Wow! What an amazing experience this race was! This race will easily go down on my list of most memorable races ever. As I mentioned in a previous post, I was joining My Team Triumph for the Grand Rapids Marathon this year. It worked out perfect because I was not looking to go out and race hard this year. I really just wanted to go out and have fun.
The team, led by Captain Johnny, was made up of a combination of members from the Striders Tri Club and RunGR. While it was technically a relay team, I signed up to run the whole marathon. I had been planning on running the whole thing any ways so I figured why not? With the relay format, I would be running with 2-3 other runners throughout the race sharing the
responsibility privilege of pushing Johnny.
If you look closely, you can see that Johny is wearing a pair of Tigers mittens that one of the teammates made for him.
It was a bit chilly at the start of the race, but overall it was absolutely gorgeous weather for a race. All of the My Team Triumph teams started at 7:30, a half hour before the rest of the field started. That would give us plenty of time to spread out and gave us the course to ourselves.
Now let me tell you about Johnny. He is super amazing to start. He kept us entertained the entire race. To be honest, I didn’t notice a single mile marker until mile 16. His constant chatter and laughter kept my mind off the fact that I was running a marathon. He is a huge sports fan so we talked about Notre Dame football (Yes, he is a ND fan, so that gives him an immediate +1 in my book!), Tigers baseball, Lance/doping, etc. In fact, he talked so much that we were joking with him that his mouth was going to be tired by the end of the race. And not only that, he was super appreciative of the team which is bass ackwards, but it was us who should have been thanking him for the opportunity.
If you have a minute, give this video a watch. It opens with a scene of Johnny and shows you the amount of effort and hard work he, and others with motor disorders such as Cerebral Palsy, goes through to do tasks that we might normally take for granted.
Ok, onto the race itself…
The first leg of a little over 4 miles went great. Already, I could tell it was going to be a ton of fun. We were still running with most of the other teams at this point so Johnny was chatting with the other captains as well. He may or may not have made a $5 bet with one of the other captains on the outcome of the race. haha.
We took turns pushing Johnny, pushing for about a half mile to a mile at time. I was surprised at how well the jogger moved. It really didn’t take much work to push it forward. The hardest part was not being able to swim your arms while pushing. So, every once in a while I’d have to shake out my arms to loosen them up.
Before I knew it, we were at the first exchange zone. Johnny and I left behind our fellow “angels” from the first leg and picked up 3 fresh runners. This next leg was a little over 6 miles and was the hilliest part of the course. Thankfully one of our teammates was a beast on the hills and it was like they weren’t even there.
We also found that tag teaming it on the hills worked the best. One runner on each side of the jogger and not only could two people push, but you could swing your other arm to help propel yourself uphill.
In no time, we found ourselves at the 2nd exchange point and we picked up 3 new runners including my friend (and IMMT finisher!) Rebecca.
The weather began to warm up, the fog cleared, and we were greeted with views like this.
The course changed a bit this year to take advantage of the new trail system being built around Millennium Park. So for an extra two miles or so, we were treated to colorful views of the trees and the calm, blue water of the lakes. Absolutely gorgeous. We all kept commenting that we couldn’t have asked for better weather.
After winding around Millennium Park and along the Grand River, we crossed over the blue bridge where I met up with Donna and Bev who were the next leg of the run. In true Ironman fashion, Rebecca continue on with us. She was going to volunteer at an aid station further along the course so she decided to just run with us. She was a life savor because this was probably the hardest leg of the course and we could use all the extra help we could get.
Thanks Tim for grabbing this shot!
This stretch is a 6+ miles; 3-ish miles out and back. The road isn’t in great shape, and was even harder to navigate pushing the jogger. The slope of the road kept wanting to pull the jogger to the side. And to top that off, you have runners going both ways so there isn’t a ton of room to begin with. We teased Johnny a bit though and told him that if he gave us any crap, we would push his jogger along the rumble strips that lined the center of the road.
Yep, that’s Rebecca still taking a turn pushing after about 8 miles of running. Can you say Ironman?
We only had one instance were a fellow runner seemed annoyed that we were in his way. During the morning briefing, we had been reminded to make sure we were careful when passing and to be mindful other runners on the course. And with the one exception, we received nothing but good comments and encouragement for other runners. We even had runners apologize to us when they went around us! Johnny loved hearing the cheers from fellow runners and he returned the cheers each time.
After the turn around, we saw a runner pulled off to the side struggling. I slowed up to make sure he was alright. He cramping up pretty bad. I convinced him to walk with me for a bit and gave him a Gu that I had. Once he got walking, I could tell that he was still hurting but that he was loosening up. He said he was good, thanked me and I headed off to catch back up to my group. I think this epitomizes what made this race so much fun. For the first time that I can think of, I wasn’t racing with some selfish goal in the back of my head. My only priority that day was making sure that Johnny had fun and safely crossed the finish line. I could leave my ego at home and not worry about what my pace was or who was going to beat me. This made all the difference in the world.
As we got back to the blue bridge, we hit the final relay exchange zone. My co-worker David and Jack would be my teammates for the last 4+ miles. They pushed a sub-8 pace – the fastest pace of the day. My legs were starting to hurt but there was no way in hell I was going to say, “Slow down,” or complain about it. David and Jack pushed pretty much all of the final leg before handing over the reigns to me to push Johnny in the final .2 mile. Wow. What an awesome experience! Johnny was screaming his head off and waving to the crowd. David and Jack were pumping up the crowd. The crowd lined the street just like at an Ironman race.
We crossed the finish line just squeezing in under the 4 hour mark giving Johnny his fastest ever marathon! We met up with Johnny’s family before I snuck off for a recovery beer and chili. The My Team Triumph group had their own separate VIP tent where we met in the morning and then again after the race. This was really cool because it gave us a chance to grab a bit to eat and talk with Johnny’s family after the race. We even began to talk about what our next race should be. Maybe a triathlon next time????
I felt surprising good after the race. However, it all caught up to me when I got home and found a sunny spot to lie down with the pup. ZZZZZzzzzzzzz…..
One final note. With the end of the year approaching, it is time to start thinking about charitable deductions. Please keep My Team Triumph in mind as you make your donations. Get a tax break and help out an amazing organization. Go check them out!
Thanks for reading!