Once upon a time in 2008, I was emailing and chatting with Marlena, a good friend from Mizzou. We were talking about running, marathons, and the joy of traveling. We eventually segued into chatting about the next race I was signed up for: the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati, OH.
In the midst of our conversation, I was surprised and delighted when Marlena offered to come cheer me on. She had lived 20 minutes south of Cincinnati one summer after college and was excited for a reason to visit the city again, see what this “marathon” stuff was all about, and catch up. We hadn’t seen each other in 6 years and the girl offered to drive states away, from Missouri, to be my cheerleader.
Now that’s a good friend.
Obviously I took her up on it. We started coordinating hotel stays, arrival times, and the like. Her boyfriend (now husband) was joining us and we were going to make a whole fun weekend out of it. And then the coolest thing ever happened. Despite the fact the longest distance she had ever run was one mile, I asked Marlena if she would want to run the half marathon.
And she said yes.
All of a sudden the upcoming weekend took on a whole new epic level of awesome. I sent Marlena a training schedule and all the resources I could think of. Having never run any kind of distance race before, she easily could have been freaked out. She could have easily decided it was a goal better to put off for the future. And honestly, she could have said “yeah right, I’ll do a half marathon when pigs fly,” still arrived as a spectator, and I would have been equally as thrilled to see her. But instead, she put one foot in front of the other…and just went for it.
I was seriously impressed.
For the next few months we emailed each other back and forth about our training and what we were going to do when we arrived. And on a beautiful weekend in May, each starting from two different states, we found ourselves en route to Cincinnati, OH.
We made our way to the expo and then focused on sight-seeing in Cincinnati. Her now-husband Andy researched the area for things to do and led us to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. As a kid, I was often bored in museums and information centers, but as an adult I wandered through with Andy and Marlena, fascinated. We spent almost all day there, finished up with dinner at a local bar (I will forever think of that weekend when I hear the song “Shambala”) and then headed back to the hotel for bed.
We were up on marathon morning early enough to head over to the race and take a few pictures before the gun went off. A slightly late start due to a fire that caused a course re-route, and off we went.
The plan was to run together up until her turn-a-round point at 8 or so miles in. And we stuck to it. Joining a pace team of incredibly awesome people got us through the legendary hill, and then it was time to say goodbye. I remember telling Marlena it was literally all downhill to the end and to “put the wheels on.”
And my God, did she ever.
It had taken Marlena three hours to complete her 10 mile training run. Because of this, she told Andy to start waiting for her at the finish line around 3 hours and 15 minutes after gun time. You know, just in case she was early.
Marlena finished her first ever half marathon in 2 hours and 40 minutes.
It left her with enough time to get her medal, circle back around, and tap Andy hello on the shoulder. They both hung out, waited for my eventual arrival, and then the three of us collapsed on a grassy spot near the river.
We went out later that night to celebrate over dinner and drinks, wearing our medals and marveling over an amazing weekend.
And to anyone who says they’ll run a half or full marathon when pigs fly…I sincerely hope you do.