“Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it.” ~Mark Amend
If I could pick the shape of my heart, I’d draw a shamrock in the middle of my chest. Shamrock Marathon weekend is my heartbeat. It’s the place I discovered my strength. Over the course of 13.1 miles in 2010, I became the narrator of my own life. Prior to that race, I lived the life I thought I should love. After I crossed that finish line, I began to live the life I wanted. Shamrock Marathon weekend empowers me year after year.
This year my shamrock story began to take shape as I stood on the sidelines of the Richmond marathon last November. I witnessed “coaches” running up and down the course encouraging their runners. The moment I saw it, I knew that was the role I wanted to own race weekend.
It didn’t take much convincing for my coach to say yes. In fact I think he said yes before I finished asking. My friend and fellow pacer, Steve and I would strategically place ourselves outside Fort Story before mile 10 and mile 23 of the Shamrock half and full marathon.
Race morning arrived along with terrible weather. You won’t read a race report that doesn’t talk about how the cold/rain/snow/sleet/hail/gail force winds impacted everyone’s race. As course support, I couldn’t let this impact me. I packed multiple outfits, extra shoes, and four coats. I needed to be ready.
My job as a spectator started with the half. I watched the first half of the race head north from 80th street. With enough time to catch the front runners, I made my way to 89th street. This is when my real work began. It was time to run with my team.
Our fast runners came through. Tucked in with pace groups, they looked strong. I knew the race belonged to them. One by one my teammates came off the fort. They arrived faster than I expected.
Every half marathoner looked strong. They were focused. They had fight. Not a single one faltered. Steve and I ran up and down Atlantic Ave between 89th and 82nd street running with our teammates and cheering on every other racer. It was a tough day, and if I could give someone a boost of energy, I was going to do it.
As the last half marathoner came through, the weather took a turn for the worse. Maybe it had already been that bad but when I was running with my team I was oblivious to the weather. When I stopped moving and waited for the marathoners to make their way to us, my body began to falter. Wet, cold, shivering, and a slight shade of blue, Steve and I took cover under a tree. Time stood still, and the ugly doubt that creeps in on race day found me. Trembling, I wasn’t sure I could endure several more hours of the weather. Steve saw me falter, and like a true friend and pacer he came to my rescue. He was able to move my car from 80th to 89th so I could remove my wet layers, blast my heat, and warm my body up. He took over so I could stop shaking.
Our first marathoner came through. Seeing Steve run with our dear friend unfroze my brain. I had a job to do. I put dry socks on my feet, layered on clothes that felt the least wet, and I resumed my position on the course.
The marathoners needed us more than ever. By Mile 23, everyone hurt. Everyone was frozen. Everyone had doubts. Everyone wanted to be done. My job was to shower them with positivity and praise as they attacked their final 5k.
One by one Steve and I ran with every runner. The race course felt like a ghost town. Unlike the crowded half, the marathon felt empty. The familiar faces of our team were easy to spot. We tied shoes. We opened Gus. We dug water bottles out of camelbaks. We ran. We high fived. We didn’t stop until we found our last runner.
After nearly 8 hours of running with our team, Steve and I had crossed our finish line. The race was done.
While the logistics of the day are easy to describe, the emotion of the day keeps slipping away from my finger tips. I got to witness everything. I saw hope and strength. I saw gratitude and fight. I saw desperation and panic. I saw courage. I saw the spirit of what it means to be human for 8 hours, and for a moment I was able to add positivity to someone’s day.
While every single runner responded to Mile 10 and Mile 23 in a different way, there was one common theme amongst all my teammates. When they were at their edge and at the point of breaking, they all had one question. They wanted to know how everyone else was doing? They wanted to know if a teammate and friend was on pace for their goal. They wanted me to know a teammate was right behind them. They told me what they were wearing so I wouldn’t miss anyone. Everyone was more concerned about a teammate then themselves. At their lowest, my teammates wanted to make sure their teammates were given the support they needed.
I learned more than I ever thought I would on Sunday, and yet I saw once again the same lesson every marathon I’ve ever run has been trying to show me. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow you run. It doesn’t matter how many miles you conquer.
Strength matters. Be strong enough to stand alone.
Being smart matters. Be smart enough to know when you need help.
Bravery matters. Be brave enough to ask for help.
Collectively our entire team was strong, smart and brave on race day. This is the magic of our team. We are our best when we are together.
And just like that, the season is over. The bad weather moved out. The sun started to shine as the finish line came down. Spring is here, and we all endured more than we every thought we could.
So long Shamrock 2017! This year we learned there is nothing we can’t handle.