running the green river marathon – a first marathon experience

This morning I set out along the Green River to run 26.2 miles with my friend Matt.  This race turned out to be lots of fun.  It was a great opportunity to share in Matt’s first marathon.

Backing up several months, shortly after I began running again, my friend Landy told me that Matt had wanted to do the Green River Marathon.  We’ve known each other for a couple of years, although not very well.  Matt’s son was on a baseball team that Landy had recruited my dad and I to help coach.  He’s a great kid – great attitude, and a pleasure to work with.  Having spent a bit of time with Matt, it’s clear that his son comes by this honestly. 

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I’d tried to connect with Matt and his wife Stefanie a couple of times in the months before the race, but we weren’t able to get together.  I’d heard that Matt training curve was steep, meaning he’d ramped quickly and perhaps not done any 20+ mile runs, which made me a bit nervous.  I worried that he’d get out there to do this, and it wouldn’t be fun for him.  In my view, the key is to balance the challenge with fun, otherwise you won’t necessarily want to do another one!

So when I rode up to the start of the race, I was pleased to see a bunch of folks out there to support Matt.  Experience with running and lots of other things tells me that when you have lots of support, even difficult challenges (like doing a marathon) become much easier.

I’d not originally planned to go out on the early start, but the chance to run the course with Matt was too good to pass up.  I’d missed the start by a little bit, but ran out to meet them.  I’d not seen Matt since he’d run out to Marymoor Park back in January.  He and Landy had run up some steep hills on the way, stopping to say hi.  Matt tells me that starting out on those hills was pretty difficult, but having someone like Landy to enjoy the run with helped motivate him.

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I ran up behind Matt’s pack, including his son, his dad, as well as Landy and his son (all on bikes).  We shook hands, and I asked him if it would be okay to join him on the run.  At this point, Landy assured Matt that if he ran with me, he could count on me to talk most of the way – that’s either entertaining, or it’s a good reason to run faster.

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Since we’d gone out with the early start, there was scant aid station coverage in the early miles.  I shared some Endurolyte capsules with Matt, and encouraged him to take some of my sport drink as well.  As we went on, Matt’s support team provided him with fluids and Power Bars, and the aid stations opened up.

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We ran together, and I told some running stories.  We talked a bit about my recovery, and exchanged some training stories.  Winding along the Interurban Trail as we traveled up the Green River, I began to recognize how much fun it was to share the run with a first-timer.  Make no mistake, running 26.2 miles is hard.  And running it for the first time can be even harder.  But running it with a guy like Matt who rolled with the challenge, kept positive, and laughed a lot was great.

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Before we knew it, we reached mile 19.  Matt pointed out that this was a mile farther than he’d ever run.  We observed that after a couple more miles, it’d be a matter of doing the equivalent of a weekday training run after work before we reached the finish.

Through all of this, I was reminded that I enjoy running distance because I love the stories it generates.  The connected conversations, jokes, and the fulfillment of meeting a challenge together.  Earlier in the week, I’d remarked to someone that I’d easily trade off any future PR’s for assurance that I’d be able to run into my 70’s or 80’s.  Running marathons is an excellent way to clarify perspective on many things.  You don’t evaluate yourself based on a single day, it’s more a matter of working towards longer term goals.

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Stefanie joined us again around mile 20.  I ran a bit ahead, letting she and Matt spend some time talking, while I talked a bit with Matt’s dad, who was with us on the bike.  The thing that really touched me was just how warm and genuine the family is.  I’d seen this before when we were coaching the baseball team – there was always a big turnout to cheer on Matt’s son.  It made a huge difference for him playing baseball and other sports too.  And it made a huge difference today too.

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So as we loped along the Alki waterfront for the final stretch, Matt was definitely feeling the miles.  His stride had shortened, and he was quieter.  But he never complained, and was always able to reflect on how huge the occasion was.  It’s easy to lose sight of this when you’re at mile 24 and hurting all over, but Matt’s spirit definitely prevailed.

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When we crossed the finish, much happiness followed.  It was good to call the run complete, but I’d definitely like to capture what carried us along the course.

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Running a race takes support from other people – friends and family.  Thanks go to Stefanie for joining us for the hardest miles, after the wall can hit you.  Thanks go to Matt’s father for riding the whole course with us.  Special thanks go to Matt’s and Landy’s sons, who rode around 15 miles of the course with us.  And of course thanks go to Matt’s and Landy’s families for being there on the course, cheering us on, and providing fluids and fuel.

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Running a marathon is a great metaphor for so many other things in life.  It can get difficult, it can hurt, you can focus on any number of negatives.  Or you can make the most of your time out there, and enjoy yourself.  So – thanks Matt for reminding me of that, and sharing the run!

pictures are included courtesy of hal david, stefanie hodovance, and robcat.net

(more pictures to follow when they’re available)

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