I knew that watching Michelle during the California International Marathon (CIM), at the pace she would be running was going to be a challenge. That’s why I was only half joking when I e-mailed Tower and asked him if he wanted to come. It’s why I was really excited when he found a flight and was willing to fly from Texas to spend a few hours with Michelle, Malinda, me, and some of the Pamakids in Sacramento for CIM.
Tower has a real knack for knowing what I am thinking or what I want to do…sometimes even before I know it. One of his high school classmates once said that he and I must “share a brain” (actually what she said was to imply that given our intelligence it must be only half a brain between us and we must be sharing it at that). Anyway, Tower and I have been together on the CIM course many times and I knew his presence would be a valuable addition to the crewing team.
The real key to our successful day was the “map session” we had Saturday night in the hotel. That’s when Malinda looked at the map and I was able to tell her what I wanted to do. She had refused to engage in any dialogue about my meet sheet the whole week leading up to CIM (unless you consider rolling one’s eyes dialogue….in which case we had lots of dialogue). Saturday night, Malinda, Tower, and I created what we believe to be the best CIM course map in the 25 year history of the race. We had to tape two AAA maps together with athletic tape to create our masterpiece. The course was highlighted in pink, the driving spots highlighted in yellow, and the mile marks (this was key) in black sharpie. Upon completing this map, we were all set and ready to crew. No wonder I woke up at 5:20am Sunday morning full of confidence.
One thing I vacillated about the whole week leading up to CIM was what to do at the beginning of the race. I wanted to be with Michelle to keep her relaxed at the start line. But I also knew it was important to get a mile split and a 2 mile split. I felt I needed to be at 2 miles in case stern directions about going out too fast needed to be given. But I worried that we wouldn’t have accurate watches on the course if we weren’t at the start line to hear the gun go off. I was also concerned about being on the course illegally with a bike or getting Michelle in trouble for having a pacer by running along side her.
In the end, I came up with the best possible plan given the parameters I was working with. Leah was at the start line with Malinda’s phone. Malinda, Tower, and I drove out to the boonies (sorry, Denis, I know you have friends that live there) to be at the 2.3 mile mark. From there, Tower ran back to the 1 mile mark and I ran back to the 2 mile mark. Right before the race started Leah (using Malinda’s cell phone) called me (speed dial #1) so I could hear the race start. Then I called Tower 2 minutes into the race (he had already set his watch to 2:00) and said go. Now we had two watches with the right time. Later in the car at the 20:00 minute mark, we synced Malinda’s watch.
With watches synchronized, Tower took the mile 1 split and called me to tell me what it was. Then he “casually” ran along side the 7:00 milers to get back to the car (as casually as he could seeing that it felt like a sprint to him and he was breathing really hard at the 1.5 mile mark on a marathon course – “it’s OK, I’m just doing the relay” he told a concerned onlooker). I got Michelle’s 2nd mile split and gave some instructions about relaxing and being on pace, not fast. As we ran to the car, Leah called to say she still had Malinda’s phone but couldn’t find us. Then she called back and told us to turn around because she was right behind us and wanted to hand us the phone (less weight without cell phone usually equates to 1.5 seconds/mile).
Then the crew started a routine that would continue for the next couple hours. Malinda was driving. I was shotgun, reading the map. Tower was in the backseat, updating a specially prepared excel spreadsheet on the laptop (which gave me final time projections). I would also ask questions like what the time was and what time we expected Michelle at various spots. Tower was always able to answer quickly, helping me determine where we would drive to next. We usually had an aggressive plan and a conservative plan to choose between, depending if we thought we could get to a spot in time to see her. By nature, I usually went aggressive.
It was very congested at the first relay exchange. That’s when I came up with cardinal rule #2 for crewing CIM (rule #1 is: stay to the north of the course). The new rule is: avoid relay exchange zones (unless you are driving a relay runner to their spot). Somehow we not only got parked and saw Michelle, the relay runners, and John, but we reunited with Margaret and Leah & Ellen, who had just run the lead-off leg of the relay. We now had three cars traveling together watching the race.
The next couple stops included some scary moments. It seems we all needed a bathroom and were constantly in search of one that would not cause us any delay. At one stop it looked like Malinda was going to either have to back the Explorer up 200 feet with oncoming cars or hop the curb. Fortunately the police started letting cars make u-turns. At another spot we needed to use alternate side roads to get out. We were held up in traffic once but the police officer finally let all three of our cars pass together as a caravan.
Tower started running forward or backward on the course when we parked so we could get an accurate mile split. Our map was invaluable because we always knew how far the next mile mark was and which direction to run. Sometime during this rush of activity, Margaret, who was taking photos at every stop, exclaimed, “I’m having so much fun following you guys to watch the race!” I was in game face mode so it wasn’t until later that I re-called hearing her say that. Speaking of game face, I asked Michelle around mile 10 what her last mile split was and she didn’t answer me. So I asked again, this time louder. Still no answer. As I was about to yell out my question a third time, one of the women running with her decided to answer for her so that I would shut up and leave them alone.
At mile 18, I asked Michelle how she felt; she nodded and said fine. So I told her to pick it up a little bit and she immediately surged. I thought to myself if she can do that now at mile 18, she’s going to be fine. As we headed back to the cars, I told the others that she was going to get the time. That’s when I started to feel confident.
The confidence must have led me to make the only two crewing tactical errors of the day. I guess I was excited and totally forgot that Malinda and I were supposed to be driving to mile 20, while Leah and Ellen went to pick-up Tower at mile 19. Next thing I knew all three cars were at mile 19. We got to see Michelle but now we were on this tiny road and it was going to take us awhile to get back to somewhere to cheer again. In my panic, I led us to a dead-end street.
Now we were really behind. I got out of the car near the relay exchange at mile 20.4 and told the cars to meet me at mile 21. I got on the course and realized Michelle had already passed. So I started running in hopes of catching up. When I noticed that the pack of women directly in front of me were running slower than Michelle was and yet I was not catching and passing even them, I decided to give up and start calling for pick-up. I ran a couple blocks away from the course so they could pick me up. Leah and Ellen stayed there to cheer the relay teams and other marathoners while the other two cars veered away from the course to get on the freeway to get over the river and into downtown.
The plan was to go to the finish but as we exited the freeway, Malinda and Tower kept asking if we should go back to mile 24 or hit mile 25. I realized that I hadn’t talked to Michelle since mile 19. And a lot can happen between mile 19 and 24 in your first marathon. Screech. We made a quick turn and intersected the course at 27th and L St. I didn’t know what mile mark it was for sure so didn’t really know when to expect her. Malinda and Margaret took Margaret’s car and headed to the end so they would be sure to see the finish. I kept thinking I should try to tell her how far it is or how many more minutes she had to go (since those numbers would hopefully be good news now). It seemed like forever waiting at that intersection and I got jumpy again. When I finally saw her, my watch read 2:33 so I said, “you have 14 minutes and it’s less than 2 miles. You’re going to make it.”
Then Tower and I jumped in the car and headed to the finish. Of course this took longer than expected and we had no idea where to park. As we sat at a red light for a minute, the race clock kept ticking. With each second she was another step closer to the finish. I didn’t think we would make it. We parked off of 14th St and I sprinted towards the capitol. The security wouldn’t let me go all the way to the finish but Malinda called me and read off the clock time as Michelle finished. I couldn’t see her through the masses of bodies but being able to see the finish line and the finish line clock and having Malinda tell me where she was made it seem like I saw it.
YAY! Michelle qualified for the Olympic Trials.
And WHEW! We managed to drive around the CIM course to crew for her.