Last weekend saw the 17th running of the Quad Cities Marathon. I wasn’t looking forward to it.

Since July’s Ironman 70.3 I haven’t been doing much training. Sure I had a few events since then: Bix, Ragnar Great River, Glow Run 5k, Clinton Half Marathon 10k and Iowa’s Best Dam Tri (sprint). But I wasn’t fired up about a single one of them. I was tired.

So why didn’t I take some time off? Fear. Irrational fear, at that. Despite knowing I have a fabulous group of training buddies, when I get scared, I forget that everything is ok and will be ok. I forget that taking a break will not send me back to the nether regions of life before I started running. I forget that breaks are actually good for the body. Hindsight remains 20/20.

By mid September, however, I was beginning to feel the old mojo return. Fresh off witnessing training buddy and friend Laura Snook from LeClaire complete Ironman Wisconsin (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run), I waffled on whether to change my QC Marathon registration from the full to the half.

When Laura reminded me the marathon would be buddy Marilynn Bartels’ first marathon, we opted to stay at the full distance and see Marilynn through to the end.

I remained leery because I hadn’t run long since June, but by the time I arrived in Moline on race morning, I was excited to be doing it with so many friends.

Sunday was my 11th marathon and I can truly say I’ve gained more than just a medal from each one. But the most important thing I’ve gained is friends. While it may sound a little pithy, it’s true!

My first marathon was Chicago 2010. I didn’t know anyone and because much of my training was done solo, I thought marathoning was a solitary endeavor.

The following spring I ran the Illinois Marathon for my second and wrote the following Facebook note to my family:

In the summer of 1994 when I interned at The Observer, I took up running—laps and laps around that wee lil’ track in the Hart Center (DeWitt Fitness Center).

When I wasn’t doing that, I’d be bugging Gramma Kroymann at J & K Kids (now home to Family Tree consignment shop). One time when I’d come in from a run, she told me I was nuts and that I should put on some makeup.

Fast forward to April and the Illinois Marathon, somewhere in the final mile. I was fading and just trying to make it to the finish. I started thinking about prayer and how it didn’t feel right to ask for God’s help since I wasn’t running for a charity and I’d voluntarily put myself there.

Then I thought about Grampa Kroymann and then Gramma and instantly heard in my head, “You IDIOT! What are you doing?!” with the image of Gramma standing by her microwave doing a fake little faint and slapping the counter with an exasperated sigh. I smiled a little and then went back to focusing on the misery of this last mile.

The route went under a train bridge and just as I was coming out from under it, I started to walk. That’s when some guy in an orange shirt came up from behind me and said, “Come on Baby Cakes! We’re gonna do this thing together! I’ll run with you!”

So I ran with him a few strides and then told him I had to stop. That’s when he grabbed my right hand and started pulling me along. “Come on! You can do this! We’re going to finish this with a 4 in front!” (Meaning in under 5 hours.)

He pulled me along for about a half mile. At one point, I said to him “You’re so kind.” He replied, “Hey, we’re all family out here! marathon cupcakesWe help each other out!” I have to admit that A) it was a little weird holding hands with this guy, but whatev; and 2) what was Marty going to think when he saw me run into the stadium all cozy with this guy?!

I finally had to tell him, “I gotta let go.” And then he released my hand. I don’t remember if we said anything more to each other, I only remember his orange shirt. With only a quarter mile left, I figured I’d find him afterwards and thank him. But I couldn’t find him! ANYWHERE!

A few days later, after I’d been telling everyone about my ‘Angel in Orange’ it dawned on me that mere moments before he came up on me, I’d been thinking about Gramma, secretly asking for some help….

Even in my idiocy, Gramma continues to watch over me, offering little nuggets of aid in the strangest of places and ways.

~Now it’s three and a half years later and I get it! I “get” why my ‘Angel in Orange’ did that for me! It’s not about the time clock, it’s about the time: not in minutes and seconds, but in people and smiles!

We thanked the volunteers and Hi-5’ed the kids! We shouted encouragement to our fellow runners and mugged for photographers! We even sang, “Everything is AWESOME!” from the Lego movie!

~Sure we suffered—it was hot and the last 6 miles are a soulless lesson in punishment. In spite of the many impressive PRs logged that day, Laura summed it up best when she said, “This is a PW, personal worst.”

But we knew when we laced up that morning, it wasn’t about us, it was about Marilynn . . . and that little minx did wonderfully! Just after Mile 19 as we approached the final bridge off Arsenal Island, Marilynn started bee-bopping off ahead of us, smiling and chit-chatting with a runner who joined us a few miles earlier.

About a mile ahead of us, we saw her again after she passed under the inflatable Wall, smiling and waving at us heading into the 23rd mile.

When Laura and I eventually crossed the finish line, we’d logged one of our slower marathons, but for me, it was one of my most enjoyable. Having been so wrapped up in dread beforehand, I’d forgotten how fun running for the heck of it could be.

We accomplished our goal, seeing Marilynn through her first marathon, the rest was icing on the cupcake!

Originally published 4 Oct 2014 in The Observer.

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