I picked up the Montana daughter, Jessica, at the airport in Appleton, Wisconsin, on Friday about 2:20 p.m. We would walk the Fox Cities Marathon together on Sunday. Jessica was embarrassed that she hadn't had time to make the "Team Montag" t-shirts she wanted us to wear for this adventure, so on the way home to Fairwater we stopped at Target for the shirts and at Hobby Lobby for the other supplies she needed. On Friday night, she made the shirt. On the back, it said "Team Montag" at the top, and "slow moving!" at the bottom. On the front it had our names on the upper left, and Pooh-Bear and Eyore for my shirt, Pooh-Bear and Tigger for Jess's.
Jessica and I had a motel room reserved in Appleton for Saturday and Sunday nights. Saturday afternoon we had to pick up our timing chips and our participant tags for the event, then we checked into our motel and went out for supper at Taste of Thai. Jess had the noodles in a coconut/peanut/ginger sauce. "Umm-umm, good," said Jessica. And what did Tom have? The dish that he nearly always has in a Thai restaurant, and that he is disappointed in not having when he chooses a different dish: Pud Thai. "Ummmmmmmmmm," said Tom
We had to be up at 4:15 a.m. in order to get on the bus to the starting line at 5:00 a.m. What does Tom look like at 4:15 a.m., you might ask? Don't ask. You don't want to know. Daughter Jessica, on the other hand, is a vision of loveliness, even at that hour.
We did make it to the bus on time. Yet we no sooner got aboard than it started raining. Fortunately there was a tent at the starting line, where we waited for the 6:00 a.m. start for nearly an hour sometimes heavy rain. The rain was not simply dripping off the canvas roof of the big tent, it was running in rivers. In the pre-dawn darkness, we had little sense of what the weather promised, other than what we saw dripping off the roof of the tent.
Why were we going out for the 6:00 a.m. start? Well, for one thing, I wasn't certain that my training had readied me to finish the trek in the six hours the course would be open between 8:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. I hadn't yet averaged the 13 min. 40 sec. per mile paced on my 18-mile jaunts that I would need for the marathon. And, for the second thing, Jessica is a runner, not a walker, so walking the marathon would be an adventure for her, too.
In the shelter of the tent, we did manage to get a picture of "Team Montag" before the race started. One of the team members looked like a grumpy old bear, and one of them didn't. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out which is which. I take some consolation in reminding people that sometimes the skills of the grumpy bear are just what the team needs.
Thank God it stopped raining before we went out to the starting line! Jessica said that walking in a cold rain early on might have knocked her out of the race with hypothermia. She doesn't have the same layer of protection that her somewhat more rotund father has.
The older member of Team Montag was so excited by the experience of walking a marathon that it wasn't until four minutes after the start horn had sounded that he remembered to start his stop watch. Geez.
The morning started dark and there was continued darkness. After we'd walked the first mile we stepped onto the pedestrian bridge across the Fox River. The bridge is nearly a mile long, and fortunately street lamps lighted our path, as the sun had so far refused to shine.
The sun had come up by Mile 7, however.
The sky was grey and the sun was shrouded, yet it had not rained on us. No hypothermia for Team Montag. There was some disappointment, however; when the older Team Member said, "Those girls are getting away from us, let's keep up with them," the younger Team Member got the wrong impression. Perhaps he didn't explain himself very well - he thought those girls were walking just the pace Team Montag should walk. As it turns out, those girls were walking a faster pace than the old grumble-bear could maintain.
Team Montag is still smiling at Mile 13, at least one of them is. I don't know what you'd could call what the expression on the other one's face. He might be bleeding a little from a couple small skin irritations, but the Team have been walking at a pace which will allow them to finish at close to six hours. Cheer up, fella!
"It's just a flesh wound," one of the Monty Python's might say. "We'll call it a draw, then."
You might think that in the course of a 26.2 mile walk, there'd be a lot of "more of the same." That wasn't the case. There were water stations every mile or two, with maybe a cute little cowgirl in long dress and pink cowgirl hat ready to hand you Gatorade, or some other youngster excited to be helping and holding a glass of water for you, or a plate of apple slices or pieces of banana.
It was about Mile 16 or Mile 17 that the two front-runners of the elite group passed us. They had started two hours later than we had, mind you, and here they were, passing us already. As soon as we heard them approach, Jessica got out the camera to take their picture as they passed. By the time she got the camera up to her eye, they were well past. I will swear that at least one of those fellows had legs that came up to about shoulder height on me, and it didn't even look like he was working hard to be moving at that speed. That is as close as we got to the leaders, and no we didn't even thinking about trying to keep pace with them.
Eighteen miles was as far as I had walked at any one stretch during my training. Every step beyond Mile 18 was new territory for me, and as Jessica said, Dad, eveery mile is a new personal best. Well, yes it would be - a new personal best before we hit "the wall" and disappeared. Marathoners talk about hitting the wall between Mile 18 and Mile 21, "the wall" being the point at which your body has used up all the readily accessible fuel and has to start burning muslce. We are still smiling. We have no idea what we've gotten ourselves into - at least one of us does not, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out which one.
Along about Mile 19 there were several runners passing us. Then we turned a corner and saw them climbing the hill ahead of us and, God, we were climbing the hill too. The runners had already turned at a side street. There was a woman standing at the curb on the corner there shouting encouragement, or what she thought was encouragement: "Keep it going - you're half-way up the hill!" Cripes. Looking at the hill from the bottom, you'd have thought it ended where the side street crossed. But NO! We were only half-way up the hill. (And it wasn't the last hill I would have to curse.
When they talk about "The Wall," you don't envision a wall of black storm clouds coming at you. The day turned dark and sullen.
At Mile 20, the sky opened up. It was a deluge Noah would have recognized. The rain came down, as an old farmer would say, like an old cow pee'ing all over everything. When the rain started, it was not raindrops, but slaps of rain which hit us. Water was running inches deep along the curbs. Runners were running with their shoes and socks soaked (and with every other item of clothing soaked too, I might add). In the distraction of the rain, I must have pushed re-set on my stop-watch or done something else untoward, because the running clock was stopped and the time was gone. Dang it, Tom. First you forget to start the clock, and then you lose the time!
One of the most amazing aspects of the marathon was the support that runners and walkers received from spectators all along the course, and from other participants. Innumerable times we had runners come up behind us: "Hey, hey, Team Montag, keep it goin'" and "Hey, you guys don't seem so slow-moving to me." Yeah, there were runners who didn't offer each other encouragement, yet what I remember are all those who said, "Keep it goin'" and "Finish strong!"
See the girl standing by the side of The Wall? She is one of the 2200 volunteers who made the Fox Cities Marathon possible. Every cross street had someone directing traffic so that participants could cross safely; the major intersections had police officers stopping traffic, the lesser intersections had volunteers like this one. There were volunteers in the Expo Center, volunteers in the food stands afterwards (free food for the participants), volunteers at all the water stations.
That long hill at Mile 20? There was another one at Mile 24. A woman at the curb offered encouragement: "Only 2.2 miles to go! Keep 'er goin'." The wide-bodied Team Member got up on the sidewalk so as to stay out of the way of those runners who would be finishing their marathons in about three and a half hours.
Daughter Jessica was an inspiration. She says, "You don't look at the hill. You put your head down and give 'er." The grumble-bear says: "I tried to do that, I really tried, but I couldn't fool my old bones." It was like slow-motion.
I set the pace for the first half of the marathon, and Jessica maintained it for the second half. Sometimes during the second half, I needed a tractor-beam and didn't have one. We had to walk single-file for long stretches where we had runners passing us. Jess took the lead and would look back every once in a while to make sure I was still keeping pace.
The noble marathoner on the homestretch, marching for the finish line.
Note the look of grim determination. Or is it befuddlement? The younger member of the Team had been setting the pace for the second half of the marathon, and still she had enough energy to run ahead and get a picture! I guess that's why you call it The Team.
Yet the guy with the fur on his face forgot to look at the clock as The Team crossed the finish line. He had more important things to think about.
And either it was misting out, or he was fighting back tears.
Daughter Jessica says we came in with a time of about 6 hrs. 8 min. - which means our pace was under 14 min./mile over the entire 26.2 miles. The official time (recorded on our chips) will be posted on the web page for the Fox Valley Marathon, and I'll look it. We learned later that the Marathon was called off before all runners had finished because of the danger of lightning on the course.
A kind lady said, "Would you like me to take your picture?"
"Sure," we said, so she did. I give you: The Champions. Who's holding who up?
And here with Jessica is Mary, the Wife and Mother of the Champions, and their Biggest Supporter!
And here are the champions with the medals they received for finishing the marathon.
Distance: 26.2 miles.
Time: 6 hrs., 8 min.
Weight compared to starting weight: -21.
Next marathon: sometime next spring, some city near you....
We thank you for your support.