Monday, May 01, 2006

The Race Gods Love Me

Or maybe they love YOU! They love somebody.
Blogger, however, hates somebody. I cannot get it to upload any pictures. Waaanh.
I have some great pictures! Pictures I can't show you. Like, pictures of how many freaking people there were! Twenty-two thousand people already sounded like a lot to me - but I have to tell you, on Saturday it felt more like there were 22 kazillion people there! Ok wait - I have to back up. Let me 'splain you: running is contagious. You go to a big race to cheer a wacky friend on one year and next thing you know, it's a year later and you are on the wrong side of the corral fence in newish running shoes feeling like you're going to throw up. You look desperately at the lovely folks who showed up to support you and your only comforting thought is, "Next year. Next year, you'll be on this side." That's how this race has grown so big, so fast.

In my little corner of the running world, the infection began with VBGF. We had done triathlon training together many years ago and I knew she'd gone on to the Half-marathon. I'd heard about her other friends inexorably falling into her running orbit. I wished them luck from afar. I'm not really a runner. I only put up with running because I like the other two out of three triathlon events. I naively thought that 'not being a runner' made me immune to anything that uncoupled the word 'marathon' from the only two words that should precede it (i.e. 'Star Trek'). Hah! Little did I know that I was primed for infection by my very resistance to the idea of being a real runner! Never mind that the Half is 13.1 miles of the event I like the least. Never mind that I'm not a jock. Never mind everything I thought a Half-marathon was. For the first time in the five years VBGF has been doing this, I actually went to the race with her last year instead of sending her off with 'good luck' hugs or emails.

Imagine my surprise when the folks who lined up for the Half were all shapes, all sizes, all ages, and all abilities. ALL. The marathoners looked like marathoners (i.e. NOT like me) but the Half-marathoners looked like everybody. EVERYBODY. There were grandmas and kids. There were fat people, and skinny people, and people in wheel chairs, and people with no hair from chemo, and people with prosthetic limbs, and people pushing strollers, and even people in costumes! They all looked nervous at the start and triumphant at the finish. It is practically impossible to look at all that and not wonder, "Well, if they can all do this, why can't I?" And you know what? The answer was, "There is NO reason that you can't. You can. You, Lilymane, could be one of those triumphant folks crossing the finish line." That's how it happened. That is why this past Saturday morning, I was standing on the inside of corral #17 instead of on the outside. I stood there well rested, well fed on Gatorade and PowerBars, with no more excuses because even the weather was perfect. PERFECT. I stood there next to my Team Tutu training buddies wondering if I was the only person who felt the need to pee and hurl at the same time. I hugged my support crew over the fence and we were OFF!

The race runs smack dab through the center of Nashville. It starts in front of Centennial Park and finishes at the Coliseum (home of the Tennessee Titans). The good folks of the Music City really get into this race. There are official bands (sponsored by the race organizers) every mile to mile and a half - playing music, encouraging the runners, having a good time. In addition to that, there are people with guitars in front of houses, or dulcimers and banjos, or even folks who set up huge stereo systems (my favorite was the family that blasted A Flock of Seagulls). It is an amazing experience to be cheered on by thousands and thousands of strangers. If you have your name on your shirt, the crowd will cheer you on by name! There are posters everywhere saying things like "You can do it!" and "We believe in you!" and also funny ones like "We know a short cut" and gross ones like "Fart - you'll run faster!"
There is quite a bit of wackiness to this race. Maybe there is to all big races. Maybe I'll be all blasé about it next year, but there were times when I was quite overwhelmed by the banners with encouraging bible verses and by the well-meaning volunteers shoving these at me and by the John Deere cheer leaders shouting "Git 'Er Done!" But then there were the plumbers! I wish I'd gotten a picture of these guys. There were two men running in fat suits - with well-defined clefts shown off by costume jeans sewn low on their false butts - with a furry tuft attached just above their fabric cracks. They ran with plungers in their hands. It was so wrong, yet... oh, so funny. They finished! In fat suits! With plungers! There was NO WAY I was going to drop out if they could do it. It's that kind of race. Hard. Hilly. Fun. Crazy.
It is the perfect synthesis of individual challenge and communal effort. I got so much out of this race: renewed self-confidence, a tour of Nashville, great time with family and friends, a substantial medal, and the chance to pass the infection on. Already the Ninja Princessa, Chaos, and C is for Coffee are talking about doing the race next year!

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