Saturday, October 30, 2010

Part 5: The Inspiration Dinner

We were told to show up early to the dinner because the line gets long. There are close to 5,000 TNT athletes alone, not to mention the coaches and other volunteers. So the dinner is held at a convention center nearby. We had to wait outside until they opened the doors. I found out quickly why they wouldn't let us wait in the lobby. They were building a gauntlet.

From the moment you stepped foot in the convention center, you were in a gauntlet of cheering people. You had to walk through two thick rows of people cheering, clapping, yelling, ringing bells, blowing horns. It was just CRAZY!!!!

The dinner was on the lower level but you couldn't take the escalator because it was lined with more cheering people. So as you crested the stairs you could see the lower level and there was a SEA of more cheering people! 

Those of you close to me know I am not shy! But the energy and just the number of people and the fact they were cheering for us just got to me. I ducked behind Kris and let him lead me down the stairs. Within a few seconds however, I heard Kris exclaim, "This is wrong!". Then he grabbed my wrist and pulled  me in front of him and made me go down the stairs first!

I was doing pretty good keeping the tears at bay until I spotted this one guy on the right bank of the escalators. He was particularly enthusiastic and was leaning as far as he could over the railing and screaming and pointing urgently at the sign his was holding. I read it and it said, "I am a survivor because of you". That just did me in. That's why we trained for 5 months. That's why we sacrificed our time and our families. It made a difference to that man. And there are more out there like him.

Sorry, I was shaking when I tried to capture this picture. 

I made it through the rest of the gauntlet and made it to the dinner table. We ate dinner and waited for the inspirational speeches to start. I knew one of my top three running heros had spoken at a TNT dinner in the past. I mused about how awesome it would be if he happened to be the speaker at this dinner. He wasn't. He was the M.C.!

John Bingham walked out on the stage!!!! I couldn't believe it! He is the man that convinced me I could run! In his books "No  Need for Speed" and "The Courage to Start" he taught me you don't have to be built like a runner or even fast to run. In fact, he started the "Penguin Brigade" which are runners who 'waddle'. I am definitely a penguin!!! And lastly, he convinced me it's never to late to start. He truly introduced me to one of my greatest joys!! And there he was .....introducing another one of my top three running heros: Joan Benoit-Samuelson!!!!! OMG!!!!!

Joan Benoit-Samuelson won the gold medal in the first ever women's Olympic marathon in 1984.  That was the first time women were allowed to run a marathon in the Olympics. Can you believe it???? 1984!! That's barely 25 years ago!

For the majority of the twentieth century it was widely believed that women shouldn't run long distances. Besides women not being encouraged to be active and athletic, many people (even doctors) thought women would ruin their chances to have children if they ran too much. There was widely held fear that women's uteruses would jiggle out of their bodies!!

Kris and I had read this some where early on when we had started running. In fact, we would routinely joke about it. I'd come in from a run some days and say:

"Wow! That was a tough run!!"

Kris: "Did you jiggle your uterus out?"

Jill: "Yeah, but it's ok. I picked it up and put it in my waist pack."

Kris: "Thank goodness you didn't leave it behind like last time. Took us for ever to find it!"

And so on the banter would continue.

I just can't believe the ignorance that was prevalent back then.

So there I was listening to the woman who snatched the gold at that first women's marathon. And not only did she take the gold, but she pulled ahead of the competitors early in the race and kept the lead the whole way! And she is one petite woman!

Joan Benoit-Samuelson is not your tall lanky runner type. She isn't any taller than I am. I was encouraged to see someone my height tear up the marathon course. Who says you have to have mile long legs to be a good runner? This gave me more encouragement.

Something else that is encouraging to me is that Joan and my other top three running hero (Katherine Switzer) is that they are over the age of 50 and are still running. Joan had finished the Chicago marathon barely a week before and she ran a solid sub-3!!! It cheers me to think I'll be running for years and years to come. I'll be happy if I 'run myself into the grave'. Ha ha.

After Joan spoke, John Bingham got back on the stage to give encouragement especially to the first time marathoners. He gave us some tips on what to expect. He said to be prepared to, at some point on the course, to look at our running partner and think "I wish you would just SHUT UP!"

Me and my running partner Cindy
I couldn't imagine that! My running partner and I enjoyed each other's company on every run. Even the 20 miler! But I had heard about those times where you just get agitated and everything annoys you. I think you get that in every endurance sport as I had experienced that on several of my long distance rides too. Our coaches called those times the "dark places". I was hoping to avoid those places the next day.

As we made our way back to the hotel after the dinner, I noticed I was getting more and more anxious about the race. I was breaking racing commandment #4: Manage Your Fear. There was a million things that could go wrong and attempting the longest route I'd ever done on an unfamiliar course was scary. Until I told myself, "This is just another long run with the team." The moment I put it in that perspective I instantly calmed down. After all, I had done a long run with the team a million times with no big tragedies. 

I had nothing to worry about.......

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well written! Just to clarify, I said "This is wrong!" at the inspiration dinner because people were cheering at me while Jill hid behind. SHE was the one that deserved the cheers, since she worked so hard for it.

I have to say, John Bingham was a pretty funny guy!