Have you ever run a marathon? Yes, the twenty-six point two miles kind of marathon. Not many people have. You have to be a special kind of crazy to want to do something so painful, and my friend Betty is a very special kind of crazy lady. Sunday she celebrated her 70th birthday by running her 16th full marathon. It was her 53rd birthday when she ran the first one and she says this will be her last. But you never know. Our running group calls her our Energizer Betty; she just keeps going and going.
Another running friend, Jane, and I went down to Detroit early Sunday morning to support Betty, and friends Kim and Kathy in their marathon attempt. Jane made the great sign; one side had the birthday message, the other side was more general, aimed at motivating all the runners as they went by. We used the sign to find Betty and Kim in a massive sea made up of thousands of runners corralled before the race began.
Jane also put together a plan for getting us to different places on the course. I figured out she and I walked and/or sprinted over 8 miles as we maneuvered to see our runners before the race, then at miles 9, 19, 23 and the finish line. It was worth it.
If you’ve ever done something so much bigger than yourself, poured yourself into the preparation, done the training, mentally challenged yourself, then you know how adrenalin can push you through the event. But having support on the sidelines makes the experience even better. Jane and I, along with members from Betty and Kim’s family were determined to provide all the support we could.
The race began under a full moon. The runners were warmer than we were as we waited at mile 9 in the shadow of the Joe Lewis hockey arena. At first the runners coming by were sparse, but soon enough the street was clogged with athletes.
By mile 9 the runners had already crossed the Detroit river on the Ambassador bridge into Canada, run the Canadian riverfront, then come back to the States via the tunnel under the river. Amazingly most of them were still looking good! I was so cold by the time we left mile 9 I was wishing I was running! And let me tell you, that’s pretty darn cold!
Jane and I moved on, to the other side of town, into sunshine as we waited for our friends to come by on their way to run around an island in the middle of the river at mile 19. Jane brought snacks for them, and little Cokes. Both runners were grateful for the liquid caffeine.
Jane and I wanted to see them when they came off the island too, we wanted to make sure they were still doing alright. We both know that the hardest miles in a marathon begin after mile 20. So we waited at mile 23. The skies darkened, the wind picked up, the temperature dropped. We were worried that Betty was wearing a tank top and shorts. Jane shed one of her shirts in preparation to give it to Betty if she needed it. We knew they’d be running along the Detroit waterfront for most of the rest of the race and we didn’t want her to be cold.
But this is Betty at mile 23:
She doesn’t look cold, does she. Sure she was tired and she was hurting and she was wanting it to be done. But she was smiling and she started running again right after this shot.
That’s why we have nicknamed her our Energizer Betty. We all want to be her when we grow up.
She is amazing. She is strong. She said it was the best birthday, perfect weather for a marathon, her family including husband, daughter, grandchildren, and friends were there to share it with her. Her daughter and a grandson ran her in the last couple of miles.
You can’t get better than that. You can’t ask more of life than that. To do something you love on your 70th birthday and to share it all with people you care about.
I was honored to be there.