Every spring I struggle through a slump in my running motivation. In my first few years as a runner, I didn’t understand it. Once I had a few springs under my belt and could look back on my records, I started to anticipate it. It’s difficult to explain why it happens, but year I try different strategies to keep myself going. This year the Learn to Run class is getting me out twice a week (last night we did 6 sets of 9:1’s), and the halfathoners have done a great job of helping me keep a decent distance going on the weekends.
This past Sunday morning was the Police Half Marathon; a race for which some of my running buddies had been training. I had not registered for it myself, but I know from experience the challenges the course presents, especially on one particularly vertical part of the route. Even though I had not planned to race it, I anticipated it heartily, because I had the opportunity cheer.
As if I were racing anyway, I got up early, plunked my “cheer gear” in the front seat beside me, and drove to the Weaselhead valley by 7:30 am. The race started at 8, and I expected the elites would be coming through the 15k mark about 40 minutes later. That gave me plenty of time to hike down into the park, affix my trusty Be Strong sign to the fence at the bottom of the hill, and go for a little jog before carrying out the rest of my plan.
The last time I’d run through the Weaselhead a couple of weeks ago, there was a stretch of nasty, bumpy, half-melted, refrozen snow-ice at the bottom of the north-facing hill leading into the park. I wanted to see what condition it was in now, but didn’t have much hope it would have gone. We’ve had some big blizzards recently. The ice pack was still there. Nothing I could do about it. The racers were going to be ticked.
I could just imagine all those skinny-fast runners cursing as they picked their way over that mess. Then they’d get on the flat, paved pathway and just give’er to make up for it. They would easily overlook the little, frozen puddles that pocked the shadowy, tree-lined paved pathway and, ironically, slip.
I could do something about that. I had chalk! Originally I was just going to draw some cute happy faces and maybe a wry note of cheer, but then I started marking ice patches, too – all the ones I saw. My silliness came through anyway, as I wrote things like: “baby ice” for a tiny patch, “long ice” in tall letters for a long patch, and “bonus ice” for a particularly large, bumpy bit. I drew arrows. I informed them that no, they were not at 15k yet. At one point, after marking a small crack, I got totally punchy and wrote “shadows ahead”.
I’d brought a lot of chalk.
When I got back to the hill, other cheerers were starting to arrive. I handed out still more chalk, and we covered the hill in messages, like “think light”, “keep going”, “go go go”, “up up up”, everyone’s favourite “almost there”, and at the top “hug somebody”. A couple of wives there to cheer on their hubbies wrote at the base, “kisses at the top”. The Police bagpipe band set themselves up on the ridge, and you could hear their distinct sound waft through the park below.
Soon the racers started coming through. I stationed myself about half way up near a corner, where I could see the foot of the hill, and pulled out a maraca and a tambourine. A racer’s mom took me up on the offer to make some noise and we whooped and hollered for over an hour together as hundreds of racers streamed past.
We yelled silly things like “Only one hill! It’s going fast. Enjoy it while it lasts!” (yes, I know they still had two overpasses to go before they finished. Shh.). I was rewarded with tired grins when I told them “smiles make you lighter” and “keep breathing”. When the Mayor came through he asked about the promised kisses. I laughed and sent him further up.
I hugged and high-fived and called the names of people I knew. Sylvie was so “in the zone” I had to call her name four times. Richelle and Sarah gave me hugs. Gabino laughed his head off at our cheering antics, and he might have even caught some of it on film. Every year I know more faces on this hill, and as much as that means to me, I also really enjoy cheering on all the runners I don’t know, too. I suppose some of my boisterous encouragement could be kind of annoying, but I guess that would make them run faster too, ha.
Usually I stay until the last racer has come through, but there was someone else waiting for that one at the hill this year; she would be encouraged. I headed off to the finish line in hopes of hugging Dawn before she left. She and Leana had done the 5k race, so I wondered how they’d done.
You’d think I’d have a sore throat after all that loud banter, but I didn’t. My hamstrings are killing me, though. I had no idea how untrained I was for bending down to write so many chalk messages through a couple of kilometers of pathway. Oi. Next year I’m handing off the chalk and noisemakers to someone else. It will be time for me to run it again.