The Finish: 16 weeks ago, ten of us set out on a quest. Each of us with different goals, hopes and desires, but still a team with a common goal of meeting the challenges each of us set. One of our band had an illness that kept him from attempting his ultimate individual goal, but he still was a vital team member, helping the rest of us along the way. Derek, your task may have been the hardest in many ways. Thanks, buddy,
The Friday evening, April 15th found us in Louisville, KY on the eve of the race. It still seemed a bit unreal to me, but the excitement was building. The forecast for Saturday was rain. but there was a chance that it might be over by race time.
That night I was awakened by thunder and lightning several times. When the alarm finally, went off the lightning had stopped, but the rain was still coming down pretty hard. Body glide in appropriate places, shorts, shirt, belt for gels and cell phone, vitamins & medication, inhaler, socks & shoes, hat: down the the checklist I went. I felt pretty silly putting on the sunscreen and grabbing the sunglasses, but I thought it was better safe than sorry. A banana and then down stairs to meet the team.
The rain was slowing to to a drizzle and we headed over to the shuttle buses. It was a little chilly, just enough to give you an annoying shiver. On to the buses for what seemed like hours. It was getting to the place that it would be kind of hard to back out and the weight of what we were about to do started be come a little more real.
Out of the buses and into a chilly breeze. Still no sign of the sun and the sky was still spitting at us. We donned trash bags to try to cut minimize the effects of the wind and water, then jumped in the long line for the porta-potti. Light finally came and we headed over to figure out our starting positions. We took some pictures and then we headed to our own place in the 12,000 participants. I found the 4 1/2 hour pace team. The rain stopped and the sun began to peek out. I got rid of the trash bag and it was time.
We had about a 20 minute wait which was actually pretty cool. The race participants included both full marathoners and half marathoners. Many of the half marathoners are confident runners that make a party of the run. Let’s see, there was the ”Running Elvis’s” (or is it ‘Elvi’?), complete with boombox in baby carriage. There was the bare-chested Scottsman in a Kilt and the Princess in a TuTu (both ran the full marathon) There were crazy hats, Dr. Seuss characters, Star Track & Star War’s characters and many other strange get-ups. It certainly made the wait much more enjoyable.
The start of a big race like this is nothing like starting shorter distance races. The gun sounds and ………… you stand there waiting for the people in front of you to move. (kind of like you have been waiting since I wrote “…it was time”. About 5 minutes later you get to walk. Fortunately, by the time you get to the actual starting line, you can actually jog a little.
The beginning of the race is kind of maddening with so many people. Dodging the people who started in front but are slow, the people who run in convoys, and the walkers is nuts. I get a little claustrophobic in these situations, an continually look for open spot to run which is quite challenging.
About three miles into the race we hit Iroquois Park. By this time all of the early race stiffness was gone and I felt pretty good. This is about 2 1/2 miles of pretty serious hills. Fortunately, we train in Lexington which is, pretty much, nothing but serious hills. I felt pretty good through the hills. the hills had an added benefit thinning out the crowds a little. At some point, (I think it was at a water station) I lost pace team (they slowed up through water stops). Coming out of the park, I pushed a little harder so I could take a quick bathroom break (30 seconds).
After the park, the next for miles was relatively uneventful. The only thing I really remember about this part of the race was some group was handing out oranges. The aroma was awesome, but dodging orange peals was a little dicey.
Mile 8 – We hit the concrete road way heading into Churchill Downs. Mile 8 1/2 into the tunnel and under the track and into the infield. Everyone yelled and screamed as we went through the tunnel which was a good stress reliever. Around the infield (full of tents preparing meals for later in the day, it was a bit cruel) and back through a tunnel and we were out of Churchill Downs. From mile 8 to about 9 1/2, we were running on concrete. My legs did not appreciate this one bit. I never thought that concrete and asphalt were that different until I started running longer distances. Let me tell you; my knees can tell the difference!
The next leg of the race took us to the 12 mile point. The crowds along the road were cheering like crazy. It was load and the running pack was still pretty dense. At the twelve mile point, the half marathoners went left, and the full marathoners went right. Suddenly, the air became relatively silent. For the first time I could hear my own foot steps and breathing. No other runner was within 20 yards of me.
16 weeks ago, we realized that 26.2 miles was an accomplishment that set an individual apart from the crowd. When you are in the midst of 12,000 people, the uniqueness of that quest is lost. With one right turn, instantly you are hit in the face with the magnitude of the goal you have set.
At mile 12 1/2, my wife Lynn, son Josiah and Zach’s family cheered me on. It picked up my spirits for a while over next 5 miles I passed a few people and a few passed me. Here and there, a few people gathered to cheer on the runners. Water stops were not only important for the hydration, but for the moral support. Checkpoints along the way brought music and some really inspiring DJ’s which really helped lift the countenance even when some of the bands could have used a few more music lessons. I discovered that electrolyte jelly beans are awesome and Powerade in cups is pretty much impossible to drink while you continue to run (I was sticky the rest of the race).
At about mile 15, I caught up to the 4:20 pace team which included in 7 people. Just in time to start into Cherokee Park. Since the concrete of Churchill Downs, the ache in my left knee had slowly begun to grow. Around mile 17 we began to wind down out of the park and the pounding caused by the down hill run brought the pain to a crescendo. For the first time I was beginning wonder it I was going to finish. I could barely bend or straighten my knee and was pretty much limping. A the hill began to level out, I saw a teammate ahead walking and obviously struggling. The pain began to ease a bit and picked up my pace to encourage him. Somehow this had the affect of giving me a little more strength.
I dropped back into my pace pushed on. We were nearing the river and began to get glimpses of the bridge that we would take to cross over to Indiana and back. Almost there, only three miles to the bridge. What a long boring three miles. I went back and forth with the pace team for a while and at one point, one of our pace setters took a tumble right in front of me and I almost went down with him. He was a little bloody, but he kept going.
Finally, mile 20 came at the base of the bridge. We made it back to the cheering crowds. Our families and friend s were there as promised. Just 6 1/2 more miles. It seemed that the rest was all down hill from here (except for going up the bridge twice).
On the bridge the crowds were again behind us but, it was anything but quiet. The Belle of Louisville was blasting out Disney tunes on the pipe organ. “It’s a Small World After All” …..please make it stop! I was longing for the quiet of mile twelve!
At the other side of the bridge I started to see the ambulances. Two collapsed runners in Indiana. Not only would they not finish, but they were stranded in Indiana, Horrors. I pushed hard to get back on the bridge and head back to God’s country. At the top of the bridge another collapsed runner and another ambulance. What a disappointment almost within sight of the finish.
Just as I came of the bridge I passed the TuTu princess and the Scottsman. My son said he would have been very disappointed if I had been beaten by a guy in a skirt. I guess it is almost time for him to see Braveheart. Anyway, at the bottom of the bridge I got hi-fives from the family and pushed to the finish.
Next came the longest mile on earth. Turn a corner, then another corner, then another corner, and there it was, the finish line. I would like to say I sprinted, but that would probably be an exaggeration. I finished strong at my fastest pace of the day, but it probably would not qualify as a sprint.
I ran 26.22 miles and crossed the finish line 4 hours, 18 minutes and 23 seconds after crossing the starting. But the actual journey took 16 weeks and over 400 miles. Team Mason & Hanger logged over 3,200 miles and and over 530 hours of road time. We raised over $15,000 for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Thanks Taylor, Greg, Derek, Michael (Rabbit), Zach, David, Bobby, Nick, and Lauren.
For me, the journey has been much more than crossing a finish line. I have been changed in ways that cannot be measured by a stop watch or a tape measure. Overcoming doubt, pain, and laziness required more than just motivation. God used a race and a group of individuals to make permanent changes in my heart and mind. I realized in new ways how God has created in each of us unique talents and gifts that are meant bring about excellence in our selves and in others. When we refine and direct these gifts and talent we can do awesome things. If we yield these to God and allow him direct and refine these gifts, we can accomplish things that are even greater than we imagine.