My 16-year-old grandson Mark likes to run. For some reason he enjoys it and running may well have taken over soccer as his main interest in life. (Full disclosure: I don't run. I have a hard enough time walking.)
Mark's been running for a couple of years now and he's competed in small runs (5-8K) here and when he lived in Maryland. This year he moved on to half marathons and decided early on that he wanted to run the full Pensacola Marathon this weekend. He's one of those quiet people who, once they make up their mind, will just do it. So Mark's been practicing his running a lot around town, sometimes doing 15 to 20 miles in a day.
He's also on his high school cross-country team and, while not the fastest, he puts in great effort. The varsity cross-country squad consists of the seven fastest runners on any given week. Often he races varsity and sometimes he just misses the squad by seconds. (And, yes, his high school has some mega-fast runners.) Mark was the member of the cross-country team to sign up for the Pensacola Marathon, although at least one other member signed up for the half-marathon.
The Pensacola Marathon is a pretty big deal. Runners come from all over the country and from well over a hundred foreign countries to compete. Thousands of people participate. Three races are run simultaneously: the full marathon (26.2 miles), a half-marathon, and a 5K. Runners in the half-marathon run the same route as those in the 5K, with additions to make up the distance, just as runners in the full marathon run the same basic route with some additional legs.
Because this was his first marathon, we had people stationed at various parts of the race to check on Mark and to be sure he was doing okay. Kitty and I were at mile 16 of the race, on a quiet residential street. We got up at 0-Dark-Hundred to be sure we were in our spot early and to avoid running into the runners on our way to mile 16. We got there about half an hour before the actual race started and we were the only people there for a couple of hours until two young men from the neighborhood walked up to view the runners.
The first runners came by at 7:11. We knew they were from the 5K because there was no way that the marathoners were running under three miles an hour for every mile. We cheered them on as they came -- some fast, some not so fast. A lot of them were buff and a lot were not. Some of the runners were older than me (and some days I feel older than dirt). Some looked as out of condition as I felt. Some ran, some power walked, and some struggled walking slowly. More than a few were panting. But these people -- every one of them -- were amazing. We told them they was doing great and we cheered and some reached out for high fives or fist bumps. And these fantastic people just kept coming, wishing us a good morning. At least sixty people thanked us for our support as they ran by.
In the meantime, we kept getting text messages. Mark had just passed the six mile mark. The nine mile mark and still looking good. The twelve mile mark and he doesn't appear tired at all. Then he passed us with an easy gait, one of a group of about six keeping the same pace, although some of them looked a little worse for wear.
Along the route there were encouraging signs, as well as some signs with fun facts for the runners. Did not know that sharks cannot swim backwards? Or that Albert Einstein slept ten hours a day?
If you saw some of those signs you did.
Once he passed us we headed for the finish line, taking a circuitous route to avoid roads closed for the race. By the time we got there a number of runners in the various races had finished. We were just in time to see the first female cross the line for the full marathon. As every single person ran/walked/dragged themselves across the finish, an announcer would congratulate them by name and where they came from to the cheers and applause of the spectators. There were tents all over the place from various running groups. There was free food donated by various local restaurants. Publix Supermarkets offer bananas, mini-muffins, and orange slices. (One sign along the race route said, "I run all this time -- just for a free banana!") There were tables set up for free massages, first come-first serve. A great atmosphere.
Before the race Mark had a goal of running under four hours. Mark sets high goals for himself and some he makes while others he doesn't. Mark's unofficial time was 3 hours, 50 minutes, and 30 seconds!
(I say unofficial time because he started out` in the middle of the pack, so we could expect a few seconds to be shaved off officially.)
His official time was 3:49:59, with a mile pace of 8:47. He came in second in his age group and 45th overall out of a group of 383 runners! Way to crush your first marathon!
Among the other runners was the husband of one of the computer science teachers at Mark's high school. He was hoping to qualify for the Boston Marathon and to do so he needed a time of under 3 hours 55 minutes. Which he did. Everybody was congratulating everybody else, some on running the time they wanted, some on running close to the time they wanted, and some on just finishing the race.
After a major disappointment with this week's election, this was the place and the atmosphere where I needed to be.
My most sincere congratulations to all who participated.
And, of course, to Mark, who was absolutely amazing!