Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sag you too.

After we picked up T at Saturday's SunTrust National Marathon, we drove up in the Sag Wagon behind two women and followed them for awhile as we approached the DC waterfront. One was a lady in her 60s, always traveling with a running motion although going very slowly, and the other was a 30s-something woman who was running some and walking some. She was barely ahead of the elderly lady. No one else was in sight, as the juggler had surged ahead of these two.

By now the long lost Sag Wagon 1 had joined our procession. The convoy of race vehicles, street sweepers, police cruisers and sag wagons followed the two women for a short bit, past MP 18. I confirmed that they were several minutes behind the course closure time for that point in the race. There seemed to be no prospect that they would make up the time, given the painful nature of their shuffling gaits.

I popped out of the bus and ran up to the elderly woman and walked alongside her. I remembered her from when she passed by me at MP 15 while I attended to the course clock there. She was very dignified and distinguished looking.

I asked her what her name was and told her the bridge, more than a mile ahead, was going to be opened soon and that she couldn't get there by then. Without arguing that point she said, "But there's a sidewalk on it."

Meanwhile the other woman had come back to us and joined our conversation. I agreed the bridge had a walkway but said that the road by the waterfront also needed to be opened and the support people should be released. I said that both of them had had wonderful long runs of 18 miles, quite a feat, on a beautiful morning and asked them to please get on the bus for their safety and support. I sorrily informed them that they wouldn't get a finishing time, no matter what. The younger woman looked stunned.

The elderly lady wanted to continue on the sidewalk, but only if she had company. She still had to go through SE Washington, after all. She looked at the other woman for support, but that woman shook her head and glumly climbed aboard the bus. The first woman followed suit. It was over for them.

Once everyone was aboard, the tail of the SunTrust National Marathon started to move with a little pep. Gears ground and gas pedals were pressed down. We drove over the streets by the waterfront and then turned onto a broad cement walkway along the river. There we came upon the juggler, and the vehicular juggernaut snugged in behind him at 4 MPH.

B, the elderly lady, cried out that we couldn't pick him up. He is well known and a mainstay at many local races. Ominous thoughts of newspaper headlines about the juggler being jerked off the marathon course by the DCRRC president flashed through my mind. Fortunately the juggler was many minutes ahead of the rolling course closure time and seemingly traveling at a pace that would carry him to the finish line on time. It was going to be a long seven miles though, even with the distraction of watching a traveling vaudeville act for over an hour. (Above: The juggler at a 2007 race in Anacostia River Park.)

We crawled by the Nationals' ballpark and creeped over the Frederick Douglass Bridge into Anacostia River Park. The younger woman was seething at having her marathon ended, although she claimed not to be mad at me. She wouldn't talk, except to say that she'd run marathons before. B, however, was quite pleasant and loquacious.

She said she had done 64 other marathons, well, actually 66, because the one she did on the Great Wall of China didn't count ultimately and now there was this DNF. But she had started this morning's marathon as a long training run and she was okay with being swept off of it. She was hoping to match her age soon in number of marathons completed. She was actually training for a 50-miler.

She was fascinating to talk to. She had done marathons on all seven continents. I asked about the one in Antarctica, and she said that one was very dangerous. They had arrived in their cruise ship off the Antarctic peninsula and a lead party had gone ashore to set out the milemarkers. The support stations were going to be the various national research stations. I guess you don't just set up water tables in the Antarctic. But then a storm system had descended upon the area and a three-day whiteout ensued. They barely got their advance party back. When it came time to sail away, with the storm barely abated, they gave the runners this choice to complete their Antarctic marathon. 422 laps around the ship's deck. She took it.

She had raced in Rio, and run by the Pyramids in Egypt and over to Gaza. In China, the marathon had started on the Great Wall and then traveled through a long series of rural roads before winding back to the Wall for the finish. However, she arrived back at the Wall four minutes after they opened it up to tourists for the day and they wouldn't let her pass by to complete the marathon. That was her only prior DNF, before Saturday.

We passed by a water station at MP 22 staffed by enthusiastic young men and women. I asked them to bring fluids to our wounded warriors and these eager children swarmed over the buses, offering up water and Gatorade. I asked Sag Wagon 1 to complete the mission of succoring any remaining runners on the course and we drove our three weary runners back to the finish area.

B was upbeat about it all, very positive, taking the situation as it occurred with a positive frame of mind. That's why we run.


jeanne said...

what a crappy job you had! executed with grace as usual.

adidas San Francisco Urban Run said...

Your blog was a joy to read and your entry was very well written. I didn't meet my goal to Boston qualify yet I imagine what it must be like to be on the marathon course for many hours after me. A death march can be both demoralizing and painful.

Thank you!

Anne said...

Very diplomatic of you to get both women to get into the bus. No wonder you were elected president!

Susan said...

Miss B is an inspiration!

Rainmaker said...

The number of marathons she's done is incredibly impressive - especially a gazillion laps around a ship.

Nice job in persuading them to climb aboard, that had to be a tough job.

ShirleyPerly said...

Thank you for the inside look at working the sag wagon. It's an important job but one that often receives little credit. I'm glad B took it so well. I have yet to DNF a marathon but am sure it will happen someday and hope I will be as chipper as she was.

Dori said...

Oh boy, did that bring back memories. At my first marathon, TCM '03, I got on the bus at mile 15. AT TCM '04, I got in my car at mile 18. At TCM '05, I crossed the finish but the sweep bus was at my back. I'll never forget the disappointment of those two DNFs.

B. sounds like an incredible woman. What an inspiration!