>If you never help out with races, you should. After helping put on a marathon or an ultra (and I would wager and Ironman as well) you will leave with a tremendous lack of sleep. You will be so hungry that you actually can’t even eat anything except junk food and soda. You will leave with sore arms and legs, because as it turns out standing still for hours on end is actually tremendously challenging. But you will always leave with some inspiration.
People in the sport of triathlon are spoiled. We have the best pros in sport. No really, we do. Head to the end of a triathlon, and you will undoubtedly find some pros milling about. They might be putting medals on finishers, or they might be hanging out with friends and family, but they’re there. Head to an Ironman finish at midnight and you know what you see? Pros dancing and running down the finish chute with the last finishers. It’s amazing the commitment they have to not only their own race, but also to helping others find it in themselves to get to the finish line.
Now, head to the end of a marathon, in the last hour of the race. What do you see? Probably not a whole lot – unless of course you go to one of the big 3 or 5 races. A few people milling around. Maybe some of the race crew taking down the finish chute. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t necessarily see it is possible to do this any other way. The marathon course needs to be torn down in time with the course limit – permits, traffic, etc are all viable concerns.
This weekend was no different. With 28 minutes left before the race cutoff, the police arrived to tell us that there were 2 runners out on the course, and they were still 4 miles away. Knowing these people weren’t even making 15 minute miles at this point, we really only had one option: they can stay out there, but it’s at their own terms. The water stops will get packed up, traffic will be let back on the course. They have to run the sidewalks and obey traffic signals. But they don’t have to get into the sweep vehicle if they don’t want to.
This information was relayed to the runners, and we waited. One runner chose to get picked up by a friend, and call it a day at mile 24. We began packing up the finish line, leaving out 1 finisher medallion and the rubber timing mats. The expo vendors were packing up and rolling carts of boxes out. What had been a party block a couple hours prior, was now a ghost town.
About 30 minutes after the 6 hour cutoff, I looked down the road and saw a girl with a race number on running up around the corner, making her way along the uphill to the finish. A man was walking his bike alongside her. She made her way to the timing mats where I was there with a smile and a congrats as I gave her the medallion.
But she didn’t care. She didn’t endure what was probably the longest 6.5 hours of her life for that medal. And she certainly didn’t do it for me. It wasn’t for the pizza and the chocolate milk at the finish, either. She did it for herself, and probably a little bit for her boyfriend (who was the guy with the bike who had been alongside her the entire morning). I stepped away as I realized this and just watched the outpouring of emotion as she accepted a warm shirt from her boyfriend and they turned and made their way back towards their car.
I hope when my days get difficult I find whatever it was that that girl did to dig deep, and get to the finish. Because it’s not about the medals and the t-shirts. Or the finish line announcer saying your name. It’s about giving everything you’ve got to prove to yourself that you can endure. And you will finish.