Yesterday, I participated in a marathon for the first time ever. No, not a Netflix marathon. It was the California International Marathon , a popular race where runners from around the globe came to try and qualify for the Boston Marathon, or the US Marathon Championship, or the Olympic trials, or the $20,000 first place prize (I wish). The race begins in Folsom (think gold country, Sierra Nevada foothills). Then it heads downhill, winds through my suburban neighborhood, and ends in front of the California State Capitol. 26.2 very long, exhausting miles.
Okay, fine, fine…I did not participate as a runner. I participated as a volunteer, handing out thousands of water bottles at the finish line. My thirteen year-old son was a volunteer, too. My sixteen year-old daughter was also a volunteer. But she was a volunteer runner. I didn’t even know that such a thing existed. She and some friends from her high school cross-country team signed up to be sag runners, who purposely run at the slowest possible pace in order to encourage the marathoners who are lagging at the rear.
Their plan was to run the first half of the marathon, then head home. But get this — halfway through the race, my daughter sends me a text: Hey mom, we’ve decided to run the whole thing!
That’s right. Those little girls ran the entire California International Marathon — on a whim.
Okay, well, they sort of ran it. Mostly, they ran so slowly, it was practically a walking pace. And occasionally, they walked at a walking pace, too. They also sang songs, talked, and called out words of encouragement to the many runners they came across. Runners who had trained hard to meet their goal of finishing a marathon. Runners who were exhausted and discouraged, but were perked up by the little group of slow-running cheerleaders with their huge grins and a bag of donut holes.
I kid you not. Donut holes. Which they munched every few miles or so, and even passed out to fellow runners to lift their spirits. Like marathon Christmas elves.
Meanwhile, back at the finish line, my son and I got to be among the first faces to greet the thousands of marathon runners as they staggered zombie-like past the finish line, hugging their medals and temporary hoodie jackets.
“Thanks so much,” they often said as they took a water bottle from our table. “Thanks for volunteering.”
“We’re happy to help,” I responded back. And it’s true. I was seeing the end result of people who had just accomplished what, for them, was a dream. Maybe it was to become an Olympic athlete or national champion. Maybe it was to run ten marathons in ten years, or to race side by side with a loved one, or a best friend. Or maybe, their huge goal, the one they’d worked so hard and so long for, was simply to finish. Nothing made me happier than to be in a role where I could see and help those people to achieve their dream.
My son felt the same way. And so did my daughter. She and her friends, the courageous little group of shepherds, finally brought their flock home to the finish line, where I was waiting with huge hugs…and water bottles. I was so proud of both my kids! For being such enthusiastic people helpers, for finishing an actual marathon (in two very different ways), and for literally going the extra mile.