Yesterday I ran in my first Rock and Roll event in Seattle. I chose to do the half marathon with my pal and running partner, Julie. Bill was signed up for the full.
To simplify our lives, Bill and I stayed at a motel a few blocks from the starting line down in Tukwila, Washington, so we could wander over in the morning at 6:30 rather than have to catch the bus at 4:30 in Seattle as most of the racers did.
I was shocked at the crowd just outside our motel. There were about 30 thousand participants signed up for the event (although apparently only about 22 thousand actually finished. This meant that we were organized into corrals based on our estimated finish times, and we would begin the race incrementally. Bill was in corral #6; I was in #26.
I have to confess that the chaos of being in the midst of so many runners didn’t invigorate me as I had expected it would. I felt stressed about finding my corral and Julie, who was already waiting for me somewhere in the crowd. And once I found both, I was annoyed at having to wait for more than a half hour beyond the official start time (7:00) to reach the starting line.
Still, the race was incredibly well organized, and once we got going, I enjoyed the energy of the racers and the bands stationed along the route. A lot of runners pick a Rock and Roll Marathon for their first full or half marathon. First-timers are fun. They know they are pushing themselves beyond where they have gone before, and they don’t know for a fact that they can pull it off. They suck in the encouragement of the fans like it’s psychic energy gel. One young woman Julie and I tracked with until she split off for the full marathon course had a T-shirt on that said: Date, Distance, Birthday, 26! It was her 26th birthday happening on the 26th of June while she ran the marathon distance. When fans cheered for her, she would shout back, “Today’s my birthday!” And then she was rewarded with additional cheers of congratulation.
Julie and I had a good race. We kept up a pace of 11 minutes and 10 seconds per mile on average. We had the energy to go harder, I think, but the runners never thinned out the entire course, so we were elbow to elbow with people the whole way and passing wasn’t so easy.
The best part of the event for me was at the finish in the Quest Field parking lot when I had the opportunity to meet Mebrahtom (Meb) Keflezighi, the 2009 New York Marathon winner. Meb (also a 2004 Olympic silver medalist) was at the event representing Sony as they introduced a new product aimed at runners – a wireless MP3 player you stick in your ears (very cool, by the way). As I stood in line to meet him, I noticed he took a good five minutes or more with each fan. When it was my turn, I understood why. Meb is a person who is interested in others. My impression of a lot of famous athletes (admittedly, fueled by celeb mags, and therefore little more than a shallow prejudice) is that they are somewhat narcissistic as a group. Not Meb. He asked me about my race and congratulated me on running the seven continents and on writing a book. He told me he was writing a book right now and agreed with me that the writing process is harder than the marathon (his book is coming soon: Run to Overcome published by Tyndale). We laughed together that it took me longer to run the half marathon than it took him to run the full 26.2. And he told me he’d take a look at my blog (Hi Meb!).
I love to watch professional runners. There is something magical about them. Like ballet dancers, every step appears to be choreographed to perfection. But Meb agreed with me that the best reason to run is that it’s good for the soul. So, to all who participated in the Seattle Rock and Roll race yesterday and to those training for a race in the near future, I say: “Rock on!” Keep on running.