Waking up on the morning of the race felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off my back. Finally, after a year of waiting and training it was time to get back on the banks of the Grand River with the 30,000 or so people running in any of the races.
I was awaken by our pitbull for her early morning business around 4:45am and finished the last 6 ounces of a soda bottle in the fridge for that caffeine I so desperately need in the AM. It was a quick couple hours that seemed to fly by as I saw the start to both the 5k and 10k from home on WOOD-TV’s coverage. As I arrived downtown I found a parking spot in the lot just east of the railroad tracks near Seward and started my walk toward the starting gates. Layered like a cake to dissuade the rain, I threw on the XXL Charlotte Bobcats shorts and the Chicago Cubs Starlin Castro #13 jersey shirt over my running gear, knowing that every piece of apparel tossed during or before the race is collected and given to Goodwill.
Because I train with a second layer of clothing in the early months, I had two sleeveless shirts, a Brooksie Run 2014 tech shirt and a Seton Hall adidas ClimateLite, and a long-sleeved tech shirt from the Brooksie over the both of those. This year I ran in my Chicago Bulls Zip-Way shorts, which have the zippered vents. I did a bit of walking up and down the block to get warmed up and stretch my legs and was surprised how many spectators had brought their dogs down near the starting line.
At 8:30 the horns sounded as the rain let up a bit and the crowd of runners made our way toward the starting line and the first leg of the 25k through the streets of downtown Grand Rapids. Heading south on Monroe as it turns to Market until the road ends, we left Grand Rapids. As we hit the Wyoming city limit, I felt good staying right out in front on the 10:30 pacers. Thinking back to last year’s race, this year’s I was running at a much easier pace and could notice the difference in my breathing. Seeing an obvious gang-style graffiti on a oil well in the middle of nowhere on the trail between the Grandville city line and the 28th street bridge made me chuckle that they’d want to claim the trail as their own. I looked up just after that to notice that I was passing a guy running in a full Godzilla costume. When I got to the bridge last year the excitement of the crowds at the turn and the fact that I was involved in such an enormous and wonderful event got me a little choked up and I was stuck on the inside against the wall crossing the bridge. I had to check my pace and actually stutter-step a few times not to land on a storm drain cover. This year I made sure to take a wide turn and stay to the outside of the lane, even high-fiving a Grandville Police officer as I passed through.
The fanfare near Johnson Park wasn’t as loud as last year, most likely because of the rain, but those that were out there helped the runners catch their second winds and fight to the hills near Millennium Park. Personally, I hit a wall near the north end of Johnson Park last year and ended up at a walking pace for a few minutes. This year I was able to push through to the halfway point with ease and even got a picture(albeit blurry) on my way by.
The leg just after the halfway point to the corner of Butterworth and Maynard is a lot longer than I remember, but the bands that were staged on the course had a lot of people playing air guitar as they ran. Whether it was me pushing myself with a “come on, Boston” or the guy who surprised me just after that with his own “Boston strong” gave me an extra boost near the Yard Waste dump, I knew right then that I had a chance to beat my personal record(PR) if I could push the pace up to the 8:30 mark. Fat chance! All 185+ lbs. of me thought better of that idea and kept the sub-10:00 pace going to get to the Coca-Cola Bottling plant without any pain. Just before the turn north onto Marion, I was passed by the first ambulance helping a contestant in need of first aid, which I haven’t needed since that chicken roaster incident at the Belding Macker back in 1988. The next turn, a left onto Park, allowed me to focus on the dedication and determination of the 7th & 8th grade boys basketball team from Sacred Heart I coach while running past the cathedral at a quickened pace. Entering John Ball Park and seeing the loads of fans and spectators there gave us all another boost.
Leaving the zoo the course turned east down Fulton, north up Garfield(where I saw my friend, Ben, cheering folks on) and then east again on Lake Michigan Dr. heading into the final stretch back into the Center City district. My aunt sent a text on congratulations during this leg, which I replied to with a “Thanks” and the photo above. Knowing that the last two miles are usually the most difficult, those cheers really made a huge difference in whether I kept the quickened pace or slowed to a potential walk with the soreness starting to arise in my feet. Last year, when I turned south on Winter toward Fulton, my wife’s favorite(?) GVSU president, Tom Haas, was cheering people on as we passed the Pew Campus. This year, I really didn’t pay attention as I was preparing to host an 11am special Saturday episode of the Sunday Morning Referee podcast. I actually hit the post on time and was able to talk, pant, cough and breathe my way through a 7-minute segment before I took off to the finish line over the last couple of blocks. I’m not sure what I was thinking trying to host a show, but I got it done no matter how frantic that podcast mess was.
I finished the race at 2:32:24, just off last year’s finish at 2:27:53, but felt 300% better after the race, I actually got some work done later in the day, after a post-race beer on the Calder Plaza. Just like being on Dar’s boat with East Coast Fred, it was Boston, Budweiser and breezy rain! I had doubts about whether I could run and finish the race again this year, but I was inspired by the fight and determination of the #KyleStrong movement. After a friends’ husband was electrocuted while working on power lines, the community around his family and friends has come together to raise over $30K in less than a month to help with bills and expenses as the Scheuneman family faces an uphill battle. With the power of community, prayer and God’s love, we’ll do whatever we can to help, you can do your part with a prayer or a donation to the GoFundMe account or join the Facebook community.