Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Of bagpipes and the best of friends

Sunday morning dawned clear and warm. The training was done, and it was all down to this. This morning, this moment, this race.

It was GO TIME.

Early raceday morning, I got a text from my sister Kathie: "Have a safe and healthy run. You rock!" Yup, she said it. In writing. It was time to go and prove her right. As I drove to St. Charles, I bit back nerves the entire time. From here, anything could happen ... good and bad.

So why is it that we focus on what could go wrong instead of what could go right? I found myself tied up in metaphoric knots right up until the airhorn started us off. Seriously! What the heck is THAT about? What if I was too slow and they didn't allow me to finish? What if I was literally the last person and I got embarrassed?

Well, so what? That's the worst-case scenario? I'll take it.

There are people - lots and lots of people - for whom running isn't an option. There are others who physically could, and would like to, but something keeps them from trying. I can. So what if the "what-ifs" get me down? I approached the start area.

And almost immediately found a friend - Carrie, one of my first encouragers and an amazing woman. Carrie is an IronMan and an incredible all-around athlete. I love her.
The incredible IronCarrie Mills and me, pre-race.
With a few words of wisdom from Carrie, I was ready. Just one more check of my phone, and another text from Kathie: "Focus. Be strong. Run healthy. You can do whatever you were meant to do."


And I began to run. The first mile was horrible! My legs were tired, and the pack immediately began pulling away from me. But I had the world's best playlist, and I knew it would help. I ran this race as a fundraiser for the MS Society, and I asked those who donated to my run to give me song suggestions and prayer requests to bear in mind during the run. The songs - except for the ones suggested by Mike Rice - reminded me of why I was running. Mike's suggestions pretty much just reminded me to laugh. The music helped - a lot!

Once I got through that first mile, I settled into a rhythm and a run/walk interval that felt good. I kept telling myself, "You planned and prepared; execute the plan". I kept passing the same people, and they me, so there was a sort of "back of the pack" camaraderie; it was nice! A mile or two before the turnaround, the "real" runners started coming toward me. It was incredible to see these amazing athletes running toward the finish. Seeing people I know - Carrie, her friend Pat, their friend Jay and my old friend Laura - did a lot to help me keep my head in the game. So much support. And once I got halfway, well ... to turn back at this point is pretty much to finish. 

This is where I met Denise. She settled into a pace alongside me, and we ran/walked the rest of the race together. I think we saved each other! We chatted on and off as we made our way the six or so miles we had until we made it to the finish. She told me about her kids and her career, and her journey as an athlete, and I shared my reasons for running. I explained that I was running as a fundraiser, and that the finish line might be a bit of a spectacle because my friend Rich Bird was planning to be there.

With bagpipes. 

Our deal was that if I raised $800, he'd "pipe me in" at the finish line. Well, I raised $1170, so as Denice and I approached the finish line area, we saw this guy:
My friend Rich Bird is the coolest person ever. For serious.
And he began to play. And I began to cry. And then I told my self to knock that shit off, because there was no way I'd finish if I were crying! 

It was so cool; best finish line ever - and that's goin' some. The finish line at a Disney race is pretty stellar, but this one was special. In a lot of ways, it was the culmination of months of planning on my part. It was my friends, though, that made it awesome. They - 26 of them in all - had donated to a cause that's important to me, and I felt their support with me along the run. I was running (walking, stumbling) for them. It mattered.
I wasn't kidding about the bagpipes, or the kilt, or the awesomeness of my friends.
I crossed the finish line hand in hand with my new friend Denise, and Linda (who had volunteered for the race) put my medal around my neck. I had done it! I won a half marathon! (And by "won" I mean "finished in the upright position".) My friends Millie and Eric were there to cheer me on, and Kristen (another Runner of the Round Table, our unofficial running club) had come all the way down from Schaumburg to see me finish.

That's what running is, for me. It's something I do by myself, with a large group of people. Many of them are strangers, a few are good friends. Some of them, like Denise, aren't strangers for long. It doesn't matter if you run or not; you can still be part of the race. Runners, especially the Pokey Joes like me, couldn't do it without the volunteers and the spectators and the other runners. That's where we get the motivation to keep going. We run, because we know you believe in us.

Finishing the race and celebrating with my friends ...  that's life, at its best. Those who were with me got hugs and tears, but those who weren't - my Walk MS team, my family, Carrie (who had to go to her son's ballgame) and the rest of the Runners of the Round Table - were there in my heart, for sure.
Someone you know was very very tired on Sunday night.
It was as magical a day as you can have, outside of Disney World.


Mike Rice said...


Jen McElroy said...

That's got to be the best finish to a race EVER!!

Congratulations on pushing through and finishing what some are even afraid to start.

Maggie said...

Yes, Mike ... I did it for the children. For exactly one half mile; any more would be too much.

Thanks, Jen! It was pretty awesome, I must admit. I'm a lucky girl. It's good sometimes to remember that the view from the (very) back of the pack is still pretty good!