April 25 dawned long after Chris and I set out from the little cabin in the woods. It was a mile walk, up to Pfeiffer State Park and the gathering corral/starting line for the marathon. From this same location, Chris would catch a bus to the 5-mile mark, where the 21-mile event was to start. We had to walk along the road, and hadn't taken into account that of course buses would still be moving in both directions - bringing runners to the starting line from as far away as Monterey, and as close as the Fernwood resort, where we had just slept! When I realized that Chris could have shuttled here, he said "well, I needed the warm up." Which struck me as very funny, because he would be walking the 21 miles anyway! A mile walk, to warm up for a 21-mile walk? This could only come from a young man used to walking 6-8 hours every Saturday!
But it was a great warm up for those of us who ran. Except in the pre-dawn dark, with buses coming and going, it might have got the heart going faster than expected. But we made it fine, hugged, shook hands, and parted ways as Chris boarded his shuttle, and I made my way to my first ever marathon start.
It was cool, but not cold. For the start of the race I had picked up a cheap used turtleneck t-shirt, something I could abandon after warming up. I walked to the start line in sweat pants that I really didn't want to just toss, and by the time I walked a mile, and got in among the hundreds already in various lines, it was clear that my first task was to drop my sweats at that truck, and just get that taken care of. Then finish the water bottle I was carrying, and the banana which was the last of my breakfast fuel.
There was a great vibe in the waiting area. We could hear the starting line announcer long before we saw any lights or other runners, and he kept up a steady chatter until after the starting gun. People were standing around all over, but really at this point (not quite 6am) for only two things: food and porta potties. After disposing of everything I wasn't going to start the race with, I got in line for the latter. Good thing I got in line when I did. The johns were lined up on opposite sides of a large parking lot. The lines spanned the lot, alternating direction so that I had to walk all the way to the far john, turn around and face the johns I was headed for. It was impressive how patient everyone was. Some people were obviously there together. Others, like me, apparently alone. Some polite chit-chat; lots of quiet people; all the while the announcer chattering away. I have no idea how long it took to work through the line, but before I made it to my porta destination, runners were already being asked to head even farther up the road, to begin lining up by expected race duration ... obviously with the longer/slower times farthest back.
We had arranged for the 4 of us to meet in the 4-hour group. So I finally made my way there and kept scanning the crowd for Rich, Adam, and Todd. By the time I finally did see them, the race start had already been delayed about 10 minutes. The transportation of all those runners took a bit longer than they expected. There were 5,000 registered runners, they said. But in the end under 3100 were finishers. I don't know how many started, but the organization at this point was the only thing (as far as I could tell) that apparently did not go perfectly. Still, 3-5000 runners is no small organizational challenge!
Finally, people were in place, and things were ready to roll. Some local singer sang the national anthem, and ... was there an actual gun? Funny, I don't remember. But - we were off! From the front of the 4-hour pack, to the actual starting line, took us 2 minutes. Two, easy, cautious, shuffling/jogging minutes during which Todd spoke a memorized scripture acknowledging God's presence and our acknowledgment that our ability to do this comes from God and we were giving it back to him. And as he finished, our feet hit the start line.
And so we were joyfully on our way.