I wish I had a time-lapse video of Sunday morning.
It would start with me laying in bed, hitting snooze every 9 minutes from 3 a.m. until 3:40 a.m., eliminating something on my to-do list with each push of the button.
Take a shower? Why bother.
Eat breakfast? I’ll take one of the fig bars with me and eat it in the car.
Brush my teeth? OK, that one I have to do. Time to wake up.
I reported to the Denny Sanford Premier Center at 4 a.m., one of the early group of volunteers to help with the Sioux Falls Marathon, Half-Marathon and Miracle 5K. I’ve served on the race advisory board for several years, and marathon day is always exciting. I know the folks at the Sports Authority work really hard to make the races the best they can – and they do it within the confines of city permits and allowable road closures and bad weather and runners who can be demanding.
I never thought that hard about it until one day when I was talking to Bryan Miller, head of the Sports Authority. It was soon after he took over the job when Wes Hall left, and we were chatting about his various experiences in putting on events – tournaments and meets and everything in between.
He made some comment about the race – it’s not directing a race that’s that hard – it’s the sheer area of it. Think about that. It’s 26.2 miles of event, at least. Plus an expo the day before. Volunteers the day of. The possibilities that someone might get hurt out on the course.
The early wave of volunteers was there close to 3 a.m., driving the mile markers all over town and setting them up, hoping this year’s iteration would withstand the South Dakota wind. They didn’t. I sat at mile 22 of the marathon course, in basically a wind tunnel, and propped my sign back up over and over, eventually parking my golf cart on the edge of it to keep it upright, leaning against the top of the cart. I was so aware of not moving it too far from the mile marker – as a runner, I know how annoying it is when the mile markers are off. But I also know it matters to see that sign in the distance, able to anticipate hitting the split button on your watch. After a while, I gave in and moved it to the other side of the trail and leaned it against a structure, hoping the runners would forgive me the variance in distance for the ability to see it.
But that’s the kind of detail that Miller and those of us on the race committee think about.
It’s a heavy task, and as a runner, I’ve done my share of complaining about races. Heck, because it’s me, the way I complain I’ve probably done your share, too.
I’ll tell you, though, that this group keeps trying to get it right. They’ve enlisted a committee of short and long distance runners to offer advice. The Sioux Falls Area Running Club. The Sanford Sports Science Institute. The 605 Running Co. People who know, and who care, and they listen to us, and we listen to you.
Almost every runner I worked with this weekend was friendly and thankful and understanding. And that includes almost all of the people I had to tell couldn’t come onto the main floor until the race before them had taken off, or who learned their race was delayed 15 minutes because of lightning.
Once the runners took off, Greg Koch and I set off in our carts to man our miles. My cart was maybe the world’s slowest golf cart. I actually stopped to make sure I didn’t have some kind of brake engaged (I didn’t). I was just north of Sertoma Park, near the Sioux Falls Women Run water stop and the zoo. My job was to monitor those miles, and make sure people were taken care of. It was mostly easy – the SFWR group did an outstanding job, and I didn’t have to worry about them. In retrospect, I should have let them know when the last runners were coming, as the crowds thinned, so not all of their members had to stay at the station.
But I think they would have stayed anyway – they all looked like they were having a pretty good time, and I know the runners there were taken care of. I saw them as they came toward me with little bags of ice the crew had handed out, to cool them on a very humid day.
Greg ended up sitting at the water stop ahead of me, which meant mostly I had to just hang out with my blowing-down sign.
I cheered on runners, took photos, Tweeted a bit. Cursed the wind, the neverending wind. I ate the pretzels I brought. I gave my water to some guy who looked like he really needed it. And I gave a ride to woman from Romania who lives in Denver and had taken a $20 Frontier flight here with a friend for a girls weekend because it was so cheap. She wasn’t part of the race – she was staying at the hotel across the river – but she had mistaken the suggestion of a bridge for an actual bridge and had walked far more than she wanted to. I advised her to skip the Corn Palace and go to Falls Park instead. I hope she did.
As I sat there, I was inspired by the men and women in the front, giving it everything they had to win or qualify or at least hang on to whatever they were after. By the relay runners, some of whom had connected with strangers and agreed to do the race because why not. For the people in the very back of the pack, with the sweep just behind them, still plugging along and smiling.
This is what it looks like when your dreams come true. Or when they come falling down around you at mile 20. Or when you find yourself, as we all do, in that horrible no man’s land at the end of a race, when you’re talking yourself out of whatever you set out to do because my god, it just got really hard, and what’s the point.
I know those people. I’ve been that person. And my job on Sunday was to keep looking up and saying, “You can do it. Looking good. Nice work, runner. You got it.”
And every time one of them started running instead of walking, every time I watched someone massage out a calf cramp and then limp along and try a jog here and there, I was reminded of why I love this sport, and especially this distance: Because it’s just you. And the wall. And then whoever you are when you get through it.
One guy asked me jokingly for a ride to the finish.
“You’ll never forgive yourself if I give you one,” I said, once I made sure he wasn’t serious.
And it’s true. You show up in a marathon. Who you are comes out at mile 22, and you wrestle with it until mile 25, every painful footfall until 26, and the tiniest euphoria those last 0.2.
I watched many men and women I know out there, some who don’t know me but that I recognize, some who said my name and I couldn’t place. These are my friends. These are my neighbors. And at that mile, staring straight ahead, arms pumping, holding on for third place or a PR or whatever it was, they were so deep inside themselves.
Think of how intimate that is – to be able to see someone’s pain and hope played out across their face, pulsing in veins on their foreheads, in the despair of their footfalls before they started running again as they passed you.
Sioux Falls, I saw what you were made of out there, and I fell in love with it all over again.
This is my city now, and this is our race. And we’re going to keep making it better.
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear each Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Story ideas are encouraged.