On Sunday, I went out to Huntington Beach for the Surf City races. For the first time since 2009 though I was not participating in any of the races. I went there for one reason – to watch my friend run his first marathon.
Now, there were more reasons that were great – saw some other friends before, during and after the races – but I went mostly to see my friend Ren run his first marathon.
Ren joined my pace group in 2011. His first run with us was when we’d run five miles. He had joined the 13-minute pace group at first but that was pretty easy for him so he came up with the 10s and found a more comfortable pace. I was surprised that he’d never really run before. He was in his early 50s and seemed to be in pretty good shape. He said he has friends at the school he teaches who are distance runners and figured he’d try it out.
Ren had also never run a race before but he ran his first race as a Loper, the Mission Inn 10K in 2011. Everything was new to him – every Sunday was his longest run ever, every accomplishment was a first. One run that stands out in particular was a 15-mile run he and I and two other runners from our group ran in late December 2011, a midweek long run that we squeezed in because New Year’s was fastly approaching.
By January, he was a bona fide runner. He ran the Highland Half Marathon in January 2012, his first-ever half marathon. The next week he ran Surf City half and the following weekend he ran Palm Springs half. Three half marathons on three consecutive weekends was impressive, but it was also a bit much. He injured his foot pretty bad, bad enough that he had to stop running completely. As a result, he was unable to run the LA Marathon. He also was unable to run the Run Through Redlands half in April, but he was out there supporting his friends and I was very excited to see him, even if it was brief.
I was sad for Ren but I knew he was not a quitter. He was determined to get past the injury and return to running. I saw him a few times during the summer, just by coincidence, out in Loma Linda during long runs. He had lost a lot of his stamina so getting through short runs was challenging. Plus his foot was still a bit tender, and the last thing he wanted was to reinjure himself.
By the time Lopers started, though, he was almost back to the old Ren, the runner he’d become. He was chewing up his long runs on the weekends and had been running regularly during the week. He signed up for Surf City, choosing to run that as his first marathon instead of LA (although he registered for both).
Sunday finally came, race day. I was not about to miss his big day. Having been there at the start of his running journey, having felt sad for his injury and seeing him make his return week after week and put the injury in the past, I wanted to see the payoff for myself. So I got up at about 4 a.m. Sunday morning, cruised down to Huntington Beach and made my way to the marathon start line.
I didn’t see him. It was about 15 minutes until race time and I was unable to spot him. I scanned the throng of runners but didn’t see him. I was worried that I would miss him, or even worse that he had gotten injured and was not even there.
But my nerves subsided when I saw him and Dean, another Loper who had joined up in 2011. Dean ran his first marathon one year prior and was now ready for his eighth marathon. I smiled broadly and greeted them. They were both surprised to see me but I told Ren that I was not about to miss his special day. I wished him luck, gave him a few words of wisdom (run strong, this is your day, you can get through it) and got out in front of the start line. A few minutes later I saw him run past the start line and onto the marathon course.
After running into other Lopers before the half and running six-plus miles of my own, I changed out of my running clothes and went to the tail end of the course, hoping to see Ren come in. The 3:30 pacer went by and I figured I was in good position to see him. I figured he’d come in between 4-4:10 so I kept my eyes peeled.
I didn’t see Ren but saw others come in. I congratulated Dean, hooped and hollered when I saw Doug – another member of my group – and walked a bit with Chris, another Loper who had run the full. But no signs of Ren. I checked the Surf City site and saw that he was still on the course, and sure enough I saw him up ahead several minutes later.
I ran onto PCH and started running alongside him. Ren breathed out a few words in between his grunts of pain and discomfort.
“Thank you… for running… with me….”
Not a problem, I replied. This was after all the main purpose of my visit to Surf City. He breathed out a few more strings of words, telling me how he went out too fast and had been walking a lot in Miles 21, 22 and 23. He said this was a whole lot different than running half marathons. And then, just before Mile 26, he said he need to walk. I told him to finish strong, to smile and pose at the finish line and enjoy the moment. This is your moment of glory, the moment you will remember for the rest of your life. He’d earned this moment, I told him, so he should enjoy it and soak it up.
I had tears in my eyes. I’d had tears in my eyes throughout the time I’d been waiting for him, and they came and went, but now that he was about to become a marathoner, they were back. Off in the distance, I saw Ren raise his arms and cross the finish line and I felt a surge of emotions – happiness, joy, pride, amazement – and the tears were flowing at this point.
I walked up to the where the runners spilled back onto PCH and met up with him. I shook his hand and congratulated the newly-medaled marathoner. I walked him out to his car, where Dean had been waiting for him, sprawled out on a patch of sand. I helped him up and together we talked about the race and the day. We all shook hands, gave them each a congratulatory hug and parted ways.
To see someone like Ren complete his journey was touching for me. Seeing him when he’d never run more than a few miles, seeing him prepare for his first-ever race, pacing him along uncharted territory for him and seeing him overcome injury to complete a marathon is inspirational. It encourages me and further hammers home the point that nothing is impossible. And to know that I played a small role in his journey just humbles me.
It lets me know I’m doing something right.
|(from L to R) Dean, myself and Ren, a triumphant trio!|