As I mentioned in a previous post, I signed up to run the Santa Clarita Marathon sort of last minute. I had been training for a marathon a few weeks away, so I was more or less in shape for it, but 26.2 miles is not something you typically run on an impulse. I am so glad I did.
The other Sean had dedicated his running year to a couple of goals. The first goal was to get his friend Steve across his first marathon finish. The second was to run most, if not all of his steps in the glove-like Vibram barefoot shoes, up to and including the 26.2 miles of the marathon.
He had been encouraging me over the past couple of months to run this marathon with him, but I felt that I would sort of be a party crasher. When Steve dropped out and Marci joined in, everything changed and it became a great opportunity to run alongside my two great friends.
Marci had a couple of goals of her own. After having a child, she likes to dedicate herself to running a marathon. I am sure there are multiple reasons, including getting back in running shape, having a place and time all her own, and just to get back to doing something she enjoys. I think there is also a certain stubborn streak in her that just wants to prove that she can do it. Sean and Marci had their third child in March, and this would be the third time towing a marathon start line six or seven months after giving birth.
The first time she did this was in Washington D.C. back in 2006, which was also my first marathon finish. She and I ran (and walked) together, and she made it easier to believe I could make it through. I tried to send her on ahead when I struggled, but she stuck with me all the way, and we finished. Finished. What a feeling it was to cross that finish line of my first marathon.
Sean, Marci and I have participated in several races and marathons since then. I have even run alongside Sean in a couple of marathons, but we hadn't crossed the finish line together. More typically we encourage each other at the start, celebrate the finish together, and in between we set out and run our own race. This was my twelfth marathon, and have had wonderful experiences at each one, but this past Sunday was a little different, and it was one of my favorites.
The Santa Clarita Marathon is a smaller race. Where that first marathon in D.C. had some 23,000 people at the start line, there were only about 1,600 on Sunday, and only around 400 were running the full marathon. We weren't jammed together in a mass of humanity, there were no lines at the porta-potties, and it just felt all together more relaxed. We even had time to ask a stranger to snap a picture of us at the start. Check out our matching shirts and fanny packs. We definitely looked like a team.
Though there was music blasting at the start line, there were no bands along the way, and only small pockets of spectators here and there. It actually seemed like the same fifteen people leap-frogged ahead of us to cheer on the random strangers. Even the course felt more serene and relaxed. Most marathons are run along city streets, but this course was largely on tree-lined pathways called Paseos, making it feel that much more like a run through the countryside.
We left our headphones at home, and passed the time talking, joking and laughing with each other. Maybe because there were fewer spectators, or since we weren't locked in our own heads the whole time, we found ourselves encouraging more runners as we passed each other on the out-and-back portions. After losing the half marathoners at the twelve mile mark, it really felt like it was this small group of us out on a Sunday run. The course photographer caught several good shots of us, and we seemed to be smiling in each one.
Even though it is a smaller marathon, there was excellent support along the way. There were volunteers at every turn, and water stops at every mile staffed by Girl Scouts and Brownies. By the end, we were pouring as much on our heads as we were drinking (being careful not to pour Gatorade all over ourselves).
Things did get a bit more quiet after the 20 mile mark. The temperature had climbed from around 50 degrees at the start, to over 80 degrees at the finish. The increasing miles and heat took their toll, and the thoughts of a PR for Marci slipped away. Sean's feet were also hurting from running essentially barefoot all those miles. We were running slower than I trained for, so I wasn't out of breath, but my muscles seemed to hurt just as badly. The laughing and joking more or less stopped, but it was replaced with encouraging words as we pressed on to the finish.
We climbed a couple steep overpasses at the end, but then there was a nice down slope to a flat finish. Marci turned on the jets after rounding a corner and seeing the finish line, and Sean and I had to push it just to keep up. We crossed the line together, and the announcer said something along the lines of it being a family affair.
The finish area was small, but again there was plenty of room to relax and lots of recovery food to pass out. There wasn't a beer garden, but only steps away was a BJ's Brewhouse, and we stretched out on their patio and celebrated a great day on the roads.
We didn't break any records that day, but it was still one of my favorite races. Beautiful scenery, great support, and a wonderful way celebrate our friendship.