Monday, January 26, 2015

Matching Miracles

There's something special about every race weekend but usually when I travel for an out of town race, I'm trying to find what else to take in besides just the wonder of the race. The Miracle Match Marathon race is just a weekend full of great events. It was the first race my mom and dad were joining Kiana and I for the course period and with each of us running the whole course, no one on the stroller. They showed where I get my friendliness they had decided the more the merrier and my mom had brought alone 4 other friends from West Texas so there were 8 of us total in the friends and family group.

The other group was doing the mile distance in three generations of their own. But before any race got started, they had the most impressive pre dance routine I've ever seen... there were kids, adults, both racers and supporters busting dance moves out there... and there were some like me  who showed while we run rather than dance. It's because putting one foot in front of the other is all that people should ever have to watch us do.

But even before each race would start whether they showed that for them the finish line was just the beginning. Even as I recalled back from last year, throughout the weekend between, before, during and after events, they kept pointing out why to them the finish line was just the beginning. This race is called the Miracle Match because they are getting people to sign up to donate blood and to register to be a bone marrow donor. They would share the stories of someone who at age 12 had run a marathon on every continent to help highlight why this was important. A woman would share how her mom's death would get her to register and how she would find a match of a little girl who would spend the first 4 years of her life but her bone marrow would help save it. Some people bypassed anonymity that weekend and met the person who they donated to on the course.

When it finally came time for the 5k to start, Kiana and I were ready despite the cold. She was wearing her outfit and was ready to go. I'd actually offered to let her run this one on her own since she has done the last few kid's k's on her own but she said 5ks were more fun next to each other. She took off with conviction and about half a mile into it as she was at more than 30 seconds per mile faster than she had ever done, I asked her if she was sure she wasn't going too fast, she looked up and said no I can hold this. It having been a few months since her last 5k... it certainly worried me that she would do the old "fly and die" but I thought well there's only one way for her to learn that properly. We kept going and since we often train on the track I'd tell her when she'd complete a certain amount of laps. She was far more concerned with that this route was right next to a nice waterfront and look there was these flower and those ducks. I promised her we'd check them out as long as she wanted afterwards... she let me know she could run and check them out simultaneously...

We kept gunning past the halfway point and not far past that we'd see abuelo and abuela coming behind us. They were smiling and I thought well that's closer than I thought they would be... Is everyone gunning too hard today? Still we kept going and when I told Kiana she only had a little over half a mile left she started picking it up. Her last 5k was about 35 and a half minutes so I thought if she did anything starting with a 34 it'd be cool... We finished in 32.17 with her going over three minutes faster than she'd ever gone before.

We'd head back to the waterfront to take in the flowers and the ducks a little more casually while waiting for abuelo and abuela. I honestly thought it would be longer but there they were coming down the ways. I had told Kiana that we were going to finish with them but that they might be walking so just to go at their pace. She quickly responded with well you made me run harder across the bridge so can't I try to get them to do the finish faster? I had no great comeback but a smile. So she did and pushed them to finish their fastest 5k yet and we all finished together with abuela reaching out to hold hands and Kiana passing it on. So everyone except me ran their fastest 5k that day but I'm actually sure it's the biggest win I've had yet.

I can't imagine a community not getting behind a race like this and it was clearly demonstrated by the events that were there while we were waiting for the results. The Sheriff's department was cooking some good pancakes while we waited for all the participants. The fire department was hosting a firetruck pull where teams who had registered could see who could pull a fire truck the fastest for about 50 feet. There would be teams from gyms, all women's teams. While it was all happening, there were volunteers asking the people standing around if they would register for donating and when they came up to me, I explained that though I used to donate since I've got the universal blood donor that I'm no longer allowed to due to my medical conditions. Still, as they highlighted more stories, the fire truck competition kept going with the race organizers somehow managing to do it all in dresses incredibly fast as if the fire engine was somehow on drive while they were doing it... Perhaps symbolizing so well what they were saying over and over, that one person can make a difference at least certainly to another person, there was one guy who pulled the fire truck entirely by himself! In the end both the balance of that and community was shown when the firemen's team allowed anyone to join their team who'd ever even thought about being a firefighter (I might have jumped in on that one). The inclusive community continued with anyone who wanted to take a picture with or on the truck.

Just as I sat and told my mom that they were moving a whole lot faster than I expected them to, she
acknowledged they'd actually been walking a whole lot more always three miles at a time though it had been rough on some cold winter days. I might have been having a second helping of those pancakes when they were announcing age group awards and I was incredibly pleasantly surprised when they announced my mother Martha Leon as the winner of her age group! I went out to come get her to get her award because she was just watching Kiana in the playground and she thought I was just asking her to come take a picture of me getting an award. I said no mom, you won the award! I was more proud of that than any medal I've ever won (in case anyone's wondering, that age group is women who are perpetually 29).

The next day Kiana and I were up and ready for the half marathon. We got some more dancing in and were ready to run along a different section of that waterfront, around the Baylor stadium and through some serious serious hills. We had done some of the course last year but some had changed and we were doing a different distance. Still, for three months in a row, we had signed up for a hillier half than the month before and with this being the last stroller race on the schedule we wanted to go out with the one that billed itself as the toughest in Texas, no bull.

The weather was gorgeous and the running was awesome. There were a lot of sharp turns along the way keeping it exciting. Kiana yelled out duckies along the river front way. The first few miles overlapped with 10kers, marathoners and ultra marathoners and we were all moving around. We crashed into some friends on the out and back of the course who also runs races with a stroller. I've always thought it was the extra weight that slowed me down but maybe it's because we enjoy the race a little more since we take a lot more high fives than I do on my own. Since he runs with a camera, it was the first time I've seen a picture of it and my favorite in it is Kiana's smiled. We high fived a few more times along that bridge back with a few others.

The course continued with sharp turns, tough hills (one was so long and steep where Kiana asked out loud why were we going so slow) and I am not sure she understand as I said under muttered breath that it was because of that incline. When we got to the challenge of carrying up stairs called Jacob's ladder, I had been between third and fourth the whole time. I tried to get the guy that was with me come but he passed up the opportunity. Kiana got out of the stroller and was definitely beating me up those stairs but she made it clear more than once that these were a lot steeper and longer than the ones we practiced on...

At the top of the stairs, between breathing hard from Jacob's ladder and already having brain issues, I decided to be a typical male and did not ask for directions. I saw a few runners and figured they were from the 10k and started passing them with conviction and about a mile into that passing the next water fountain realized I'd seen those awesome volunteers before... and said out loud oh no we're lost... and then thought oh well, I came out here to run hills... let's do some extra (and of course the portion of the course I repeated was the hilliest section).

It was probably incredibly helpful that the course was full of good humorous strangersalong the way. "Hill workouts are just speedwork in disguise." "Fartleks are better than fart licks." "One more hill and then you're done... Just kidding.""Chuck Norris never ran a marathon." "A race without hills is like beer without alcohol." Kiana's favorite it was "go random stranger go." It was good to have the course that brought out so many grimaces on my face to also get so many smiles on there as well.

It was even tempting to do Jacob's ladder again but I just wasn't ready for that kind of a commitment. In the end, getting to the finish line was in about 1:47 at 15.8 miles my slowest and longest half marathon... It was almost tempting to ask for the ultra finisher's medal :). Still, I was and am proud that not continuing with conviction till the finish line never crossed my mind. You take the challenges as they come till you get to the end. It was enough to whoop my legs but also enough for a third place age group finish which was confusing since I'm older than 29 and my mom had won that age group...

So we came home with lots of memories of family time together on a river, in a zoo. Kiana, my mom and I all came home with hardware with finisher's medals, age group placer, kid's marathon medal and the Phoenix challenge medal for people who did the 5k and the half/marathon/ultra the next day.

But far above all that, we came home realizing that we'd gotten to be part of an event where miracles matched. Where we realized we were lucky to be matched up with each other's miracle of life, where we got to watch people do races that were far bigger than just the events but also would literally save people's lives. Between all of those good things (and the exhaustion from the hills), it was not difficult to get a good night's sleep.

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