'Expanding the Human Spirit'
Often in a movie there will be a flashback scene or as in the case of 'Titanic' the entire movie is a flashback...I regularly write current daily musings but I often will reflect upon my original writings from yesteryear~ sometimes it reminds me of a coaching strategy that I had forgotten, sometimes of a place or a time and brings a smile to my face sometimes alas of a friend or loved one lost.....
Here is one of my favorite writings about one of my favorite races on the calendar each and every year....
As I fly back from performing my emcee and television duties at the 2008 Fargo marathon I cannot help but reflect upon so many cameos, so many amazing moments that made up a mosaic of wonderful moments that expanded my horizons and served as yet another reminder of the depths of the human spirit and more specifically the effect on the human spirit by this wonderful sport of running…..
A man that began his life in running in such humble fashion, I still have to pinch myself sometimes when I am so fortunate enough to live out so many amazing dreams…
My weekend really began in earnest when I arrived in Denver Thursday afternoon and yes I know that Denver is not exactly the most direct route between NJ and ND but welcome to my world of traveling and speaking at expos around the country.
I knew that Sarah Reinertsen was going to be a speaker at the race along with Dave McGillivray (The Boston marathon race Director). Just the previous evening whilst watching a Mets game at home on TV I saw Sarah featured on the Lincoln automobile commercial that has been aired with great regularity in recent weeks. I came to learn some of the secrets behind the commercial after having met Sarah over the weekend. The commercial was shot in Central Park and other areas of Manhattan in September of 2007.
Making my way over to the gate to catch my flight to Fargo, I looked over and instantly recognized Sarah. A lady that I soon came to know as her mother smiled and I went over to introduce myself to them. More gracious they could not have been. We spoke at some length about her and naturally I mentioned my younger son Sam who will eventually need a prosthetic. Sarah said that she could put me in touch with several people that could help Sam and my wife and me as his life progresses. She also runs a foundation that supports and funds disabled people with special needs. I was so impressed with this young lady.
Upon arriving in Fargo we were all met by my good friend and Fargo race Director Mark Knutson.
After checking in to the hotel with Sarah and her Mom I went out for my progression run. In the middle of my progression run I hit the track at North Dakota State University having asked permission from the track coach who showed true mid western hospitality in welcoming me to run on the track even though they had practice going on. It was warm and I was tired from a long day of travel but I felt good.
It was soon time to go over with Sarah and Solveig (her Mom and agent) to the Fargo Dome for the VIP dinner where we met Dave McGillivray (Boston marathon race director) and Mike Reilly of IronMan legendary announcing fame. It was also great to see Tim Arem known as ‘T Bone’ who I had worked with twice before and who travels the country promoting running and health to children at schools and races across the country. What a high energy and engaging incredible man he is…
The entire race committee was there and all the VIP’s were at one table, enjoying a fabulous dinner and being introduced individually by the race director to everyone in the room. The applause was loud and somewhat embarrassing but very kind.
Staying at the Homewood Suites Hilton (very nice) I went back to the hotel and walking in to the elevator, a runner and his wife were exiting the elevator. The man said to me, Coach GP welcome back to Fargo, you were awesome last year. I said thank you and Solveig said we are in the presence of a celebrity, I think I blushed and said no, Sarah is the celebrity.
The next morning I was up after a good night’s sleep and was off for a light breakfast and a good workout in the gym.
Then I headed over to the expo in the Fargo dome to set up my booth to sell copies of Run Tall Run Easy.
The expo started at 12pm and closed at 9pm. I was there for over ten hours including set up but so many wonderful people came over to me to chat and in the process I sold 28 books on behalf of RunningBuzz.com Selling books and signing t shirts for people and autographing books is great fun. My legs and back though were so fatigued from standing on a cement floor for so many hours. The Fargo race committee all came over one by one and are so friendly. My booth was adjacent to where the pasta dinner was held and as such, I was so fortunate to hear Sarah and Dave’s amazing talks…..so enjoyable and so inspirational to a packed crowd. I also got my first look at Mike Reilly as an Emcee.
After the expo I cruised over to a neighborhood restaurant, sat at the bar, pulled out my lap top and worked for a couple of hours supping on beer then wine and enjoying a healthy dinner. I was off from running today as scheduled by Tom.
I was due to do a track workout the next day (Saturday) but I was so fatigued from the cement floor and with my marathon day duties commencing at 6.30am I was not sure when it would be done.
A beautiful crisp sunny morning greeted me and all the runners outside the Fargo dome on University Avenue. For those that have read Duel in the Sun,University Avenue is infamous for being the boulevard that Dick Beardsley was struck by a truck mirror continuing a series of catastrophic events in his life.
Upon the stage at the starting line I was greeted by Mike Reilly who is a professional announcer with over a hundred IronMan races behind him as their emcee including some twenty consecutive years as the voice of the Hawaii IronMan. Whilst on the stage I was introduced to the John Hoeven, the State Governor and ND US Senator Kent Conrad. Not just introduced but hung out, joked and laughed with them. They were having a blast and so was I. I left the podium ten minutes to race time to do live television with Cherlene Richards (presenter for KVLY 11 and KX 4 television. We did 20 minutes of live reporting seen across the state. I had people texting me saying they saw me on TV. Very cool.
It was soon off to the finish line giant podium inside the Fargo dome for some tem hours of announcing. Mike and I began with the 5k finish and then the half marathon.
We were dealing with a large crowd in the dome and had a wonderful time generating energy with the crowd who were raucous as the finishers came in. T Bone was in the finish stretch as runners came down the ramp outside the dome (as seen on all four giant jumbotrons) and through the tunnel and into the dome. T bone was great in his wild ‘cirque du soleil’ type costume and high fiving all the runners especially the kids. Mike Reilly reminds me of Mike Love the lead singer for the beach boys in appearance. He had a great play list with a sophisticated sound set up throughout the dome. The timing and scorers were everywhere, the energy through the roof and up on the podium we were joined by the live radio guys from KFGO The Mighty 790.
As the day drew to a close after all the amazing ten children’s races, Mike and I had exhausted each other, our energy expended immense and a relationship forged to last a lifetime. Mike turned to me gave me a hug and said GP, you are awesome! I couldn’t believe that coming from such an accomplished announcer. I was high energy. I had left the podium earlier, interviewed kids and ran with my cordless Mike up and down the finish stretch running in with some of the finishers. My voice was hoarse! So many great stories as with all the runners at marathons. So much inspiration. I was so pleased with the chemistry that Mike and I forged and we had a great time. A huge cheer went up when Dave Magillivray finished the half marathon and of course, when later Sarah finished the race to a standing ovation in the dome.
Dave came up to the podium and spent hours with us…… I remember so well after 1990 finishing my marathon in 4.41 and dreaming of one day qualifying for Boston and here I am interviewing the race Director and hanging out as a peer, a fellow VIP, having a blast and sharing laughs and jokes. I have to pinch myself…… I just still cannot believe it….
I left the dome to hugs and high fives and went back to the Hotel to pack and relax….. I chilled out in my room for a while watching A Fish Called Wanda. I then returned to the dome to see Mark (who just like Dave Magillivray who always runs the race after everyone has finished planned on running the marathon later that day.
By now the buzz had died down, everyone had left and those that remained were exhausted…. Mark quietly went to the conference room with me for him to change to his running clothes and then without fanfare we quietly walked across the parking lot with a hawking wind kicking up the dust and made our way to the starting line. There were no flags; no Senators, no announcers and no crowd save for six friends that came to see him and his two running partners off.. A quick interview was given by Mark to KVLY that were kind enough to take time on a Saturday night to come and see Mark off. Mark asked me to officially start the race……Cassie, Mark’s wife, was going to arrange to have water and fuel along the way and there was going to be a large group awaiting Mark and Jeff and Mike at mile 17….
I called them to the starting line and set them on their way….. Their race bibs were small stickers that they wore on their chests to signify the 2008 charitable foundation recipient. A heart wrenching story of a young girl that lost her life so prematurely to illness and the good work that is now being done in her memory and honor.
As I watched the three courageous men run off into the twilight I turned and walked across the parking lot of the Fargo Dome into a hawking wind, I knew that in a couple of hours, Mark, Jeff and Mike would soon no longer have that wind at their back and would be faced with that stiff wind. I am a strong athlete but I honestly do not think I could have run the marathon as they were doing so late in the day with no fanfare and with the limited sleep that they so surely had having been preparing to stage a major city marathon. I was emotional in watching them and it is another great reason why this Fargo marathon is so special.
A couple of other points. I loved purchasing a ‘Sarah Bear’ from Sarah. A special bear for my three year old that Sarah and Solveig market to bring awareness to people with prosthetics and to teach the children that it is ok to touch, is quite normal and not frightening. The Sarah bear has a prosthetic leg, especially made for the express purpose of humanizing disabilities and amputations. My little son Sam now sleeps with his Sarah Bear every night.
I also applaud the Fargo marathon for having separate gluten free pasta dinner and post race food to raise awareness and to also help the runners with Celiac disease. Another example of the cutting edge state of the art kindness from true Midwestern compassion.
So I made it across the parking lot and back to my car, went back to the hotel and took a shower, called Mike to find out he was ahead of me at the adjacent restaurant…. I joined him for a couple of Blue Moons and to reflect upon the day. We were soon joined by Lori and Alan Hopkins from Winnipeg. Alan an excellent master’s runner trying to run a pr of 2.46 (was the gentleman who exited the elevator two days before and remembered me from last year). Lori and Alan were so gracious. We shared stories about the best milers in the world and to Mike’s and my complete surprise, when the two of us went to pay our bill, ( Lori and Alan left before us) we discovered that they had contributed $15.00 to each of our check amounts. We were stunned and humbled by this gesture, a gesture to basically complete strangers that Mike and I were yet it was as if we had known them all our lives, such is the common bond of the running community coupled with the good feeling in Fargo…
Mike and I flew together to Denver the next morning, sharing more stories and as we embraced to say goodbye and go our separate ways I knew that I had a new friend for life and I thank Fargo for making this happen.
I spoke with Mark on Monday delighted to hear that he, Mike and Jeff, completed the marathon safely, a little over four hours including a number of stops to chat and visit with friends along the way….
I told Mark I was amazed and so very proud of him as I am of all the wonderful friends I have made over the past three years in Fargo!
I look forward to 2009; there is no place I would rather be on Fargo marathon race day!