Thursday, April 9, 2015

My Sherpa World Championships

Up until recently I haven't really been a sherpa for someone during their race.  I have been to races and not participated.  I've hung out while waiting for someone to finish.  But I hadn't truly been a Sherpa until last fall at the Savannah Rock n Roll Marathon.

Some of the Signs I made

My wife, sister, and a friend were all doing the Half.  I drove them around and ran around the course cheering them on.  It was a pretty fun morning.  The race goes by pretty fast when you are running around all over the place trying to cheer on 3 people running different paces.  But many good lessons were learned.

Some More of the Signs I made

So going into the Quintiles Wrightsville Beach Marathon, I felt pretty confident about the sherpa task at hand.  This was no half marathon, however.  This was the Full Monty.  My sister, Marcie, was running her 10th Marathon.  Yes, 10th.  As an aside, she's got this thing about that.  I ran a marathon first.  So then she did 7 of them.  Then I started doing them again, and closed the gap to 7-4.  Then she has to zip all the way up to 10 to secure her lead. It's a bit immature, but I digress . . .

The Girls before the Trip

Then there is my wife, Laura, and our friend Kary.  This was their very first marathon.  They had not even done any half marathons until the fall of 2013.  But now with 5 half's under their belt, they were ready to mix it up with the big girls.  Then, from the girls' running group was one other girl doing the full, three other girls doing the half, and a couple doing the marathon relay.  So I had some peeps out on the course as they say.

On Friday before the race, I offered a bit of FB encouragement:

The race was on Sunday, so we drove down Saturday morning.  I led the caravan of 4 cars. My parents and Laura's mom came for the weekend as well.  So he headed down with 13 people.  We didn't stop on the way, and had lunch at Which Wich when we got there.  We headed over to the expo.  The girls got their packets and checked out the stuff for sale.  Not a real big expo, so not a lot of stuff to go through.

We headed over to the hotel around 2pm and checked in.  I went for a run, just out to the ocean and back for 8 miles.  We headed over to Longhorns and ate around 5pm.  So a pretty quiet evening as Laura got all her stuff together.  I had her check and recheck to make sure she had everything.

I also put together my sherpa bag.  I use my Ironman Chattanooga backpack.  The straps on the outside work really well to hold rolled up signs.  It has plenty of room to hold whatever clothes, hats and gloves the girls may throw at me.  Since I had 4 girls running the full, 3 girls running the half, and a husband wife team doing the relay, there was the potential for me to have to carry a lot of clothes.
Pre Race Finish Line Pic

I packed my sherpa essentials: Maps, Pace Charts, Camera, food, phone charger battery pack, sunglasses, hat and my signs.  The phone battery charger is my sherpa secret weapon.  Though not as long as an Ironman, I knew I was gonna be out there a while, and that I would be working my phone overtime.

Race Morning
I got up with Laura at 4:30 and walked down to the lobby with her.  They had some coffee made, so I grabbed a cup.  We met up with almost everyone and eventually walked over to the shuttle buses.  It's about a 1/4 mile walk. Unfortunately, the buses were for spectators only.  There was no line, so they didn't have to wait.  I gave my sister, and Laura, and our friend Kay a hug and they hopped on the bus. I waved my sign I made just for the sendoff and I headed back to the hotel.

Shuttle Buses

I hung out in the lobby and had some more coffee.  I grabbed some bananas and stuffed them in my pack.  Soon it was time to head out to the 4 mile mark on Military Cutoff Road.  I had brought one of our old mountain bikes to help me get around the course faster.  It really paid off as I got everywhere quicker and easier than walking or running and really didn't get tired during the race. They start this race early at 6:40am, but there is an early start option, which Laura and Kary took.  They started at 6:15 am.  So it's still kinda dark when they came through the 4 mile mark a little after 7am.  First was Kary, then Laura came.  They all looked pretty good.  Marcie started at 6:40 so she came through after them.
Mile 4

Then I headed back to the hotel.  My youngest son was up, so I went down and ate some breakfast with him.  The rest of the crew met down for breakfast around 8am.  I saw them for a few minutes, but then headed off to the 11 mile mark.
Mile 11

I had originally planned to see them right at 11.  Unfortunately that was in the Landfall neighborhood.  They have a guard at each gate and he wouldn't let me in.  At first he asked me if I was a participant.  At first I thought, well I'm on a bike, so that would make running a marathon easier.  I just said no, and didn't follow up with "you idiot".  So I did say thanks for nothing and headed out around the shopping center to Highway 74 where they were coming out of the neighborhood. 

Mile 11

Marcie came through first around 8:15.  Then Laura and Kary came through together.  I swapped out nutrition bags with Laura. All 3 of them looked really good.  After they passed I headed back to the hotel.  I had a little bit more breakfast as well.  I sat there for a little bit and then realized that Marcie was coming up  on 18, on Military Cutoff Road in front of the hotel.
Mile 18

So I hopped on my bike, and I came out to the main road.  I actually spotted her ahead of me.  So I took off as fast as I could to get ahead of her.  I found my parents about a half mile down and came over and stopped by them.  I told them she was coming up quick.  She said she felt pretty good, and she looked it.  I then headed back to the hotel to get the kids and Laura's Mom.  I roused them out into the car.  My oldest was still asleep, but Kary's son and my youngest all went with me.  We brought some chairs and I got the old folks all setup to see Laura as she came by.
Mile 18

Mile 18

Laura and Kary had the look of 18 miles into their first marathon.  I offered words of encouragement and they seemed to be in good spirits all things considered.  I then took the boys and Laura's Mom to the finish line and set them up on the final stretch to the finish so she could wait there.  Soon Marcie was coming into the finish.
The Final Stretch
She blazed through ahead of her goal pace and finished in 3:46:04! Pretty impressive.  I congratulated here in the finish chute, telling her what a great time she had.  She seemed pretty pleased.  I then headed back to the hotel to get my oldest who was finally up.  I took him to the finish and then hopped back on my bike and headed out to mile 24.
Mile 24
Again I was at the Landfall Gate and couldn't go inside.  As I'm checking my pace chart I see that they are not on pace.  5 minutes go by, then 10, then 15.  I started getting quite worried.  This race has a bunch of time cutoffs throughout the course.  They try and open up different sections of road and clear the draw bridge.  So they have cutoffs at miles 4, 11, 19, 24, and the finish (yes even 24).

Mile 24

So a wave of relief came over me when I finally saw Laura come out of the neighborhood.  She was in a full walk, But she was determined.  She had made all the cutoffs and now she just had to get to the finish.  She had been in a lot of pain, but she wasn't gonna quit.  Kary came through a few minutes after.  She didn't seem to be in such good spirits so I did what I could to cheer her on.
Coming to the Final Stretch

After seeing them go through 24, I texted my sister and headed off toward the finish.  I told everyone they were in the last 2 miles and we got ready to see them.  My son texted me when they came through the 26 mile mark, so I got the camera ready.  They both seemed pretty happy at this point.  They got spurred on the run in the last 100 yards even though they were hurting so much.
The Big Finish

Laura came across first and she just had permagrin across her face.  Kary got kind of emotional when she saw her son.

It really was an amazing moment.  Laura grew up in a very sedentary lifestyle.  For so many years she thought I was crazy for all the running I did.  "How can you like it?" was a common phrase.  I think that at that moment, when she crossed the finish line, and completed a marathon, she was able to open her eyes to a whole new world. I have read that only 0.5% of the US Population has run a marathon.  It is an exclusive club indeed.  There is a feeling you get when you accomplish something that at one time, you thought was impossible.  It is hard to describe, but it is an incredible feeling.
Eventually we got back to the hotel.  Everyone took showers and we headed over to On the Border for a post race celebration and had a really good time.  I watched the kids at the pool again, so we all had a relaxing afternoon before heading back home the next morning.

It is the job of the sherpa to look after their athlete's every want and need.  To double and triple check the race details.  To be a chaeuffer, water boy, and clothes handler.  To report back and update anyone who is interested in their progress.  The Athlete is the rock star.  The sherpa is the stage hand.  The idea is to try and take all the stress and worry out of everything else so they can focus on their race.
Sherpa Mapping
I wore my Garmin watch during the whole race (yeah I'm geeky like that).  I put in 17 miles on foot, bike, and a little bit in the car.  I caught everyone I wanted to see at miles 4, 11, 18, 24, and the finish.  I got pictures on my phone for constant facebook updates all morning long for all 3 girls.  If there was a Kona for sherpas, I'm pretty sure I would have qualified.  But, alas, there is not. This was my "A" sherpa race, and I nailed my World Championships.