Monday, October 10, 2005

The Chicago Marathon at Adams and Canal

It's darker in the mornings this time of year. The weather is moody, sometimes warm and sunny, other times damp and gloomy.

Today was cloudy and unseasonably cool. Not good for an afternoon drive to see the fall colors, but good for a marathon. The temperature was forty some degrees at the start and a fast moving cover of clouds kept the sun under wraps most of the morning.

I decided to drive downtown to watch my daughters run, instead of taking the train. The place I like to sit on the course these days is just outside the train station, where the runners pass at the thirteen mile mark. At that point they are still feelling pretty good, smiling and waving as they go by. The street is not too crowded with people, only one spectator deep. Conveniently, there's a Starbuck's, a McDonald's with a bathroom, and parking within half a block.

Last night, in an unexpected show of support, I went to Kinko's and made four signs with my daughters' names on them. I chose Day-glo pink and green 18 x 24 posters with big black lettering that anyone could read from a block away.

I had them laminated, too, to make the signs stiffer when they were held up in the air. I also signed up for a service which sent my daughters' split times at every 10K mark to my computer. I tried to sign up for the text messaging service, too, but someone from FEMA must have been running things, because it was screwed up. Luckily, I have AOL by phone, so I could just call my email to figure out approximately where they were on the course.

Since this year was my older daughter's first marathon, the plan was for the two of them to go slow, very slow. Not that my other daughter runs fast; she's got a pretty demanding career that precludes heavy training, so she's usually finishing around the four hour mark.

Today she would be pacing her sister, so no personal records were planned. Helping her rookie sibling cross the finish line with dignity was the only goal.

Personally, my biggest worry would be losing control of my bodily functions and having it captured on video, the way Wide World of Sports covers people collapsing during an ironman race: Up close and personal pooping in your pants in public. My apologies to any sensitive readers.

The first Chicago marathon I went to in 1999 was already my younger daughter's third or fourth. I positioned myself with a camera on the median strip near the start so I could get pictures of the skyline and the myriad runners passing on either side. There was also a bunch of vocal spectators on a bridge just above and behind me for entertainment value.

I thought I had the perfect place to see her run past. Surely I could spot her. There were only thirty some thousand people running that day. What was I thinking?

I ended up walking most of the course in reverse trying to catch a glimpse of her. That race, where a men's record was set, had started out hovering around freezing, so the runners were layered in clothing. But the sun was out and it got pretty hot, so there were sweat shirts, sweat pants, hats, gloves, you name it left strewn all along the course. I knew this because it felt like I dodged most of it trying to locate my daughter. And I never saw her until after the race was over.

The next time I came to watch, she got me seats in the covered grandstand at the finish line. I went from steerage to first class. There was free food in the huge tent, which also had computers so you could track the runners on the course. What a civilized, sophisticated way to go to a marathon.  It helped that she had a friend who worked in the Mayor's office. All the food and high tech equipment aside, I still missed her finish, because I left the stands to check where she was on the course and go to the bathroom. I was gone for just one darn minute and the next thing I knew she was calling to me as I was leaving the tent.

I was out of town the next few times. But a couple of marathons ago, I discovered my current spot by the train station, just after the runners cross a bridge over the Chicago River heading west. The Sears Tower is a couple of blocks away. You might think it blots out the sun, but you don't even notice it's there unless you happen to look up and tilt your neck back so far it hurts. That's a tall building. Oh, hey, that's the Sears Tower. The river meanders through all the skyscapers like black ink. The sun, when it comes out, is bright and white. Everything seems devoid of color except for what the runners are wearing, often unnaturally iridescent shirts, shoes, caps, and gloves.

My first year by the train station, my daughter's boyfriend [at the time] rode his bike and followed her along the course. He knew where I was supposed to be and rode ahead. When he found me he pointed her out about a half a block away. [Thanks Steve. Did I mention I cried when they broke up?]

She stopped for a quick picture [hmm, where is it, I wonder?] and I finally had a chance to wish her well while she was actually out on the course. Then I went down the stairs, hopped on a train and went home. No traffic, no hassles, or anything.

This time I wanted to sit in the same place, but drive there. I was worred about traffic, however, and all the re-routed streets. But it was Sunday morning. There isn't any traffic then in the city. Since I had a map of the course I could avoid any blocked off streets.  

In fact, my plans were falling into place a little too easily. Which made me uneasy. I got off the expressway, drove six blocks to a public parking garage one half block from where I wanted to sit, and attempted to park.

The garage door opened, but the machine that spits out the tickets didn't work. Meanwhile, there was a car behind me honking to get in. I got out to see what was wrong with the ticket machine, since I couldn't go forward without a ticket, when suddenly the garage door began to close. As it neared the hood of the car behind me with no sign of letting up, the driver finally saw me gesturing and backed out of harm's way. She was too busy trying to tell me to move my ass to notice her car was about to be crushed.

Soon I discover I'm trapped inside the garage with no ticket. The door is closed. I can't back up. I can't go forward. There is no one around. In fact, there's even a sign that confirms that no one will be around until Monday morning.  I'm about to call the cops just because I'm so hacked off, when the garage door starts to open again. The lady behind me had kicked off the automatic door opener when she backed out.

I jump back in the car and try to back out before the garage door comes down again. Bad idea. I didn't have much wiggle room and in my haste I didn't check the right side of my car. Suddenly I heard the sound of the right rear view mirror being ripped out of its socket as I hurriedly backed out of the garage.


Clearly, things had been going too well. Now we've experienced a correction. So things can start going well again. I drove around the corner and found a public garage that was only one block away from the race, with a ticket machine that worked.  The race was already underway by the time I got parked and walked over. It had started at 8:00 AM. My kids wouldn't be coming by for about at least an hour and a half to two hours by my calculations.

There was almost nobody on the north side of the street, so I set up my chair and got into the zen of waiting. Several cars, trucks, and motorcycles came by with camera crews carrying signs telling us to wave and shout. I waved and shouted and clapped, too. A group of high school girls in crazy outfits and makeup holding a banner with the name of their school lined up across from me. Little kids started sitting on the curb. All kinds of colorful signs appeared. Go Dad was the most popular one. When the first wheelchair racers rolled by, people began to cheer and clap like we were saving Tinkerbell's life, since that's our job on the sidelines. Keep the runners propelled to the finish line. No one collapses and dies on our watch. Or our block at least.

Some guy shows up with a bullhorn and does a play by play of all the runners passing by. Many, like my offspring, have their names on their shirts so people can call out to them and spur them on.

The bullhorn commentator shouts to as many as he can, "There's Gretchen, she's a winner -- she's been training for months to be here -- go Gretchen!"  "Hiya, guy in the funny shirt, how's it going?"

My daughters gave me a time they thought they'd be coming by, I got out a poster about ten minutes beforehand and started holding it up so they could find me. Another woman whose daughter had already stopped by for her bag of fruit and an energy bar, offered to hold up one of the other posters with me. I told her she would only be committed to five minutes, but we got to talking so the five minutes went by quickly and she said she had time to stay longer.

All of a sudden, no more than two minutes later, my volunteer poster holder saw names that matched the posters on some bright green shirts.  My daughers saw her about the same time, then saw me. At first they thought it was funny that someone they didn't know had a sign with their names on it. Hey, there's Mom next to her with that other sign. Just like we planned. After the wait to see them, it took about ten seconds for them to pass out of sight. The moment reminded me of spending all day preparing dinner and having your family take ten minues to eat it.

They didn't stop, which was smart, since my older daughter, on her very first 26.2 mile journey in running shoes, looked like she wasn't going to make another mile, let alone another thirteen miles, as she went by.

The day before, her biggest fear was not finishing. Not finishing had haunted her ever since her taller, but younger, sister had encouraged her to try a marathon. The expression on her face seemed to reflect her concern. At least that's what I thought. I tried to tell her beforehand not to think negative thoughts.  

Visualize the finish line. You've trained for this. You can make it.  Sure, Mom. My younger daughter, after all her marathons, triathlons, and an ironman, was smiling and waving to me like she was out for a stroll, so I knew she'd get her sister through it.

After they went on their way, I drove home to track them on my computer, concerned enough about my older daughter that I let out a WHOOPIE when I got the email with her [unofficial] finishing time.

They had a lot of people supporting them along the way. Wearing shirts with their names on them meant that they heard encouragement from complete strangers, too. They said the support on the course was incredible. That's just the way marathons are. Especially Chicago. No, really.

Those little high school cheerleaders across from me were doing some great foot-stomping cheers. In their feather boas and funny hats, they looked like characters from an episode of Pee Wee's Playhouse. There were live bands playing in every neighborhood on the route. My kids also had other people they knew cheering them on about every two miles. Later, they were joined on the course by a friend of my older daughter's who ran the last six miles with them.

Turns out my older daughter's knee was hurting from about mile three. No wondershe didn't look happy. So I was really impressed that she finished, given the fact there was no reward at the end, only a sense of achievement. And the finisher's medal. In her case, the thought of not finishing was a powerful enough incentive to help her overcome the pain. Apparently not wanting to feel humiliated is a great motivator.

Of course, now, after getting up early, loading the car, carrying everything from the car to the race, and holding up the signs, I think I'm more tired than they are. Especially when I consider all the running around I did to different stores to find matching iron-on letters for their shirts.

There's all that getting in and out of the car, too. And asking the right questions, "Do you have any more letter 'I's' in the back? How about an 'N'?"  Then there was the grueling work on the posters. Typing the letters. Pushing the button to print out the template. Have I mentioned the practice copies I had to make? And have you ever tried to use a giant paper cutter to trim the extra lamination off and do it straight? That's something I usually delegate to others. But, no, I had to do it myself. Sheesh.

I also had to carry a folding chair, my camera, and my purse along with the bag of posters, which I brought back home so we can use them again. Plus the stress of knocking my rear view mirror off the car so that now it's only hanging by a couple of wires. I smell duct tape.

After today's hard work, they're having massages tomorrow.  

I think after a hard day being a spectator, I am going to need one too.


jevanslink said...

To everyone who left comments and wonders where they went, I deleted the old entry about the marathon to insert this one.  I was having such a hard time making changes on the MAC that it just became the easiest thing to do. If you remember what you said, feel free to post your comments again.  Or not.  Mrs. L

ally123130585918 said...

What a graphic and charming picture you have painted of this gruelling marathon. I'm worn out just reading about it - so I think you deserve a massage for all the work you put into brave of you elder daughter to keep on running when she was in pain from the beginning of the race.  I know I shouldn't have but I laughed at your battle with the Garage door closing and locking you in - and then hitting your rear view mirror. them ticket machines that don't work have some answering to do. It is sad when your children break up with someone you like - but hey thats life.....take cae.....Ally

belfastcowboy75 said...

Knowing you as I do, I waited for the real entry.

belfastcowboy75 said...

An opus of this magnitude and quality deserves a high comment count, so I'mm trying to make up for the lost ones.

belfastcowboy75 said...

"The river meanders through all the skyscapers like black ink. The sun, when it comes out, is bright and white. Everything seems devoid of color except for what the runners are wearing, often unnaturally iridescent shirts, shoes, caps, and gloves." You were really stylin' through parts of this.

belfastcowboy75 said...

I meant to tell you, when you recently published that picture of your daughters, that they are beautiful and elegant. I couldn't comment then, of course, because you were responding to that stupid meme.

belfastcowboy75 said...

I do have some talent as a masseur.

jevanslink said...

Cowboy -- Nothing like having a day off from commenting on your students' essays so you can spend your time perusing ours. Thanks for reading mine. More thanks for your comments about my daughters. No thanks to your services as a masseur, just because the  plane ticket would make it a very expensive proposition.  Didn't mean to say proposition. Too late. Mrs. L

mombzbe said...

The support of the crowd at these races is amazing, and it does help you keep moving.  Which is a good thing when you are halfway through it, and realize how much further you have to go and that maybe this isn't so much fun anymore.

How cool a Mom are you to get them the iron-on letters and make big signs?  :)

shaz19743 said...

What a day ! What great gals ! What a fab sense of achievement !

swibirun said...

Knoxville finally has a marathon again and I want to do it next year.  Great read.