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December 12, 2005

Finishing Together

As a Christian, I believe that everything happens for a reason, and with faith good can come from even the most difficult circumstances.

Yesterday was a prime example. I went into the race with a set of goals. Although I didn't achieve the goal I started with, I nevertheless came away from it with a positive experience that I will remember for the rest of my life.

The first few miles went OK. I had a slow first couple of miles, but then as I passed Kapiolani Park my legs loosened up and I started trying to chase my 4:08 PR. By mile 11 or 12 I was about a minute behind my PR pace, with intentions to speed it up toward the end.

Then the difficulties began.

Just as I had passed the half-marathon mark, my iPod suddenly froze. I tried repeatedly to revive it by using the Menu & Select buttons together, but to no avail. Incidentally, it just happened that the song that my iPod died on was on Tim McGraw's recent hit, "Live Like You Were Dying." (I was able to get it working again...after I got my finisher's shirt at the very end.)

Maybe it was for a reason, because then I was able to hear every "Go Team!" and "Go Keith!" It's a weird experience to have your name on your jersey, and hearing people you've never met before cheer for you, by name, feels weird at first, but you get used to it. Often I'd respond in kind if I saw the person running the opposite direction with her name on her shirt.

I was able to keep a 9:30 pace until I reached Hawaii Kai Drive, and then I felt my right calf cramp, forcing me to slow my pace considerably. The cramp worked itself out after a mile (some pretzels from a spectator on the side helped considerably), but by then the damage had been done. I was forced to gradually slow down to a very slow jog, and exercise mind-over-matter, telling myself, "OK, next stop, Hawaii Loa Ridge. Can I make it to Hawaii Loa Ridge? Oh, yeah, I can make to Hawaii Loa Ridge..." Lather, rinse, repeat.

But one thing I decided I wouldn't do...walk. I knew from prior experience that once I stopped running I would have difficulty starting back up again. So I kept the slow survival jog going.

By the time I got to Kahala Avenue, I heard all the "Go Team!" and "Go Keith, you can do it!" cheers more often now. While earlier in the day I would have enthusiastically responded, "Thank you!" by the very end it was all I could do to utter, "Ugh, thanks..." I had reached what the Penguin had referred to as the "bite me" zone.

In any case, I somehow managed to make it up Diamond Head and over to the other side. With the entrance to Kapiolani Park on my other side, I heard a familiar "Go Team!" behind me. It was my teammates Brook and Heather, both first-time marathoners. Apparently they had had a better day than me or paced themselves a bit better, because they were behind me and caught up.

At that point, I pictured the three of us with hands raised in victory at the finish line. In the moment, I suggested, "Let's finish together." And somehow, the energy that I had lacked for half the race seemed to come rushing back, and temporarily my cramping legs loosened.

From there it was a blur. I resolved that I would bring these two young women across the finish line with me, even if I had to drag them over. With yards to go, we linked hands, and raised them over our heads as we crossed the finish line. We finished as a group, together, at 4:34:26 gun time. (Our chip times were all different, though.) There were hugs all around.

Never mind that I had finished over 20 minutes behind my PR. Besides, it was a 28 minute improvement over last year. And, witnessing two people finish their first marathons, and knowing I had a part in making that happen...I wouldn't trade that experience for the world.

(And I apologize, Heather...next time, I'll remember that when three people link arms, the middle person needs her arms to run too. I must have had a brain meltdown after 26.2 miles; forgive me.)

And the moment I stopped running, while I was walking from the finish line to the TNT tent, I could feel my quads swelling and cramping. Jen immediately sent me to the medical corner of the tent where the team doctor gave me my quads an ice massage. It made them feel ten times better.

I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon hanging out in the TNT tent, hearing and relating the stories of success and woe on the course. Apparently the hot weather caused quite a few problems for people; and not even the elite runners were immune. Jimmy Muindi, the eventual winner, finished some 45 seconds behind his record; Coach Jon had his slowest marathon in years, ending his 12-year streak as Kama'aina Award winner (first Hawaii-born resident); and nearly everyone I met had had some trouble in the heat. When I saw mentor Mike, he was in the medical corner too with ice packs elastic-strapped to his quads. But most everyone on the team finished...eventually.

I'm looking back on what I wrote in my "Reflections" entry on December 6, and I'm surprised at how accurate everything turned out. So much depended on the conditions, and it just turned out that I had drawn a very difficult set. But the feeling of finishing as part of a bigger group made this the best experience ever.

When the proofs of my finisher's photos are ready, I'm probably going to choose not to have it cropped that closely. I'd like to see myself finish with my teammates, because that team spirit was what made this marathon better than all the rest I've done. And I'd like to be reminded of that.

Posted by Keith at December 12, 2005 08:22 PM

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Tracked on February 25, 2006 10:45 AM


Congrats on finishing better than last year!
The conditions were very rough this year - especially for those of us in the back of the starting line. When the trade winds died for us, it was even worse. I think the organizers were a bit behind on a lot of things this year. Starting the walkers before a lot of the marathoners was a grave mistake that someone will hear about.
On the other hand, I was glad your iPod gave out (ir rather protected itself). When you have an iPod or other mp3 player, you can't hear the encouragement from others (like at the Val Nolasco Half Marathon which felt quite rude being ignored...). Part of being a part of a team is to be able to take the encouragement. It is good to be in the zone, but your other team members need you, too! What probably happened is that the hard disk went into protection mode from all of the vibration (running does that). I had that happen last year on Kilauea Av and it took until past Wailupe to recover.
I hope to hear you doing the Marathon in Purple next year. My donation is ready.

Posted by: Eric Osaki at December 12, 2005 10:31 PM

Sorry for snubbing you back then. Yell like hell next time! Ha ha...

Honestly, though, I don't think hearing the encouragement would have been a problem; they were cheering so loud! Even with the music going, I was able to hear them loud and clear, and throughout the race whenever I saw a group of spectators I was always on the lookout for TNT staff and supporters, knowing they would be a source of strength for those final miles. But I understand where you're coming from.

I've already let Jen (our chapter coordinator) know that I'm interested in mentoring Honolulu next year. My friend Jackie, who turned me on to TNT, was my assigned mentor this year, and it would tickle me pink (purple?) to "pay it forward." So my plans are to do at least one more, time and energy permitting. Thanks for the support, Eric, it means a lot!

Posted by: Keith at December 13, 2005 08:03 AM

Congrats Keith!

Lynn Vasquez

Posted by: Lynn Vasquez at December 13, 2005 06:03 PM

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