Last Sunday, Kelly had not one #1 fan, but a whole team of fans who followed him around the course. The only fan who took the easy way out was a coworker assigned to hand out water at mile 25.
Whatever, Michelle. If you were truly dedicated, you would have swerved in and out of traffic like the rabid fan that I am!
One of the hazards of following a runner (besides swerving in and out of traffic) is trying to find them once you arrive at the next vantage point. After a while, runners start to look alike. A few clever ones wear elf socks, or shirts with their names printed on the front, or pink tutus.
Kelly, however, sticks to the basic runner’s attire: tech running shirt and shorts. His shoes aren’t even a fancy color.
Here’s a glimpse into a day in the life of a fan:
The fan camps out at mile #4, Starbucks in hand. Knowing the approximate pace of her runner, and factoring in that the runner wasn’t in the very front start corral, she starts anxiously looking at her watch 40 minutes into the race. Finally, she spots him – as he’s passing her. She shouts encouraging words and dashes back to the car. Off to stop #2!
Weaving in and out of traffic, cutting a few non-race followers off (why are they even on the road on a day like today?), she finds a semi-legal parking space and runs up to the race path. It took a bit longer than she thought, and worry really sets in that perhaps the runner has already gone past.
Nope! There he is!! This time, we spot him with a bit more time. Shouts of encouragement again and off the fans dash to stop #3.
A missed turn or two, a much-needed bathroom break, an illegal u-turn and a tight squeeze into a parking (?) space at a local dog park later, the fans desperately wait for the runner. Runner fan fatigue sets in: A red shirt! Nope, not him. Unless Kelly’s gained 50 pounds and is balding. A red shirt! Nope, not him. And on it goes until he finally does arrive and the fans head out to stop #4.
Easy parking this time, but a death-defying road crossing and dreadful hill to hike down to get to the race path (what a fan will do for a marathon runner). We now know the appearance of the runners surrounding his pace: barefoot runner, guys with elf socks, Javier with the neon shirt, half-naked girl, and the other red-shirt guy that we constantly think is our runner until he gets closer. We spot marathon man, tell him well-done, and hike back to the car and stop #5.
Even easier parking – this time we’re stymied by a creek filled with seemingly-dry gravel (note to fan-self: must wash shoes before going into the house). Other-red-shirt guy (now called “NOT Kelly”) passes, the fans see Kelly and jog alongside giving encouragement – yes, the pace had slowed enough for fans to jog with a marathoner!
The course is getting difficult. It’s over 19 miles in, the Dolly Parton Hills are approaching, humidity is still high and our marathoner is really feeling it. Despite the short 3 mile gap between stops #5 and #6, race fans have time to stop for snacks and a bathroom break, before waiting to see barefoot runner, guys with elf socks (walking), Javier with the neon shirt (now severely limping), no half-naked girl (we suspect she’s quit), other-red-shirt guy/NOT Kelly pass before our runner arrives…still running, but definitely not looking happy.
Note to other marathon fans: Encouragement messages at mile 21 are not well received. It’s hard to say “You’re looking good!” The runners know you’re lying. The runners tell you to go eat lunch and meet them at the finish line.
So we do – well, we don’t eat lunch, but we do head in bumper-to-bumper traffic to the finish line where (miraculously) we arrive just as he crosses the finish line and we’re able to reconnect in the mass crowds by the Gatorade station.
It’s fun. Everyone should do it once. And by “do it once” I mean follow a runner, not run a marathon. That’s just crazy.
My fellow fan, John, sent me this photo post-race.