We Ran for Those Who Can't

This weekend I ran the Pacific Shoreline Half Marathon in Huntington Beach. I met up with my friends, Sandy, her daughter Nikki, and Lorraine. Lorraine’s husband Kevin dropped us off at the starting line in front of the pier. (What a luxury.)

Since they were walking, I lined up in another lane with the runners. It was a wave start. It’s been 20 years since my last massive long-distance race. I didn’t notice that we were supposed to line up based on our mile pace. Nope, I chose to stand next to a woman wearing a Red Sox hat. That seemed like a good omen to me.

Before the gun went off, the announcer told us more about The Free Wheelchair Mission, the beneficiary of this race. Turns out, the race raised enough money to purchase 10,000 wheelchairs for people in places such as Peru, Honduras, Mexico, Malawi and Angola.

When the gun went off, it was a bit tricky dealing with this narrow stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway. At every mile, there was a display on the highway divider of one of the wheelchairs with balloons attached — a constant reminder of why we were there.

It had been so long since I did a race of this distance that I knew it would be tough pacing myself properly. I made an agreement with myself not to take my heart rate over 185 during the first hour. (My max is 210. Yup, I’m a hummingbird trapped in a woman’s body.) I wanted to run a consistent race and feel strong through out.

I remember reading an interview of Ironman great Peter Reid. He said he relied on counting to get himself through the tough parts of races and to stay focused. Well, if it’s good enough for Peter…sounds boring, but it worked. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 — left stride down. I had a nice little rhythm going. It kept me on pace. Kept out distractions. Stopped me from trying to keep up with others.

The only downside to the whole race was the number of runners who wore headphones. As far as I’m concerned, they were tuning out the whole event. At one point I had to motion to three women with headphones to move to the right before the elite marathoners mowed them down. Those guys caught up to us already after doing an extra loop by the beach.

As we headed up to the turn for Seapointe Road, I saw a man pushing a large kid in a wheelchair. I asked the boy, “What’s your name?” He could barely utter, “Josh.” His dad (or uncle maybe) said, “This is Joshua!” We were still surrounded by headphone people. I gave out a shout, “Let’s hear it for Joshua. Here comes Josh! Wu-hoooo!” They were fast. I wanted to run with them. It was tempting. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. 1-2-3-4-5-6-7.

Then I could hear some shouting from behind. Sounded like a high-school kid in the distance. It wasn’t quite audible yet. But it was getting closer. Finally, I could make it out, “I’m cheering for you guys. Come on now. No lagging. Keep going. No lagging.” I smiled. I needed this as we climbed a gradual hill. I looked back and saw a kid in a wheelchair. His dad was pushing him. And he was pushing us every step of the way.

Once we came out of the hilly part of the course (nothing compared to some races, I know), we were back on PCH. We were cheered on by lots of high-school kids. I found out later that they were Junior Lifeguards. In the last mile, I could hear the band playing surf music.

I was thrilled to be able to finish strong and leave it all on the course. I was hoping to finish in 2 hours. I came close: 2:04:25. My friends finished walking in close to 4 hours. The funniest part was Nikki finishing arm-in-arm with her mother. She’s 10 – officially 3 years too young for the race. She borrowed a friend’s number. The announcer said, “She doesn’t look 44.”

I’m sure, as the months pass by I won’t remember my time. What I’ll remember is that sweet kid yelling as loud as he could, “No lagging!”