My dad wrote a guest post! He wanted to share his experiences cheering me on at the Wineglass Marathon. He's a phenomenal writer (I was actually a little jealous and considered "losing" the post because the quality is so much higher than what my readers are used to). Enjoy!
Being a spectator at my daughter Alyssa’s marathon is an extremely important job. For this marathon, that meant that I would get to see her for about 10 seconds at each of five viewing areas, and I had to be inspirational and positive. Unlike training for marathons, where runners organize groups to train together, and runners can get tips from a gazillion internet web sites, there are no organized groups training to be a marathon spectator, and there is no place on the internet to get advice about being a marathon spectator.
Thus, I had to devise my own training plan. I had to invent it myself. And I think I devised something so brilliant that it could win the Nobel Prize in Marathon Spectatoring (or is it “Spectating”?), if such an award existed.
I decided to pastrami-load.
Now, if you try Googling “pastrami loading”, you get only one entry, and it has nothing to do with marathon spectating (or is it “spectatoring”?). So, obviously, I get the sole credit for this invention. And how does it work? On the Friday evening dinner before the marathon, and for Saturday at lunch, and for Saturday at dinner, you eat a pastrami sandwich. Why? Because if I was going to be standing along the side of a road for hours at a time on Sunday trying to be inspirational, I figured pastrami-loading would put me in the best possible mood.
My Friday night did not start out well. I headed to the University at Buffalo (my alma mater) to watch a Division I women’s volleyball match. There was a little sandwich shop nearby that had pastrami sandwiches. But when I got there, the shop was closed! My dreams of doing a good job of pastrami loading were shattered right then and there. Immediately, I had to decide what food I could find that came closest to pastrami, and that was the sesame chicken at the Chinese place next door. Yes, that’s right, sesame chicken and pastrami are distant relatives. Look it up.
Saturday, I met Alyssa for lunch, and fortunately was able to do a thorough pastrami loading there. Alyssa and I talked a lot about marathon stuff, we talked about our newest family member Harrison, and it was a very nice lunch. Then I went to Wegmans and purchased the pastrami for my dinner, as I wasn’t going to count on that little sandwich shop when I went back to UB for another volleyball match.
So, with two pastrami sandwiches under my belt, I arrived on Sunday morning at the first viewing location on the marathon route. I felt good, although in the back of my mind I wasn’t sure I had enough pastrami in me. But, to paraphrase someone famous, you spectate with the pastrami you had, not the pastrami you wish you had.
I arrived at the viewing site early, about 8 am. Since this location was about four miles into the race, and Alyssa normally runs about 9 minute miles, I had plenty of time to find a good spot to view and photograph from, and get my “game face” on. There were other spectators there already, and they were prepared with inspirational signs, like “Your perspiration is my inspiration” and “Don’t poop in your pants” and “Run Tommy Run”. I didn’t have a sign, but I did have my UB hat on, and I figured that would be just as inspirational as those signs.
I was also excited, because I was hoping I would see the ghost of Kip Litton at this marathon , or maybe even Kip Litton in the flesh. Kip Litton has become infamous in marathon circles. He has apparently (allegedly) found a way to trick the electronic timing system at many marathons. The pattern is always the same: he starts in the back of the final pack of runners, and is never seen again until he crosses the finish line. In his races, there are either no splits, or just a few splits, and if the marathon has a photographer, the photos exist of him starting and finishing, and never in-between. Because of this, he has been disqualified from many marathons. The article about Kip Litton is long, but fascinating, and well worth the read.
The first runner went by around 8:31, and I was expecting him to be in a pack of runners, but he was by himself.
The next runners didn’t show up until a minute and 20 seconds later, prompting a lot of people to exclaim this was a huge lead. The big pack of runners showed up at 8:37. This too was an unexpected gap between the lead runners and the first big pack. But it gave me time to practice my “roadside manner”. As the early runners went by, I got right into my spectating rhythm, clapping for the runners and motivating them with “Looking good” and “Doing great” and “Keep it going”.
Alyssa came by around at 8:47 (which I later figured out was right on her personal record pace), alongside her running partner Kari (aka Running Ricig). As I was trying to shout encouraging things, Alyssa needed me to take some of her paraphernalia and hang on to it for the rest of the race. And before I could figure out what had happened, I had her two gloves in my hands. I went to put them in my coat pockets, but since the pockets are not very capacious (yes, that’s a real word), I wound up putting them in the car.
I arrived at the next viewing area about one half hour before Alyssa would arrive. I settling into my chants as the runners went by, but quickly got bored of saying the same thing over and over again to total strangers who were wearing earphones. I decided to experiment add other chants into my repertoire, such as “Nice headband”, “Nice socks” and “Hey 1547, you rule”. I found myself making rookie mistakes, which were somewhat embarrassing. At times, I’d be clapping even when no runners were going by. I looked around to see if anyone noticed, but I think I got away with it. Alyssa came by the second viewing location around 9:27, looking very cheerful. Apparently, my UB hat must have put a smile on her face. Doing the math in my head, I figured she was still on pace to finish in under four hours.
I arrived at the third viewing location and had time to wait on line to use a toilet, purchase some mid-race snacks (no, they don’t make Oreos with pastrami in the middle, so I had to settle for the regular Oreos). And so I worked on eliminating my rookie mistakes. The good news, if you can call it that, was that I had already done so much clapping that my wrist was bothering me (I had surgery on that wrist in August), and so I decided no more clapping the rest of the way. Alyssa made it to this location at 10:06, about sixteen miles and two hours into the race, again looking very cheerful. Hey, was that Kip Litton running right behind her? I’m not sure, it could have been. No, wait, he is never seen on the course. Must be my imagination.
By this time, I was getting bored of half-hour waits at each viewing location. So at the next viewing location, in Painted Post, NY, I decided to practice my Gangnam Style while I was waiting. I noticed people were slowly moving away from me, like I was a crazy person or something. Hey, what’s the matter with you people, don’t you recognize Gangnam Style when you see it? Fortunately, just as I was about to give it up, a girl about 10 or 11 years old named Elizabeth came over and did the dance with me.
One of the highlights at this viewing location was seeing two half-marathoners walk by. They were each at least 250 pounds (maybe more), and clearly racing in a half-marathon, even if it was walking, was a great accomplishment for them. The crowd recognized this and gave these two a lot of positive encouragement and cheering.
Alyssa came by looking much less happy than previously. The sun had come out, and it was considerably warmer now. Again she smiled when she saw my inspirational hat. This was 20.5 miles into the race, about 11:15 am. By this time, I had figured out that I didn’t have to do the math in my head, as I had a calculator in my smartphone. Hey, she’s still on pace for under four hours!
By this time, I was hitting the wall. I was getting very tired of standing and being positive and inspirational. My feet were starting to bother me, my back was starting to bother me, and it was getting warmer. Plus, I really hadn’t had much to eat that morning, and I wondered if I would be able to finish. Unlike the racers, there’s no one to cheer me on and give me inspiration. I told myself, there was only one more viewing location, and that was at the Finish Line. I took my hat off, looked at it to get inspiration, and then decided I was going to make it.
On the way to the finish line, I passed a Wendy’s and decided if the runners were allowed to grab snacks and liquids at stations along the way, I was going to do the same. This really helped, and I felt like I had my second wind.
I found the finish line area, and parked my car and began the long walk towards the actual finish line. As I was walking, I kept turning my head just in case Alyssa was coming, and to see if Kip Litton would appear. I did get to see Alyssa just before she crossed the finish line. I knew she had finished under four hours, but I didn’t know if it was her personal best or not. I guess I never got to see Kip Litton.
At this point, I knew I had achieved my own personal best in marathon spectating, breaking my earlier record set at the Baltimore Marathon in 2010. I had arrived at 8am, and began spectating almost immediately, and was finished just before noon when Alyssa crossed the line. That was four hours of spectating. Now, I know what you’re saying … the racers didn’t go by the first location until 8:31, you weren’t spectating until then. But the rules clearly state that if I was standing along the race course, in a line of other spectators, then it was spectating. Driving to the next location also counts. So that was nearly four hours of spectating for me. In Baltimore, the runners started downtown, ran half-way to Delaware, back to downtown, back towards Delaware, and then came back to the finish line. The only spectating I had done that day was at the start, the mid-point, and at the finish. The rest of the time, I was sightseeing, away from the marathon course, and that doesn’t count as spectating. So four hours today easily broke my previous best of maybe an hour at Baltimore. (In marathon spectating, you reach new personal bests with longer times)
Trying to find Alyssa after the race was a real pain, especially since my feet were tired. Wandering around aimlessly amongst a huge crowd of people near the finish line, I was unable to find Alyssa. So I tried a different strategy. I sat in a chair, and waited for Alyssa to wander past my location. This didn’t work either, but at least since I was just sitting in one place and not doing anything, I could blame the lack of success on Alyssa. Finally, I got up again, walked around a little, and found Alyssa. She informed me that she had set a new personal record by four seconds! I figured that my spectating gave her that little edge. But them my biggest disappointment came. Alyssa asked me if I had her gloves, and I had to say that I forgot them in the car.
By this time, I was exhausted but happy. It had been a successful race for me, even though my pre-race preparations missed one important meal and I left Alyssa’s gloves in the car. I had learned some useful lessons about what do while you are spectating. I’m already looking forward to the next marathon Alyssa runs in this area, so I can give it another try. And next time, I’ll be sure to do a better job of pastrami-loading.
What are some of the ways you prepare to be a marathon spectator?