The course was one hilly beast. Jamie talked about this excessively in the weeks before the Salem Half Marathon, and boy, was he right. A wave of hills in the beginning, two trips over the Colorado Street Bridge, and one massive hill at mile 12 made for a race course with 615 feet of elevation gain. My race strategy stood in grave contrast to Pam’s, from “The Office.” She planned to run fast at the beginning, fast in the middle, and fast at the end. My plan was to start out slow, maybe speed up a little on the flat parts, and then make it to the finish line.
Finish, I did. There is nothing like it. When you start training, you have trouble thinking you will ever run five miles, much less 13.1. As the weeks pass, you add a mile here and there and before you know it, you’ve run 7 miles. It wasn’t pretty, but you did it. A month later, you get up to 11 miles and you know that on race day, you’ll be mostly ready. This is perhaps, the best part of running. One step a time, one run at a time, you are slowly building stamina and strength. It’s baby steps. You run a little bit farther each week, and eventually can run a distance that at first seemed unimaginable. Tiny steps in the right direction add up over time. They turn into something big.
The people you run with also matter, quite a lot. These people watch you suffer on some long, hot miles. They pull you along. They slow down to walk with you. They distract you from your aches with their conversation. Sometimes, when you are crumbling, they show up with exactly what you are needing.
My sister Amy drove in from North Carolina to run the Salem Half. Once Jamie, Amy, and I were across the finish line, we discussed the crazy hills and then set off on important business: find some beer. I always get a little excited about a cold beer and that afternoon was no exception. Smiling, we carried our amber cups and sat down on the pavement to celebrate 13.1 long miles, middle-aged stiff muscles, and great company.
The beer went down easy. It was cold, refreshing and nothing short of amazing. But pretty soon I realized I was not feeling well. I had two slices of buttered toast an hour before the race started. Now, it was nearly 1 o’clock and I was starting to fade fast. The beer probably wasn’t helping.
“I’m not feeling so good, guys. I think I really need to eat something.” I explained.
There was a little problem. We’d bought a lot of beer tickets. Nearly full cups sat before us and several tickets were yet to be used.
We devised a plan. Drink up, then we’ll head to a restaurant and gorge ourselves on anything and everything on the menu. I sat on the pavement hoping the feeling would pass.
“Maybe I can find some food to buy,” Amy suggested. “I’ll wander around a little and see what they have.”
I waited. The emptiness was growing. I felt ill. I reminded myself that next time, food shall come before the beer.
And that’s when she walked back carrying the most glorious hot dog I have ever laid eyes on. “Thank you! Thank you! You are the best!” I cheered as she passed it into my hands. She really is the best.
“You want chili on it?” she asked. “I’ll go back and get some chili.”
“No, no. This is good. This is perfect.”
I inhaled it because chewing is overrated when you are starving. The hollowness in my stomach was giving way to substance. Immediately, I started to feel better.
My sister saved the day with that hot dog, reminding me that most often, the best parts of life are our people. They love us, they help us, they celebrate our victories and stand with us in hardship, they notice when we are in dire need of a hot dog and then they go and procure one.
Thanks, dear sister. You are a rock star. I’m so thankful you are one of my people.