Courtesy of my mother. Thanks, Mom.
I saw the guy not too long after Mrs. Crappy dropped me off on the North Shore.
He had the same build as me, and although he has much more gray hair than I do, I guessed we were about the same age. But there were plenty of old fat guys getting ready to run this morning’s Pittsburgh Marathon 5K, and the similarities I shared with this guy weren’t what caught my eye.
It was his Michigan shirt.
I am capable of being pretty competitive in general, but that’s typically the furthest thing from my mind if we’re talking about running. And as I thought about the race last night and this morning, the notion of beating anyone wasn’t even a consideration — I was concerned only about finishing.
Until I saw the Michigan shirt.
I started running again about a month ago, sporadically at first and, for the last two weeks, steadily following the old Couch to 5K program. I knew I wouldn’t be close to being able to run a full 5K by the time today came around, but I didn’t hesitate to enter the marathon’s 5K race. I thought — correctly, it turns out — that the race would provide a nice boost at a point in the C25K program where I have struggled in previous attempts.
But even before today’s race, I felt something different, closer to what this all felt like in the fall of 2011, when I completed C25K for the first time and ran my very first 5K. I found that I enjoyed running back then; that feeling carried over into the following winter, at least until I got hurt and had to stop. That was discouraging, enough so that I just stopped. I made a couple comeback attempts, but my heart wasn’t in it.
This time has felt different. There are things I needed to change, not the least of which was my fitness and my weight. The issues that existed in 2011 — high-stress job, family history of heart problems, love of beer and cheeseburgers — all still exist, almost two years later — which means I’ll be 47 on my next birthday, and I can’t simply can’t behave that way any longer.
I have a good start. And today’s race was a huge part of that. I love the energy you pick up before the start of a race; I also love the boost you get from seeing friendly faces — Kelly, Chelsea and, of course, Mrs. Crappy — and cheering strangers on the course. And the shot of adrenaline you get when the finish line comes into view is one of the best things ever.
I’ll do another 5K soon. When Mrs. Crappy — who has started running again as well — is ready, I want to do one with her. I’d love to do one a month for a while, with an eye on getting to a 10K or a half marathon sometime in the fall.
And, mostly, I want this to continue. Because this time, I’ve having fun again.
As I shuffled down Wood Street, I finally caught sight of the gray t-shirt again, the one worn by Michigan dude. The nice English lady just told me to walk, but I kept him in view as we rounded the corner to the Boulevard of the Allies and the home stretch to the finish line.
I didn’t wait for the nice English lady to tell me to run again. I knew I was going to be slow — my official finish time was 42:57 — but I was going to beat Michigan Guy to the finish line.
There’s a little uphill on the boulevard, but the last few hundred yards to the finish are slightly downhill — and that’s when I kicked. Perhaps I benefited from the fact that Michigan Guy wasn’t aware he was racing anyone, but I blew by him just after we crested the little hill and cruised to the finish.
Ohio State beats Michigan once again.
It feels a little different this year.
I’m not worried in any fashion about volunteering to sling water during Sunday’s Pittsburgh Marathon, but it feels like it’s more important than usual for me to be there this year.
This will be the third time in four years we’ve volunteered to work the race. It’s one of the most fun days of the year for me; I get to support friends and strangers, all of whom are, without fail, appreciative of the volunteers, and I, without fail, yell myself hoarse cheering for people I don’t even know.
Regardless of the circumstances, I would be out there Sunday morning.
But it feels a little different this year.
I am part of this community. I don’t know what it’s like to cross the finish line after 26.2 or 13.1 — yet — but I know what it’s like to put in many slow miles to reach a goal. I’m running — sort of — in the marathon’s 5K on Saturday morning, as part of a new — and so far, successful — push to get back into the sport.
It’s been a while since I’ve done this regularly, but on April 15, I felt for the people who had to suddenly deal with death. With injuries. And — in a way, the most personal aspect of the bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line — those who had their moment, the one they had worked towards for weeks or months, taken away by those explosions.
I took it personally for them. I took it personally for the friends who have run Boston. I took it personally for friends who could run there someday.
And I took it personally for me.
I don’t feel like working on Sunday morning is making any kind of grand statement on my part. But maybe what we all do on Sunday — whether we’re running, as many of you guys are, or if we’re slinging water — we can all speak pretty loudly, in support of each other and in support of those whose lives and goals were interrupted in Boston two weeks ago.
If you’re running, look for me at the Mile 6 water station, on Western Avenue near the humane society; I’ll be wearing a bright red bucket hat, so I’ll be easy to find for a hug, a high five and a cup of the best water on the course.
And if you want to join Mrs. Crappy and me, there’s still time. Go to the volunteers section of the marathon’s website, click the General Volunteers button and scroll down the list to the jobs that start at 5:30 a.m. (yeah, there’s some personal sacrifice involved here); sign yourself up for the Mile Mark 6 fluid station — they still need about 25 people just for that station — and come on out on Sunday morning. You’ll work hard, you’ll have a good time, and you’ll be saying something louder than the report of a couple bombs.
I hope I see you there.