In the aftermath of the senseless tragedy that occurred at the recent Boston Marathon, I needed to reconnect with the marathon community and all that it offers. I made a commitment before Boston to support Cheryl Taylor Cleary in Providence so I was extremely excited to share Providence with her.
I met Cheryl in Grafton the day before the marathon so she could give me 6 bottles of a special concoction that I would be providing her throughout the marathon. She had them numbered so I placed them in my backpack and on my bike in sequence. I met her at the starting line the following morning and immediately sensed her focus and intensity…she was ready!
Her confidence was intoxicating and immediately took my excitement to an incredibly high level. I knew it was going to be an incredible day. We discussed her race strategy so we were totally calibrated on what to expect. I instructed Cheryl that I would be staying slightly behind her so I wasn’t a distraction. She signaled when she wanted the designated bottle and we developed a rhythm right from the outset.
It didn’t take long before a rather large pack started forming around Cheryl. Runners are attracted to energy and Cheryl was motoring. Her form was absolutely perfect and she was simply floating along the course. I sat back and interacted with everyone in the group. Everyone was shooting for a Boston Qualifier and many were attempting to break 3 hours.
This group stayed together for quite some distance, only 3 women were in the group. An interesting dynamic occurred as Cheryl and I interacted; the other women tightened the distance around Cheryl to hear our conversation. The pace was intense so several of the men started to drop back. I stayed with them and coached them on what they needed to do to regain contact with the group. They relaxed their form and removed all negative thoughts as I helped them make their way back to the pack.
The group went through the half-marathon at 1:31:20…just under 7 minutes per mile pace.
At about mile 17 Cheryl indicated she was starting to hurt. The temperature was 60 degrees at the start and the humidity was 98%…not ideal. There were also lots of turn and hills to disrupt the runner’s rhythm. Cheryl had moved on from the huge freight train and was running alone. I simply tried to keep her calm and focused. We spoke only when necessary so she could maintain her focus on weathering this storm with as little effort as possible. She was in 4th place but wasn’t too concerned about anything more than regaining her rhythm.
Several miles later we noticed the 3rd place woman approximately 300 yards ahead. Cheryl easily could have stayed within her comfort zone and maintained her position. But she said, “I have to go for it!” That is the spirit of a fighter! These are the money miles of a marathon that separate those runners that are going to likely establish a PR from those going home completely disappointed. I’ve always felt the halfway point in a marathon is 20 miles. The last 10K can be incredibly difficult if you haven’t managed your energy very well.
Cheryl eventually regained her form and rhythm and was back on pace. She was closing on the 3rd place woman. I instructed her to take a moment to gather herself and to move by her decisively. As Cheryl motored by her I glanced over and noticed a look of surprise and devastation on her face. They didn’t exchange a word…this was all about taking care of business.
I felt such incredible pride in Cheryl. For the first time in the marathon I started to get emotional. She had trained so hard and wasn’t backing down. She was keeping the Demons of Doubt at bay and was simply chipping away at the Providence skyline in the distance.
My goal was to be encouraging but not distracting…a delicate balance. Cheryl eventually was running with the half-marathoners so I had to clear a path so she didn’t have to waste energy by moving around them.
As we crossed the final bridge and approached the 26 mile mark, it was simply magical. Cheryl was charging to the finish line with every ounce of energy remaining in her depleted body. She took the final turn and the crowd was yelling and cheering uncontrollably. I moved back and as close to the barriers as possible…I wanted this to be HER moment.
Her finish was surreal…although she was charging to the finish, time seemed to stand still. I was watching someone with endless determination, someone who had trained so hard, someone who had 4 children in 5 years yet managed to maintain a high level of fitness.
I was watching a dear friend accomplish something huge.
I met her as she crossed the finish line in 3:08:11 (7:11 pace) and the 3rd woman overall. She collapsed into my arms and we shared a brief but extremely special moment. The finish line volunteers were equally proud and excited for Cheryl…it was special.
I waited for the next two women and congratulated them on a hard fought marathon. The finish line of the marathon is magical. Everyone becomes one!
I had a large group of Marathon Coalition runners on the course making their way to the finish line….the Road to Redemption…so I needed to depart quickly so I could support them also.
Of all the marathons I’ve competed in during the past 35 years, this one was very different. This day allowed me to heal from the Boston Marathon tragedy.
Cheryl, thank you for including me in your special day. I could not be more proud of you!
Your rocked the 2013 Providence Marathon!