Thursday, November 17, 2016

A race revelation

I don't know when inflatable T-Rex body suits became a thing in our culture, but I'm ever grateful that they did.
I mean it.
I have spent many a gleeful moment the last several months, watching T-Rexes practice balletfrolic along the beach, complete the American Ninja Warrior course. I simply delight in the silliness of it, particularly in a year when we have all needed much distraction from violence and a little spring in our slumped step.
This weekend a T-Rex gave me a high five.
Well, a low five. I imagine the reaching power in those suits is limited, so I did a little side-angle clapping of our palms, not asking the giant lizard to raise his claws high in the air for me.
I encountered this T-Rex in a tunnel slightly southeast of Cannery Row. Normally a dinosaur in a dark space might startle me a bit, but I was surrounded by hundreds of runners, and Rihanna's "We Found Love" was pumping through the underpass, so I was feeling pretty stoked and not like I was trapped in Jurassic Park with Jeff Goldblum.
(Although if I must be trapped somewhere, to be with Mr. Goldblum would be rather pleasant, I'd venture).
I was walk-jogging in the Half Marathon on Monterey Bay, and my T-Rex moment was one of the highest for me along the course. (I then stopped at the top of the hill to remove my long sleeved shirt, and lost some momentum, but it's fine). Admittedly, this here blog post was birthed in the T-Rex moment. It's a special, tingling thing when a blog post is birthed. Other bloggers can attest to this, I'm sure.
Throughout the 13 mile course, I passed several locals sitting on camping chairs outside their homes, on their porches, in their living rooms. I envied them their coffee, but their presence gave me power to pass them by, toward the aquarium, toward the beach, toward the finish line where my Honey Bee awaited.
Some of these friendly strangers cheered me on by name, and each time I wondered how they knew to call me Bailey. I then remembered that "Bailey" was emblazoned on my race bib, and that it's printed there for the sole purpose that strangers can cheer runners on. By name. And oh, what a powerful thing to be called by name.
The white letters on my black bib were there so that strangers could, for one magical day, erase their status as strangers.
I first learned the power of names on race bibs when my incredible brother ran his first of many marathons, years ago. I was a sophomore in college, and I took the train with his friends into Chicago and watched for my brother in his orange shirt throughout the day, screaming wildly every time he came into view, so proud and amazed at the feat he was tackling.
While waiting for him to show up at various points along the race course, I also cheered for people I had never met, people I will never encounter again.
"Go Judy! Woooooooooo!" I let my voice ring out in the city streets, causing ears around me, no doubt, to ring.
"Lookin' good, Jose! Keep it up, Mary!"
I enjoyed the funny signs that spectators held up ("I'm not wearing any underwear"), and marveled at people who were willing to wear, say, a chicken suit for their 26 mile jaunt.
To be honest, after years of cheering on growing numbers of my family members in races (for my brother's first race inspired countless other Brewers to literally follow in his footsteps), I grew somewhat weary of the annual tribal trek to Chicago, and took a small break. But when my 65-year-old father was due to run his 10th marathon, I bought a plane ticket to Chi Town to surprise him. I knew where I needed to be.
And on that original fateful day in 2004, I fell in love with cheering from the sidelines of a race.
Now, 12 years later, as I have taken on my own (less ambitious, HALF marathons), I am still grateful for the T-Rexes and humans who choose to offer support to a bunch of strangers, on a chilly, foggy morning when they could be in bed.
Around mile 4 of this past weekend's race, a man near me started joking with his friend, suggesting that the friend buy an expensive home we were passing by, so that he could live there rent free.
Me, being the obnoxious extrovert that I am, said I'd like to get in on that deal. "I can eat macaroni for lunch everyday," I ribbed, already planning to survive on a minimal income for when I quit my job and live in the expensive house and write my books.
This man (read: instant new best friend for the day) launched into a description of the gourmet mac and cheese that he is capable of cooking, and, well what can I say? That was enough for me to decide that I should stick with him.
And stick together we did, for seven miles.
Larry, Brian (the friend who's in charge of buying the home), and I jogged, then walked, then jogged, then walked, and did a whole lot of talking (Brian's more of a listener, to be honest), as waves crashed in the near distance.
Larry and Brian, with their persistent bouts of jogging, as well as keeping track of our pace -- with this thing called a watch that some normal humans use, helped me shave 3 minutes and 15 seconds off my average mile pace. I felt the pain from this increase in speed the following few days, but I was thrilled at the finish line, and encouraged in what I was capable of accomplishing.
I let Larry go ahead around mile 11, but he met up with me at the finish line, met Alex, and posed for a picture with me.
I may never see Larry again (though I'd like to keep in touch).
But Larry helped me so much, when he didn't have to.
Someone dressed in a T-Rex costume and slapped my hand, when he/she didn't have to.
High school cheerleaders tied their hair in bows before sunlight appeared, and for several hours rustled pom pons and called me and others by name.
"Go Bailey!"
I know I started this post by talking about the dinosaur that came out to support athletes this weekend, but it was the kiddoes who really got me emotionally charged up and ready to write this.
There weren't a lot of kids on the sidelines, but there were enough to inspire me.
One little girl sat in a camping chair, the blue canvas nearly swallowing her up. She was pleased as punch to watch people shuffle by. Her dad stood by, chaperoning her wonder.
A couple kiddoes, probably 8 or 9, gave me high fives as I passed them near a harbor.
And others stood near their parents, their eyes taking in people doing something that's difficult but not impossible.
If I do one thing right as a parent, I've decided, it is this: I will rouse my children before dawn, wrap them in fleece jackets and plop ear muffs on their heads. I will endure their whining about the early wake up call, and buy them cake pops and hot cocoa to ease the pain. Because if kids don't learn that sugar and hot beverages ease pain, then what am I really teaching them that's at all relevant to life?
And I will bring them to the sidelines.
We will be a family that builds up. We will call strangers by name. We will watch people do a difficult and admirable thing, and be inspired that we can achieve our own difficult and admirable dreams.
We will learn that people who pass us by are not necessarily to be feared, that sometimes it will be a stranger who helps us plod along through strenuous miles.
And boy oh boy, do I hope we have some room in our budget for a T-Rex costume.


  1. I love this post, especially imagining you chiming in with, "I'd like to get in on that deal." Plus, you'd make an awesome mom.

    1. Thanks, Sugar! If I can resist from constantly feeding my kids sugar and mac and cheese, hopefully I can be a good mom! :) And yep, I get very hyper and chatty, in general, but especially on race days.

  2. You don't have to refrain - we all feed our kids lots of sugar and mac n cheese :)