My first recollection of the Portland Marathon was in 2006, the weekend of my wedding. My sister and her family were staying close enough to the route so they wandered down to try to catch a glimpse of Dean Karnazes, who was running 50 marathons in 50 days. I was clearly wrapped up in my own bridal bliss to respond with anything more than cool, wow, that would be tough. Several years passed without much thought to the annual marathon, other than noting traffic delays and detours.
It wasn't until I became a "serious" runner that I started to pay closer attention to the marathon, and took up a spot as cheerleader along the sidelines. I would gather up my young son and head downtown, usually just staying for a few minutes, just enough to get a few cheers in. As I became more involved in my local mama running communities I became more invested as women I knew were taking on the challenge. My favorite spot to cheer was right past mile 24, when runners come up a small hill before crossing the Broadway Bridge and begin the downhill stretch to the finish line. Runners look tired, worn, yet determined and strong. I've seen runners limp, lean on a friend, dry-heave, stop running all together. I hugged friends who were soaked with sweat and tried to encourage them by running along side for a few feet. I took in their faces, their bodies and always said to myself, yeah, I really have no interest in doing this.
However, last year, it all changed. As I watched and cheered and saw all those people so close to finishing something extraordinary, a little flutter started inside me, a little whisper, maybe, maybe, maybe it can be you too.
As I took up my regular cheering spot last weekend it all felt so different. I could hardly cheer or clap or yell keep going without getting choked up. NYC Marathon is twenty three days out. In exactly four weeks from that moment I would be running my first marathon. Gulp. Thanks to it being printed on their bibs, I called people by name, told them they were strong, that they could do this. One gal was walking and I shouted, you've got this, you are going to end this day a marathoner! She looked back at me, smiled, and she began running again. My friend Kimberly showed up and we upped our cheering power and high-fives. Kimberly is running NYC as well and we have run many miles together, swapped training plans, shared encouragements, and disappointments. As we cheered we talked about what awaits us in New York City. You can go into a race totally prepared, mentally and physically, yet you just never know what the day holds.
My friend Joe was running the marathon and thanks to text updates from his wife Hau I had a general idea of when to expect him. Joe and I committed to our marathons around the same time and talked plans and training early on. Joe was the one who carried me through the early miles of my first 20 miler, and I was a strong push for us the last half of it. I had my sign and music blaring and erupted with screams when I saw him start up the hill. I knew he wasn't having the race he wanted, or planned, but he was still smiling. He looked strong and he was still smiling.
I watched Joe continue toward the finish line and it struck me, I am next. I am the next one who will be out there pushing myself to my limit and striving to reach my goal. I will have my sister beside me and we will put forth our plan we have been so diligently following for months.
The only downside that I see to running the New York City Marathon is that my friends won't be present to cheer me on. Fortunately my Mom, Aunt and a few cousins will be there though, cheering their hearts out. They won't be sprinkled throughout the course though. I won't see my BRF's at mile 18, then again at 24, their familiar faces shouting their encouragement, the hands I know reaching out for hugs and high fives. Mostly I will see strangers who have given up a Sunday morning to line the streets of all five boroughs and cheer for runners. To them, I will be the stranger, a stranger who is doing something extraordinary and perhaps the one who creates a flutter, who starts the whisper maybe, maybe, maybe it can be you.
If that is the case, I hope everything about my being reflects, yes, yes yes you can.