I’ve never been a part of a race dedicated to a specific person’s memory before, but I imagine events like this are always very emotional behind their celebratory exterior. Charlie’s Run was a memorial 5k race for Charlie Neave who passed away last December. He was a student at the same school that all three of my brothers attended and 100% of the proceeds from the race are going to a scholarship fund at that school set up in Charlie’s name. I couldn’t think of a better cause to run for in my last race of 2013.
As last week went on, the forecast for yesterday was looking more and more abysmal. I was keeping my fingers crossed that the inch or so of snow we were supposed to get would hold off until after the race. Our local weather people all seemed to agree that it would, which did absolutely zilch to calm my worries because they are wrong like 99.9% of the time.
The start time was at 9am. I picked up my favorite Erin at 8 and we headed north to an elementary school in Sparks, MD where the race would begin and end, managing to only get lost one time. It was overcast and around 27 degrees, but they had the school opened and ready for the event. Warmth and real bathrooms?! What a great start to the day! I noted when I had gone to pick up my bib the day before that the list of participants was pages long and the crowded hallways and auditorium at the school reinforced that observation. Because of the new-ness of the race, I wasn’t sure how well attended Charlie’s would be and let’s just say they must have been working hard to get the word out! It was absolutely thrilling to see so many people there despite the weather forecast.
Favorite and I snapped a pre-race selfie in the hallway. I’m sure people probably thought we were total dorks, but we couldn’t care less.
At about a quarter to 9, we all packed into the auditorium for announcements and a warm up that was led by some personal trainers from a local gym sponsor. Due to the fact that Charlie was so young, there were a LOT of kids in attendance and we looked on while they had fun with the warm up. Soon we were filing out into the cold and toward the start. Erin and I joked that it seemed a lot colder already and she kept saying that she was going to throw up…IT WAS HER FIRST RACE EVER and she was so nervous! I was just full of excitement for her. I knew she was prepared and she was going to do great. She’s guest blogging here tomorrow so you can hear more about that in her own words.
I wasn’t sure what kind of race I was going to run until literally 30 seconds before we started. I attended a holiday party the night before and while I was very reasonable with my wine consumption, I got a lot less sleep than I would have liked. When it was go-time though I was feeling energetic and ready to run so I hugged Erin good luck and then the bullhorn was sounding and we were off on our respective races.
The beginning was a mad scramble…570 people on a two lane road cheering and screaming as we tried not to mow each other over. The field fanned out enough after about a half mile and I found a comfortable spot to run in. Usually I map my races before I run them so I can see what kind of elevation to expect, but we were only given very vague directions as to where we would be going. I had no idea what was coming besides possibly hills because Sparks has a lot of rolling country roads. The first mile had a couple very nice downhills (it was my fastest as usual), but the course was an out and back so I knew that I would be experiencing those hills in a very different way on my return trip.
At mile 2, things got interesting. I would have to turn around and head back at some point and of course this had to happen right after the biggest descent. That hill was BRUTAL. And from there, the hits just kept right on coming. As I passed the mile 2 marker and turned back on to the school road, I started to seriously question whether or not I was going to make it through without walking. I knew where the finish line was and that once I reached the driveway to the school, I would have a downhill finish, so I put my head down and focused on my music. Luckily all the most motivating songs were coming on at the best possible time.
As I turned left into the driveway to the cheers of the volunteers, something caught my eye…the first snowflakes were beginning to fall and with them I felt like I got a second wind. I had been steadily picking up my pace through the past mile, but now I really turned it up as I looped around the parking lot, past cheering spectators, and into the finishing chute. I wasn’t sure my exact time at that moment, but I knew I had earned myself a new race PR despite those crazy hills!
Then it was time to wait for my Favorite. I’ll let her fill you in what her goal time was, but it gave me a good idea of when I could expect her. I hung out with the crowd watching the finish line as the snow went from 0-60 in like 5 minutes. Soon enough I spotted her headband as she rounded the final turn in the parking lot and started jumping up and down like a psycho, yelling for her to GO GO GO! YOU’RE AT THE END!!! I ran alongside her on the sidewalk – being careful not to slip in the snow that was already collecting there – as she crossed over the finish line where her fiancé and son were also waiting to cheer her on. My heart felt like it was going to explode with pride. There were hugs and tears all around and then it was time to get inside out of the elements for a bit to celebrate finishing the race!
Back in the auditorium there were bananas, bagels, water, and even hot chocolate laid out for everyone and everybody was in such a good mood. Though crowded, it was one of the best atmospheres I have encountered at a race so far! We hung around nibbling and sipping on various things while we waited for some speeches and awards. The principal of the school Charlie attended spoke and then some of the folks responsible for organizing the race. Then the most emotional part of the day…a short speech from Charlie’s mom and dad. I don’t think there were many dry eyes in the room and though what happened was unimaginable, it made me feel so glad to be a part of the event yesterday. I didn’t know this boy personally, but I have no doubt that he would have loved it.
Next up…awards. I knew I didn’t place top 3 overall, but if they had age group awards, I might have pulled one of those out. My time according to my Garmin was 22:20.
OMG NOW YOU KNOW HOW OLD I AM!! Overall I was 5th, which was an exciting thing to learn as well.
The emcee of the event was saying that Charlie’s Run was supposed to be a one time thing, but with the amount of support they received I’m hoping that this 5k will make a return next December. It was impeccably organized from bib pickup (we got a lot of nice little extras with that too including a backpack bearing the logo of the event) to the awesome raffle they had at the end (Erin won something!!). The volunteers were so friendly, snacks were plentiful, and the course was fun, challenging, and well marked. Although it was tinged with a bit of sadness, mostly Charlie’s Run was a celebration of the life of a wonderful young man who clearly touched the hearts of everyone he met – and a celebration of life in general. Hundreds of happy people running together on a snowy December day, parents crossing the finish line hand-in-hand with their children, hugs, smiles, and hot cocoa for everyone. The only way it could have been any better is if my daughter had been there with me.
We had fun in the snow when I got home though. 🙂
As you can see, she was having the worst time ever. Oh and also? We were supposed to get like an inch of snow. Remember when I said the weather people around here are terrible? Yeah.
Tomorrow Erin recaps Charlie’s Run from the perspective of someone running in – and totally owning! – their first 5k!
Have you ever done a memorial race? I would love to hear all about it!