The Marathon Spectator, formerly known as T-Rex Runner

The Columbia SC Marathon, my hometown race, was this past weekend. After I had such a wonderful experience last year in the inaugural event, I immediately decided that I wanted to become a streaker. No, not the naked kind, the really crazy kind – the kind that does a race every single year starting with the inaugural. Even after I had my surgery on February 19th, I was still deluding myself with the belief that this was a possibility. When my doctor cleared me to start running again on the Monday before the marathon, it was less than 2 weeks post-op and the quickest he had ever released someone to start running again. Impressive, right? Well, sort of. I was cleared to run 3 entire miles and build up slowly from there. And since I got the news on a Monday and the race was on Saturday, I’m pretty sure he didn’t mean build up from 3 to 26.2 or even 13.1 miles over the course of 5 days, and I was forced to make a very difficult decision – I wasn’t going to be running at all on Saturday. Ironically, I still wasn’t supposed to go back to work full time yet, since running for half an hour was actually less taxing on my body than sitting up for 8 hours straight. Yeah… that was a really awkward conversation to have with my boss.

As disappointed as I was not to be running in the race, my disappointment was quickly displaced by sheer panic because I had appointed myself the ORGANIZER OF ALL THE THINGS, meaning I was coordinating the race weekend for all of the Maniacs who were coming into town. This, of course, was on top of the duties I had coordinating the expo as part of the race committee. As the only Maniac living in Columbia, I felt obligated to show everyone traveling in from out of town a great time. The problem? I am so not an event organizer. Feeling like whether people have fun or not is in my hands is terrifying. So I did the smart thing and put off all of the planning for as long as humanly possible until I just couldn’t ignore it any more. I made dinner reservations. I decided on a picture location. I found out who needed their packets picked up. I tried not to panic.

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If only I was quite this victorious about it.

And so, on Friday, which was my first full day of work since the surgery, I was running around the office like a crazy person. I went to the expo and picked up literally 15 packets and shirts (this is where being on the race committee came in handy, because otherwise I’d just look like a psycho/thief). And immediately after work, I headed over to the Maniacs dinner, praying that people would show up. In addition to the fact that a lot of people end up changing their plans at the last minute, several Maniacs flights were delayed and coming in later than expected. Imagine my terror when I get to the restaurant and am told that we can’t be seated until at least half of our party is physically in the restaurant. Umm…what if half never showed up all at once? It’s kind of a fluid situation with people coming in and coming out. What if everyone hates me because they can’t sit down and I picked the worst place ever? WAHHHHHH.

Everything was fine, of course. In fact, my mood substantially improved when I found some Maniacs that were already at the restaurant (at the bar, of course) and learned that one of them had brought me an offering present!

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This is Jim. Jim is not only devilishly handsome, he is also smart. He brought me a T-Rex!

For the record, I like presents. We all sat down and waited as more and more members of the group started to arrive. The whole time, I’m frantically checking my phone for facebook messages and text updates to make sure that everyone is still on their way and I don’t need to go grab any more packets. Well, lo and behold, I find out that I do need to run back to the expo and get another packet for my friend Nicole, who was stuck in traffic in Knoxville and not going to make it to the expo. So I leave the dinner in the middle of it and run over to the hotel, meanwhile texting Justin Gillette, who is a Maniac who had come in from Indiana with intentions of winning the race the next day. Yes, winning. As in COMING IN FIRST. This is a very foreign concept to me, but I figured I would meet him at the expo, as we had been talking about his plans for Columbia over the past few months. Of course, I used my wit and charm to convince him to come back to the Maniacs dinner and meet everyone.

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Justin might be really fast, but I have really awesome hair. I’ll call it a draw.

The Maniacs dinner was amazingly fun and overwhelming at the same time. So many people showed up that we had to grab more chairs! By this point, the people I was most nervous about meeting had arrived. Katherine and Sean had flew in all the way from Oregon for the express purpose of meeting me to run the marathon and the half marathon. Katherine is a member of the Elite Honey Badgers Running Squad out in Oregon, and even though I don’t actually know any of them in real life (well, I guess I do now, but you know what I mean), they’ve become people I would consider good friends even though they’re all the way on the other side of the country. Their support for my blog/existence has been really incredible, and I was really nervous about meeting Katherine because I didn’t want the bubble to burst, quite frankly.

At the risk of disappointing all of you, I don’t think I’m nearly as interesting in person as this blog would have you believe. It’s a lot harder for me to be funny in person than it is on the blog, and my natural tendency is to actually be pretty introverted. When I meet new people, I’m forcing myself out of my comfort zone – which is a good thing, of course, but a cause of anxiety nonetheless. Katherine in particular has put so much faith in me and sent me the most encouraging messages after my toughest blog posts, and I guess I was worried that I wouldn’t be everything she had hoped. Either way, I’m just me, so remember that if we ever meet in real life. For the record, I realize it’s ridiculous to think that she had built me up to the level of, say, Justin Bieber, but I like to turn things into apocalyptic scenarios in my mind, ok? Anyway, she ended up being really sweet, much cooler than me, and a huge inspiration. And she and her husband brought me special Honey Badger gear!

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The back says “Badger Up!” and the side says “T-Rex.” I’m getting a lot of awesome headgear lately.

We had such a great turn out at dinner and ended up having so much fun that dinner wasn’t even over til 10pm. Four hours? Crazy! J.C. was staying at my house for the race, and we still had to grab cups for my aid station before heading home. I had already procured 150 individual bags of gummy bears, two big bags of pretzels, beer, foam board and markers for signs, and pretty much everything else I needed; the woman at the Dollar Store looked at me like I had two heads when I bought all that stuff.  J.C. was off to sleep as soon as we got home, and I still had plenty of setting up to do before going to sleep. Having the alarm go off less than 6 hours later was not pleasant.

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So many awesome people in one room! Makes my heart happy.

The next morning came bright and early, and I gathered up all my aid station supplies and JC and I hit the road. The Maniacs picture was 15 minutes before the start of the race, but I also needed to meet up with Nicole to make sure she got her packet before the start. Fortunately, we were able to park and find her with no problem. Before the race, I also was able to meet Emily, who is maybe the most adorable person in the world. We’ve spoken through our blogs and on Twitter, but I’m 100% sure I creeped her out when I recognized her from all the way across the lawn. Anyway, she kicked ass in Columbia and nabbed herself a PR. I did not kick ass and failed to get a picture with her.

Although at first it seemed like no one was going to show up for the picture, all of a sudden a herd of Maniacs assembled on the state house steps! Whew!

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Our apologies to the innocent bystanders who had to take 500 of these pictures.

You might notice that I am wearing a hat in this picture. That’s because the most excellent Peter was rocking his Team T-Rex shirt and brought me a matching T-Rex hat! I was wearing about 18 layers of clothing at this point because I’m always cold unless I’m running. I saw everyone off to the start, then quickly ran over to my truck and headed off to the designated aid station location. It didn’t occur to me until Friday morning that I actually had to do some research to pick a spot for the aid station. I’m not sure what I was thinking – apparently I thought I was just going to set up in someone’s driveway and they just wouldn’t mind? Yeah, not the best plan. I ended up settling on a quiet intersection along the course that didn’t seem like it would have much traffic and also seemed to have a low probability of getting mugged, since downtown Columbia can be quite sketchy at parts. Although I had tried to force encourage AJ to help me with the aid station, he’d pretty much rather die than watch a marathon I wasn’t running in (or even one I was, unless it’s in Chicago), so he begged me to find a replacement. Fortunately, I was able to commission my friend and running buddy Chuck and his daughter Katherine to do all the heavy lifting help.

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Aid station partner extraordinaire, Chuck

I have to say that one of the most amusing things that happened the entire weekend was that everyone kept asking where AJ was. Apparently, he has quite a fan base. Most people just assumed that Chuck was AJ (he’s not, obviously), and that was pretty entertaining for me. Anyway, Chuck was super critical to the operation since I’m not allowed to lift anything over 5 pounds  thanks to the surgery. Also, he has a good personality for spectating, so we had a great time out there. We waited for the first runners to come through, knowing that they would not have time and/or desire to slow down  for all our treats, but I wanted to make sure Justin was in the lead since I had thoroughly jinxed him the day before by telling everyone that he was going to win the marathon. No pressure, right? Well of course, the first runner that came through was not Justin, and I immediately panicked and convinced myself that I had ruined his race and it was all my fault. Justin was close behind, and Chuck noted that the guy who was in front of him was a half marathoner – whew!

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This is what it looks like when you run fast. I would say that I am interested in seeing what I would look like if I was ever running fast, but that would require effort. Hi Justin!

As the faster runners came through, I made sure to call out to everyone I knew and cheer for them. I caught one Maniac, Tony, by surprise as I yelled out both his first AND last names, even though we’ve never met and he wasn’t wearing a Maniacs singlet. How? Powers of the mind. Actually, I just knew he normally runs about a 3:05 marathon and he was right behind the pace group and his bib said Tony, so I took a wild guess. He was pretty impressed by this, obviously. As much fun as it is to watch the faster runners go by, we were really excited for the mid-packers, because they would take our food and perhaps stop and chat or actually acknowledge us. We cheered for every Maniac that came through, and I tried to call out the bib names of everyone that ran by. Lots of people were very amused by my sign, which said “You are pretty and nice.” Added bonus – lots of the people that ran by told me that was the one who was pretty. Unexpected ego boost? I’ll take it.

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I was a little jealous when all my favorite people ran by without me, but I made the right call.

I was determined to stay out there for everyone on the course until the last person had passed our station. Things got considerably quieter on the second loop, since the half marathoners were all done by this point. Chuck and I broke out the beer to offer to the marathoners, and I felt myself getting epically sunburned and realized there was nothing I could do about it. Our little station became a drop point for Maniacs to leave extra clothes, arm warmers, etc as they ran by, and I was relieved to see Justin come through in first on the second loop! Looks like I hadn’t jinxed him after all.

Now here’s a random assortment of pictures from the aid station. People were super impressed by the individual packs of gummy bears (much easier and less gross than sticking your hand into a giant bag) and the pretzels were apparently a life saver. That’s one of the benefits of having a marathoner as a spectator – we know what you need out there!

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T-Rex hat? Check. Luxurious hair? Check.

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Running partners in crime. We miss you, Kate!

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Don’t worry, Robin, we didn’t let Katherine actually hand out beer. She wrote “good luck” on all the packs of gummy bears, though.

Several of my Maniac friends were dealing with injuries and other issues that left them concerned that they might not be able to make the six hour time limit, which was causing me severe distress. I was really worried – I’d recommended this race to so many people who had traveled from all over the country just to come run it! What if they didn’t get an official time? What if they didn’t enjoy it? I felt a huge amount of pressure and responsibility, so I was extremely relieved to see Halbert and Scott, the two I was most worried about, coming past the aid station ahead of the sweeper car.

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Scott is running a marathon in every state to honor fallen soldiers. Check out his facebook page!

As the last runner went by, Chuck and I (ok, mostly Chuck) packed up everything, and I headed back to the finish line to greet all the Maniacs who had finished and watch the rest of them come in. There was still a huge group waiting around at the State House, with everyone enjoying the sunshine and beautiful day. Even though I froze my ass off until the last 30 minutes at the aid station,  it was great weather for running.

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The remaining Maniacs after the race

After the race, everyone was hungry, but I was exhausted! Nonetheless, I knew it was up to me to find a good place for everyone to eat. I suggested Mellow Mushroom since it was only a block away and had plenty of pizza and beer, but when we got there, there was an hour wait for a table! Bah! I thought everyone would have left downtown by that point since the race had long since been over for the majority of the participants, but I guess not. We ended up going to Flying Saucer instead and managed to get quite a nice little group together. Justin even ended up walking over from his hotel after the race and hanging out with us – after he had won the marathon, stayed to pass out water bottles to marathon runners starting their second loop, and handed out medals to finishers.

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Post race Linner (lunch/dinner, see what I did there?) at Flying Saucer

We had such a great time after the race, and I headed home feeling like everyone had enjoyed the experience.  At least, I hope they did. This weekend really humbled me for a couple of reasons. First, it was really hard for me to make the call not to participate, even though I knew it was the right thing to do. How exhausted I felt after just standing around made me realize that I need to give this surgery more credit than I have been. My body is working really hard to put itself back together, even if I don’t always feel that way and sometimes feel like nothing ever happened. I need to have respect for my body and what it has been through. After all, I only get one. I felt more tired after this weekend than I ever have after a marathon, so that’s telling me something. I need to be smart about recovery.

Second, and most importantly, I have been absolutely 100% blown away over the past month or so by the amount of love and support I’ve gotten from all of you. Between my surgery and my blog series on eating disorders, I have been completely overwhelmed. Knowing that some people came to Columbia partially because of the recommendations I made about this race and partially because they just want to meet me in person is really amazing and, if I’m being honest, also a little weird – I just don’t think I’m that interesting, but I’m glad you do. Every time I meet someone who reads this blog, I honestly want to cry because it really just amazes the crap out of me that any of you care at all.  Although I may act tough or speak sarcastically, I am overcome by gratitude for all of you. I feel so lucky to have this network of people all over the world who send such encouraging thoughts my way. I don’t know why you want to meet me, but I’m glad you do. So please, keep meeting me/bringing me presents. Sorry in advance if I’m awkward about it.

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