No pressure: the perk of being a spectator

  • This was printed in August of 2014 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 67th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

I almost forgot how exciting it is to watch other people run marathons.

Watching a 26.2-mile race may sound boring, but for runners and non-athletes alike, it

can be the most inspiring — or at least interesting — thing to do on any given weekend.

Marathoners come in all shapes and sizes, a runner’s facial expression at the finish line

says 1,000 words, and there are as many different running styles as there are people on

this planet. There is plenty to watch and wonder about.

On Sunday I left home at 3 a.m. to pick up some running buddies and head north to watch

our friends run the Santa Rosa Marathon. A 6.0 earthquake had hit the area we were

driving to, but that wasn’t about to stop us. We had marathoners to support.

We arrived at Mile 16 about an hour and a half after the race had begun. Coffee, cowbells

and homemade motivational posters in hand, we cheered until our voices were raw.

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Four men and one woman in our running group were hoping to qualify for the Boston

Marathon at Sunday’s race. Manuel Bracker, 28, needed to run faster than 3 hours and 5

minutes to qualify. Roberto De Loera needed a sub-3:10. Both were on pace when they

passed us, and both said they got an adrenaline rush from seeing us.

We four women had told people all week that we were bummed we couldn’t be at the

race (235 miles away), so our presence was a surprise. I’m not sure who was happier, the

runners for having someone familiar cheering for them, or us, swelling with pride as our

amazing friends ran their butts off.

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After watching most of our team speed by, we spectators sped to the finish line to watch

our “elite” guys run in. As 3:05 ticked away on the race’s official time clock, and then

3:10, without any sign of Manuel or Roberto, I felt heartbroken.

When I ran the local Two Cities Marathon in November and didn’t BQ, I felt like I had

let everyone down. Now that I was on the other side of the race, it hurt to think that the

guys might have those same feelings, when in actuality we spectators weren’t

disappointed at all — we were all very proud of them for leaving it all on the course.

We had witnessed their dedication the last 16 weeks throughout each speed workout, hill

repeat and long run. In the end, they both ran impressive races and PR’d by 25 minutes

(Manuel, with a 3:20:38) and 15 minutes (Roberto, with a 3:14:36).

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Fellow journalist Juan Esparza, editor of Vida en el Valle, was hoping to run a sub-3:40 to

BQ. Juan, who had run for weeks with a shin splint, finished in 3:52:02.

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Sabina Roldan, 50, was also trying to BQ that day, but when she ran by us at Mile 16 her

back was in such pain that she couldn’t straighten it and ran stooped to her left side. She

collapsed three times during the race, but stood up on her own and pressed on. She

finished in 4 hours and 37 minutes.

The BQ-hopefuls’ stories prove that no matter how hard you work in training, you never

know what is going to happen on race day.

My newlywed friend Kimberly D’Souza — who told me after the race that she thought I

was a hallucination — became a first-time marathoner that day. Kim complained of

excruciating calf cramps, but that motivated momma of three mustered all of her strength

to finish her first 26.2 with pride. She bounded toward the finish line (with a time of

4:51:57) past other runners and walkers to her big shiny finisher’s medal.

When I hugged her afterward she wiped tears away and said, “I feel like I let everyone

down. I was so slow, everyone had to wait so long for me.”

“Are you kidding me?! We are so PROUD of you!” I told her.

Realizing what pressure all of these runners had felt that day made me glad I was a

spectator for once. Sometimes it’s better to be cast in a supporting role than to be in the

spotlight.

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