I had the fantastic experience of spectating for the Fox Cities Festival of Races, and it was by far the most moving experience I've had since joining the crazy running community I love so much.
Since my femur is still on the mend, I was relegated to the spectator spot in our group of racers, and let me tell you - I had a perfectly executed spectator plan - for sure a spectator PR for me! :)
The race starts in Menasha, and winds through six different cities/towns in the Fox Valley in Northeast Wisconsin, and it was my goal to see Rachel (running her FIRST marathon) as many times as possible, and also to cheer for my half marathoner buds.
The morning of the race, I threw a big sheet of posterboard and some Sharpies in the van as an afterthought. I ended up having a few minutes waiting for the race to come by and I sloppily crafted a sign:
|"Someday you will not be able to do this. Today is not that day!"|
Rachel's husband and I headed off to the first spot - about five miles in. While we waited for Rachel, I held up my sign and cheered for all of the runners. We were at a pretty lonely spot in the course, so almost every runner that went by read my sign and gave me a thumbs up or a little laugh. One girl ran by with a rainbow headband and said "Today is NOT that day!" Rachel ran by looking great, and we packed up and headed to the ten mile marker.
At 10, I held up my sign, and immediately started noticing all of the same people I cheered for at 5. I got a lot of, "Haven't we seen you before?", and "I love that sign!". and three runners stopped to take my picture, as well as one of the race photographers and a local news guy. I felt pretty famous. :) Soon, Rainbow Headband ran by and said cheerily "Still not that day!" and Rachel came by looking great.
We headed to mile 16, and once again, I saw all of "my" runners that I'd been interacting with all morning. This time, I heard more of "You guys AGAIN?", "This is the THIRD time I've seen you!" Rainbow Headband came by again... "Still not that day!"
We drove to mile 20, and set up camp right before a relay exchange zone, and it was great to be able to cheer for them in their finishing kick, and also for all of the runners who were mostly walking by this point. Again, we saw all of the same runners, including Rainbow Headband who was looking pretty rough. She said "This might be that day." My eyes welled up and I told her that she was amazing and that she was doing this, right now. I told her she'd be a marathoner today, and she started running slowly. I worried about her, and Rachel, as we drove to our next spot at mile 25.
Mile 25 was incredible. I recognized dozens of runners and was so humbled by their strength and grateful I had this unique view into their marathon journey. One younger man ran up to me and stopped and said "Your sign got me through this", and burst into tears. I danced to the techno music from a nearby DJ, and tried to call each of "my" runners out and tell them how far they had come, and how incredible they were. I really focused on giving them a little energy to make their last mile a little brighter.
Runner after runner after runner stopped and told me what the sign meant to them, many of them crying. I got more sweaty runner hugs and tearful high fives, and it was the most moving thing I've had the privilege of being a part of.
Minutes turned into a half hour... forty five minutes, and there was still no sign of Rachel or Rainbow Headband. I took a break from my dancing and set my sign down, and then I saw her, incredibly, still running. She and her friend danced a bit to the music and she said triumphantly, "Today is NOT that day!" She was happy and dry-eyed, and I was happy and misty-eyed. I've never been so proud of a complete stranger.
After we saw Rachel pass by, we hurried to the finish line. I was glad I had my sunglasses on as I was holding back tears as I watched all of my runners come into view headed down the final stretch. Men and women, young and old, groups and solo runners, maniacs and first timers... they all had the same look on their face. The mixture of pain, pride, joy, and relief was so deeply moving.
We runners are so lucky to be able to be a part of such a beautiful community, and to help each other through some of the hardest and most wonderful hours of our lives.