Quannapowitt Friendship Marathon – Winter Edition
Saturday, March 1, 2008
Splits: Unfortunately all were erased.
Course: 1 mile plus 8 5K loops around Lake Quannapowitt.
Let me get this out of the way up front: The short of it is that on Saturday, March 1, 2008, I ran marathon distance for month number 18 in my marathon-a-month quest and my 37th marathon. Yes, I include the marathons where I wing my own; I include them because I would have run a marathon if there was an official one nearby. But let me tell you how lucky I am that there are not, because the experiences I have had because of it and the friendships earned are much greater for it.
The long of it…
This is the story of good running buddies turned even better friends.
I have several. One is so good a friend that he is going to officiate my wedding – yes, you read that correctly. Another whines a lot, constantly tells me to “suck it up” and “get over it,” but is seriously as solid a trooper and as good a friend as they come; he keeps me laughing, always provides company to run with for me and others at stray hours of the morning, and is a very likeable guy with a silly streak to him. Yet another buddy drives great distances just to keep company and share funnier-than-hell jokes while yet another is the biggest Bunghole on this side of the Athole River in Western Massachusetts. You probably know these hooligans too because I talk about them a lot. Their names are John, Andy, Mark, and Kim. And they aren’t the only ones!
The story begins in mid-February when I came down with a nasty bout of the Flu. So nasty it was, I had to back out of the Hyannis Marathon, the token run for February in my quest at Marathon-A-Month.
Once sufficiently recovered with only a trace of a lingering cough, I plotted my own marathon over a certified course that conveniently has eight 5K loops (plus an extra mile) for marathon distance. I did this because, well, being shy of month number 18 but seeing how I already had plans to get many coming months, I simply was not ready to give the streak a rest. So I asked folks to pick a day; all said they’d like to do Saturday. So Saturday it was. With the course and day set, I nailed a schedule and then solicited company. The reply was outstanding! As it would turn out, I would have plenty of company.
Only, this was plotted before the weatherman forecasted an Alberta Clipper to crash in early that morning and last through mid-day. The storm was made to sound fierce: “varying rates of falling snow. A snow squall or two cannot be ruled out. Expect 3 to 6 inches of snow, more to the north and west.” Oh great, I thought, my company was doomed. Maybe I’d get a lone soldier to keep me babbling at something more than the brisk winter air. I thought wrong.
So here’s how great friends these guys are: Andy and John, both with early morning obligations, agreed to join me for the “early” shift so that they could log a few miles before attending to their kids and family duties. The meet up time was 5:20 am. I showed up at 5:23 am. How great are they? They were already there, waiting to get the party started. And it doesn’t end there.
We put our hats on, zip our jackets, and gather beside our cars. The time was 5:25 am. That’s when good old Johnny kicked it off. In the early morning, with snow falling gently to the ground and the wind adding a bite to the air, he broke into song. Andy put his hand over his heart like a good patriot while I took off my ball cap and rested it upon my chest. And together, the three of us, sang an abbreviated version of the National Anthem while the gentle but wet snow started accumulating on our hats and jackets. And the fun, nor friendship, ends there! A few days before the “event,” in an effort to conjure up – or maybe sell – a good time, I had joked with Andy and John that we would sing the National Anthem and perhaps, just maybe if we’re lucky, even witness a flyover. I ended it by saying, “You don’t want to miss this.” The night before I searched the house high and even as low as the garage for a jet fighter but, not having kids and extra toys lying around, came up empty. The flyover would have to wait until another time. But wait! Maybe not so… at least not when good friends are involved!
Still standing in the early morning snow, Andy, John and I were just ending our version of the Anthem, “…and the home of the brave.” As we trailed on the word “brave,” John abruptly bolted for his car. He dug for something in the passenger seat and was back in a flash with something in his hand. As he came near, complete with a goofy grin stationed ear to ear, he held the object in his hand over his head and, with whooshing noises of rushing air coming from his mouth, launched a rendition of a flyover with a tiny toy plane. Andy and I sat back in awe as we witnessed the Air Canada jet begin its flyover. We called out and jumped up and down for the pre-race festivities before wrapping up and setting out for the beginning of a long journey. A long journey for me, anyway. And that’s just it. These guys came out to support friendship – because they knew I needed the company to continue a mind-boggling and perhaps foolish obsession of getting in my marathon for the month. They made sure it was much more than memorable! And it didn’t end there!
Two laps later my good buddy Mark joined in. What’s special is that Mark drove down all the way from New Hampshire to join in the fun and get in a run. He’s been coming around to run with us over the last few months, and we’re all better for it.
Meanwhile, Shawn and Terry and even the Days Man came out to support my cause with their presence by running their own route as I did mine, all in hopes of crossing paths for continued motivation – and maybe a few high fives.
By Lap #3 with Mark, my feet were already soaking wet and growing cold. The snow was still falling, but with rising temperatures, the snow was falling to the ground and melting immediately in a slushy state of slop. I warned Mark early on, “If you plan to go 3 laps, try to avoid puddles on the first lap… because it’s wet, and you’re gonna get cold.”
Just as Mark and I were finishing up the third lap, we saw Kim resting rather comfortably in her car. She popped out into the snowy morning as we neared. After exchanging hellos, Kim told Mark and I to go on. “Lori’s supposed to be here. I think she’s running late. You guys should continue on before you get too cold.” We waited 5 minutes before Kim forced us to go on.
Now getting shivers standing there as my feet grew even colder, as much as I wanted to wait longer, I took her up on her advice. Since it was a looped course, I told her to run the loop in the other direction as soon as Lori comes. And they did. Mark and I, with Mark now growing very cold on his ankles and feet, hooked up with them on the other side of the lake. Kim and Lori turned in our direction and on the four of us marched.
With so much to talk about between all of us, completing Lap #4 went quickly. As we entered the hotel parking lot to kick off Lap #5, I was pleasantly surprised to see Deb, who showed up a few laps earlier than expected. It was an even nicer surprise because by then Mark was done. Many thanks to Mark whose feet I know were frozen solid. Dude, thank you so much for sticking it out.
With snow still falling to the ground and the streets getting even sloppier with slush, Kim, Lori, and now Deb and I continued on for Lap #5. Deb and I ran in the road while Kim and Lori were up on the snow-filled sidewalk. It was a special treat for me because I got to hear all about the amazing things going on in Deb’s life. She had recently gotten engaged, so I got to hear the whole engagement story. And now she’s busy planning a wedding and even looking for a house. It’s a story that sounds familiar in my own parallel life. Having not run with her for a long while, it was cool to catch back up.
By the middle of the loop on the front side of the lake, we all joined together in conversation. The rest of the lap went very quickly. Before long we had finished up, Lori departed, and on Kim, Deb, and I went for Lap #6. Kim mentioned how she had thought of me a few weeks ago. She had been watching TV on a sleepy weekend day when she and her husband stumbled upon an airing of the Ironman show from Kona. “It was so touching… we were crying at all the stories.” It was really special for me, because as most know, I am so into all-things-Ironman that I love talking about it. Our lap went very quickly as I shared stories of other Ironmen and women.
As the three of us went right into the hotel parking lot, marking the end of Lap #5, I grew a bit sad for the company that was leaving. I was at mile 20 and otherwise feeling very good, but I knew then and there that I was about to lose the last of my friends, where I would have to charter on the last two laps all by myself in the still falling snow.
After saying goodbyes to Kim and Deb, I was off for Lap #7. Within a mile I fell into a zone and slowly picked up pace. I easily had two more laps in me, and for a second I started obsessing over wanting to quit… I was cold, my joints in my hips were tired, and I wanted to stop. As I forged on, now slipping further into myself, those thoughts were replaced by the friendship shown me on this day. I thought how cool it was to have so many people to run with. I knew they didn’t have to be out there, but they were.
Just as I was growing all warm and fuzzy inside, I saw Shawn. I was now on the front side of the lake with her coming toward me. It was a pleasant surprise because, seeing her car still in the parking lot as I completed the lap prior, I knew she was still out there, only I hoped she would return her route to the lake so that we could run together.
As Shawn and I met up, we both stopped running and chatted for a while. Shawn, now on mile 13 of her long run, was still running and feeling pretty good. Shawn’s training for Boston, her very first marathon, and had planned a 16 mile run, the longest of her life. And here she was before me. After quick math I realized that if I complete my lap (#7), I’d catch Shawn on the other side, which if she turn around at that point and ran in the direction I was, that would give her 16.5 – or maybe more – miles, which was exactly where she wanted to be. “After I finish this lap, I’ve got one more to go. I’ll catch you on the other side and we’ll go together.” It was an order. There was no question. This is what I was going to do. Shawn seemed to try to talk me out of it but somehow knew I wouldn’t give in. Running with her for her miles, if it meant making them easy, was more important that any lap I was doing. So that was the plan.
Continuing on after seeing Shawn, I used it as an excuse to hammer the pace all the way to the completion of the lap and on until I saw Shawn. By the time I hooked up with her, we still have 2.5 miles to go, the better part of the whole lake around. And together we slopped in the slush, stopped every now and then to stretch a stiff calf and foot, and continued on around the lake for a memorable Lap #8. Shawn, on her longest run ever, held strong and steady. At one point her calf acted up, but she was determined to forge on. Her fighting spirit was honorable, even motivating to me, for it is something I will remember for when I need to push on when I otherwise cannot or don’t want to. But here she was, pushing on over that last mile.
As we approached the hotel parking lot, I had time to reflect on the morning, on the friendship bestowed upon me, and the gift that I have. For here I was, now at mile 26 and rounding the final turn into the parking lot, and I still had another 3 or 4 laps in me. Considering I was knocked out only a week earlier due to the Flu, it was something special. Where I worried about my lungs and how they would respond, I learned that I had nothing to worry about. Where I was upset that the Flu knocked me out of a marathon only a week early that I was planning to race, I learned that this marathon distance run, the Quannapowitt Winter Marathon, as I called it, was really better named the Winter Edition of the Quannapowitt Friendship Marathon.
Now on the final stretch, with nothing but falling snow and sloppy slush on the road between me and the finish line at my car, I raised my arms and pumped my fist. Crowd noises rushed from my mouth as I trotted toward the finish. Behind me, Shawn cheered and hollered for me, for herself, for the love of life and pursuit of dreams.
I clicked my watch a final time. It read 4:10:09. That’s 4 hours, 10 minutes, and 9 seconds of committed friendship. And I thank every one of those second, and each of the people, even those who tried to be there but got taken out by the weather, who made it possible.