Monday, May 31, 2010

Race Day

Memorial Day weekend always means barbecues with friends, soaking up the sun, and for many people officially kicking off summer. In my family, it also means the annual 20K Classic.

The early morning started just as the sun comes up. I laced up my shoes, pull my hair back into a braid, made sure my bag has the essentials -- water, gum, Gatorade and head out. My mom and I met up with my aunts, cousins, grandma at the start of the race. The morning was hazy and humid. I knew as soon as the haze burned off the sun would be unbearably hot, and it was. Standing in front the coffee shop runners and walkers jogged past us warming up, stretching, tying the microchips onto their shoes. A familiar figure in flag shorts and trouser socks speeds past, waving and smiling. A few minutes later he returns, greeting us and running down the final check list.

"Water?" Check.
"Gatorade?" Check.
"Gum?" Check.
"Ok, I'll throw you my shirt on my way around the loop, here are my keys and hat. See you on the course."

And with that I watch my seventy-three year old grandfather head off to take his place at the front a pack of walkers, fist bumping females half his age, and telling the other men good luck. The rest of us head to our spot along the curb where we've watched for the past 16 years that will us the clearest view of my grandpap; he always makes sure to be on the left side so we can cheer him on and he can give us any last minute instructions.

After the trumpet plays the star spangled banner, a gun shot sends the walkers off. We watch as they round the corner led by policemen on motorcycles, keeping an eye out for Pap and anyone else we might know. After they pass we all scatter off into what has over the years become like a well choreographed dance -- my grandma, aunts and cousins head to the top of the first hill which steadily increases for a good two miles, my mom and I to the bottom not quite to the six mile mark armed with sticks of gum and water. After passing my grandpap  the essentials like power gel and water, the group at the top of the hill will hurry to the mile nine marker and we will all gather again at the finish line. We know the routes in and around the closed roads of the city, the best parking spaces, and the exact spot along the route where Pap will be expecting us. We all text back and forth as interesting characters pass us. By the time my mom and I get to mile six the runners have mixed in the walkers. People are cheering the race participants on, holding signs, clapping, and shouting encouraging phrases.

After a few hours pass, the three groups my aunts, cousins, grandma, mom and I gather to watch my grandpap make the final descent into the finish. This year, the weather hasn't cooperated -- its too humid, hot, and there is no breeze. Even the runners are weary, many walking down the hill, jogging only again when they make a left turn into the finish line. As my cousins and I sit there on the curb clapping for each passing person, the runners and walkers have different reactions-- some cry "Sweet Jesus there is an end," other shout expletives and sprint for the finish, some break down sobbing with emotion. Its an emotional experience for all of us to be a part of something that has become a tradition for our family.

With the Rocky theme playing through speakers in the background, the announcer calling my grandfathers name over the loudspeaker, Pap crosses the finished line three hours and eight minutes after he started. The time is about twenty minutes slower than last year, we know he'll be disgusted with the time, but all that  matters to us is that he finished (something my grandmother swears he won't do for one reason or another). While the rest of us are exhausted from just racing around the city via car, he's trekked a course covering a little over twelve miles, three major hills, and gone up and down other steady inclines and descents.  My grandfather accomplished something that most of us in  my family couldn't; two knee replacements (the second just a mere eight months ago) haven't slowed him down and he shows no signs of stopping any time soon. In my eyes, he's basically a rock star and I can't wait for race day next year.