Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Other Side of the Marathon

Today was Philadelphia Full and Half Marathon day. I ran my first marathon here in 2008 and after that I ran one more full and three half marathons at Philly in November. This year I was a spectator. In each of my 5 years running the event, Dave has faithfully supported me and my running buddies through all kinds of weather for hours on end. This year I got to see the marathon from the other side - from Dave's point of view. Dave knows the route, the best places to cheer, to have breakfast and to travel from one cheer spot to another. This year I got to learn from the master. It was a very long yet enjoyable and inspiring day.

As a result of the Boston Marathon bombings in April, Philadelphia instituted extra security measures this year requiring runners and spectators to pass through limited screening check points near the start/finish line. We arrived at 5:15 am having hitched a ride with a runner and after sending him off we started roaming around the outskirts of the protected area.

We climbed the Art Museum steps
for an early morning photo of the city
We watched the volunteers dress rocky in a marathon shirt
specially made for him for the occasion
It was at this point that we began to see the holes in the security plan. There was no access to the secure area from the Rocky Statue. Everyone knows this is a favorite photo op of not only tourists but runners in Philadelphia races. There should have been an access point here. The runners however were unperturbed by the lack of access. They simply jumped the fence. (roll your eyes and shake your head moment here)

One of our group had a backpack which - according to the news and race website - would not be allowed in the secure area. So we continued to skirt the edges trying to take in as much of the atmosphere as we could. This is how we completely by accident discovered another flaw in the security plan. If one wanders long enough there is (I won't say where it was) a place to simply walk in. So we did. Still with an extra fence creating a cushion of space between spectators and the runners it was even more difficult to spot any runners when the gun went off so we didn't stay there long. Before we left though we saw a runner toss their throw away clothes toward the fence only to have the clothes head straight for a police officer. He made an nice catch, laughed and tossed them over the fence. (For those that don't know, runners wear some extra layers to keep warm while waiting for the start and the tossed clothing is washed and donated to shelters in the area).

Since we knew we wouldn't be able to pick out any of our friends in the crowded start we followed Dave over to Spring Garden Street and then to 34th and Hamilton where he gets his breakfast on race day. Kimmy's Deli wasn't open yet as - we found out from the owner later - they got stuck behind the barricaded streets. Breakfast was as good as promised, the coffee hot and much appreciated!

We stayed here to cheer runners just short of the 8 mile marker. Two more from our running group joined us to cheer here. And from here we saw the entire race contingent. As we arrived we saw the wheeled participants, the first runners and stayed through the last of the walkers. We missed maybe a dozen of them. We tried to cheer as many folks as we could helped along by names printed on their bibs. It's awesome to see someone smile when you call out there name and some encouragement. There was only one flaw in the plan. We were so focused on reading names off bibs that we almost missed most of the people we were there to cheer for. Fortunately one of our cheer section had good eyes and called out when needed. So although we saw many of them as they were almost past us we did see just about everyone we had hoped to see.

We were not the only cheer group to miss their runners. At one point a runner came running BACK toward us to the group standing next to us. He jumped around waving at them until they finally saw him! It was pretty funny.

We also saw a man at this point in the race who offered to sell us his bib to finish for him. I'm not sure he was all joking. Toward the end we saw a woman who 'wished it was over' but mostly we saw a lot of smiling and determined faces. Lots of tutu runners and of course the Joggler. That's him in the white below.


From here we wandered back toward the Art Museum and on to Lloyd Hall on Kelly Drive. We stopped briefly on the Spring Garden Street bridge to wave and cheer runners going under the bridge. I've always loved running under this bridge and one year my friend made me cry with emotion when she screamed my name and took my picture from up on the bridge as I ran under. It's my favorite running photo.

At Lloyd Hall (#1 Boathouse Row) we cheered for a few minutes on the outgoing side and then crossed over to see our friends returning from Manayunk. Our spot was about a half mile from the finish and we tried to offer as much encouragement as we could. The ranks of runners has thinned out considerably by this time so we were able to spot our runners much easier and I think we caught all but one who actually passed that spot before we got there! She finished the marathon in under two hours.

We stayed until about 1:25 and then began making our way to 30th Street Station for the ride home. On our way there we had to cross back over an earlier part of the race course about a half mile from the half marathon (13.1 miles) finish. Here we saw a man with a half marathon bib, bent over in pain walking toward the finish. This was at least 6 hours after he started. I really hope someone saved him a medal.

The train ride home was uneventful. We were back in the house by 2:30 and quickly went out for Wawa hoagies for dinner. It had been a long time since breakfast. We were VERY hungry.

I had a wonderful time today. I thank Dave for showing me and sharing his marathon experience. I've said this before and now I know I'm right.... being a spectator or volunteer at a race is long, tiring work. I have always tried to appreciate spectators and volunteers. I'm not sure I've appreciated them quite enough!

Keep smiling and keep moving all. And to my friends who raced today "You are awesome! Congratulations!"

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