. Although it had already closed, Caitlin was delighted that her 2010 Cherry Blossom 10 Miler finish time netted a no fee, elite entry.
Race weekend arrived six rigorous training months later. Bruce and I drove to Madison for an overnight and then picked up Cait who flew in Friday morning with Mike and Bill, two Charlotte Running Club teammates. We happily got an early check-in but then Caitlin’s toe got smashed when a heavy Rummikub game set fell off the luggage cart. She iced her foot a bit and still went for a run with Bruce and Mike while I took in the river walk near us. Upon returning, Caitlin, ever the tease, impishly claimed her toe was really hurting and only after my forlorn face did she confess she barely felt it! After quick showers, we walked the six blocks to the Expo to pick up her packet, including our elite credentials, and Cait compared notes with a runner named Ruth who just happened to be across the hall from us. She also introduced us to Newton shoes which are not just flashy cute but also simulate barefoot running. Dinner with everyone at an Italian deli was the perfect cap to our first day in the magnificent Twin Cities.
We all slept soundly and Saturday morning got out to preview the last four miles of the course. The brisk wind and temps in the low 30’s were a tad cold for us and that day’s 5K and Kid-K events. At noon, we stopped in at the elite suite, and appreciated the buffet spread before attending the USATF rules meeting. Every elite athlete was required to attend; otherwise he/she would be disqualified from the race. An auditorium full of runners were told they needed to bring their IDs to the race in case they were selected for random drug testing. This was followed by a bus tour of the entire course, but Caitlin opted out of joining Ruth for this three hour adventure. Instead, we enjoyed “Toy Story 3” in our room, read and chatted before walking back to the race dinner.
Nothing to write home about, but we had a good lunch, a stash of energy bars, and neither our local Echo Valley apples nor our treasures from Trader Joe’s had run out yet. Besides, getting back early gave Cait time to organize her gear and Bruce time to plan logistics over the phone with her high school coach and longtime mentor, “Uncle Gary” Holda. We were all blessed that he had caught a last minute flight deal to join our small but mighty support crew.
Race day dawned cold but calm. No winds! Caitlin was up and showered before we woke. Once bundled up, Bruce packed her zoom camera and he and Dean drove Ruth, Mike and Caitlin to the bus that would take them to the start. Bruce and Dean wished the runners luck and then picked up Gary from his hotel. The “cheering trio” would have liked to catch the race start but also wanted to avoid driving through Metrodome congestion on streets they did not know. Staking out a spot at 9 miles let them relax.
As for me, my shoulder was still fragile from a bike accident, so I was relegated to walking Summit Street’s majestic promenade and then pacing in the viewing stands at the Finish Line. The cell phone system that was supposed to give us her splits was not working but the guys reported that Cait was in a tight pack with Ruth at 9, smiling broadly at 17, and starting to break away at 20. Because road closures made navigation hard, Bruce was also racing: he dropped off Gary and Dean, parked at the hotel, and ran the uphill mile to the finish area across from me with only minutes to spare. At 2:40 on the race clock he was waving wildly, pointing. In disbelief, I could see a redhead coming down the hill from the cathedral. I screamed: “It is Caitlin! Come on Caitlin, baby! Whoo Hoo! Good job, Cait! Good job!” She was flying in at a blistering 6:03 pace!
As she was escorted through the finish chute, I lurched out of the viewing stands, blinded by tears. Gary ran past just then and directed me through the barricade checkpoint for elite credentials.
He screamed in that distinct Holda voice, “Caitlin! Nice job, Caitlin!”
It wasn’t until we later watched what I filmed during those dazed moments that we heard the race announcer proclaiming, “Under 2:46. So watch the clock now. They’ve got 2½ minutes in which to get that qualifier for the US Olympic trials. We’ve seen two come in so far, Caitlin Chrisman and, we just had Ruth Perkins.”
As Gary enfolded Caitlin in a hug, she gushed, “I negative split!”
Caitlin was smiling in her mylar sheath as I approached. “Yeah, I worked with those girls. We alternated our leads and then at 20, I felt good, and I just went. But, I mean Ruth… Ruth.”
Caitlin squeezed my hand as she looked back toward the chute, her words slurred, “I hope she makes it. I’m gonna wait for her.”
Gary patted her back. “How bad didja feel?” he asked.
Caitlin paced back and forth in her mylar sheath. “I don’t feel bad! I mean, my, my calves, I could feel them in the last two miles. But… I felt great! My last six, six miles, I was like, fast!”
The conversations continued in the post-race tent. Her friend Bill was pumped that he had finished five minutes faster than his goal time and without doubt he was also worn out. It stumped him that, “Caitlin looked like she could have gone another ten miles!”
Bruce and I held each other close. We had watched breathlessly as our grinning daughter delivered a performance so stellar even she was stunned that she had broken her half marathon PR in the second half of her first marathon! Not only that, she beamed as she shared with Ruth that their winning formula was so powerful that “all the girls who came with us qualified!”
Ruth was ecstatic. “I’m so thrilled! We just killed it today!”
Cait agreed, “We did. And like, at the Trials, we have to do the exact same thing.”
Ruth sealed the deal with every racer’s aspiration, “Or better!”