Just Write 30 ~ Marathoning from the other side

   September 17, 2013 1:03 am    1

 

“OK, so everything you need is in the bag. Your chip, bib and pins are in the white envelope,” I say as I hand the navy blue Erie Marathon bag out the open window of the Rotary Pavilion to the marathoner on the other side. He’s from Michigan.

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He takes the bag and says, “I have a question,” and I get all warm and fuzzy inside. I love questions at marathon packet pickup. I relish the opportunity to share my love for Presque Isle and the knowledge I’ve acquired by running, biking, skiing and rollerblading (remember when everyone was rollerblading) nearly every dang square inch of it.

He wants to know exactly where the race starts and he wants to know where to park and how early he should arrive. I explain that the park road is down to one lane once they mark the course in the wee hours of the morning and the Rotary Pavilion is 3.5 miles in, so he’d do best to hit the entrance of the park no later than 5:45 a.m.  I tell him that volunteers will be there to help him park, that he might want to hit the bathhouse in the parking lot before he walks over the marathon start, which is right in front of the building we’re standing in. I also tell him that he should really cross the road and go check out the beach before he leaves. I tell him that our sunsets are legendary.

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I want him to like us — Erie, the marathon, the beach, the runners club. I want him to say good things about us to his friends because Erie deserves to be loved. It’s a pretty sweet life we have right here on the great lake.  And, our runners club is a gift to all of us — active and thriving and growing. Few cities our size (if any) have runners clubs that are as organized, welcoming, and active as ours. Ask anyone who has moved away.

Over several hours at the packet pick up, runner after runner is surprised at how smooth the process is (“Wow, really? Everything I need is in here? I don’t have to stand in three different lines to get my bib and chip and shirt?”) Several runners tell me they “do Erie” every year. They say that they keep coming back because it’s well organized, they love the park, the volunteers are great, and the price is right. It’s a nice, flat course, too — a B.Q. course, for sure.

We finish up at packet pickup about 7:30 p.m. and I stop at Walmart on my way home to buy a coffee carafe.  Dan and I need to report to Beach 6 at 5 a.m. to help park cars, then I need to head over to the Old Lake Road crossover by 7 a.m. to road marshal.  That’s a volunteer shift that is going to require more than a 20-ounce cup of coffee.

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Our alarm goes off at 4 a.m. We stumble out of bed to make a couple pots of coffee — one for the carafe and one to drink. I pull on a few layers of clothes because it’s a chilly day to stand outside for hours on end.

When we get to Beach 6, I get a fancy orange cone flashlight to wave drivers on (which ends up giving me a nice shoulder and upper arm workout).

I get another swell of pride when I see just how down-pat the ERC volunteers have even the parking situation. There are volunteers with cones in each row and one “traffic director” at the main entrance to the lot, feeding cars to different rows. When one row gets backed up, he feeds a few cars to the next row. It looks chaotic, but it’s actually a really smart and efficient system.

We rock.

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There’s no stop sign for the crossover spot that Greg and I are road marshaling, but an outstretched hand from a tall guy in a bright yellow safety vest standing in the middle of the driving lane has the same effect.  Cars are held up for less than 30 seconds as runners cross from the main road to the Old Lake road. Whenever there’s a long enough gap to let a car or two go by, we wave them through.  Only one guy is nasty about having to wait. There’s always one.

We cheer. We direct the runners to take a right turn. We tell them they look strong. We tell them there is water just ahead. We tell them they look better than the zombies handing out water at the Thundering Herd water stop (Halloween theme this year).

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I marvel at how these water stop folks not only drove quite a way to get to the marathon to volunteer, but they got up early enough to get dressed up and made up. They have fun with it, too. Several of the “zombies” pretend to follow the runners, dragging a leg. They joke. They  talk and behave in character. They provide not just water and Gatorade, but a fun and welcome distraction for weary runners.

A few hours in, I regret drinking all that coffee as I dance around, hoping they all think I am just trying to stay warm.

I scan the runners on both sides of the road, looking for familiar faces (and gaits…funny how we get to know each others’ running forms, eh?) so I can yell out words of encouragement to friends. And husbands:

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I’m having so much fun that when the last of the marathoners shuffle by and the “sweep” biker rides up and tells us we can go, I’m almost sorry.

Almost.

I did have nearly a pot of coffee in me at that point. Chalk that up to another running lesson learned the hard way.

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About Just Write
“What ends up revealing itself when free writing is that everything has meaning. That is a magnificent gift of writing. If we write from a free heart-gut place, our souls start speaking.”

 

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