Valerie got her inspiration to run from her dad. He was in cross country and track in high school and continued running for years after. He was pretty good. He won a few medals in both sports, but was never what you would call a star. He ran because he liked it.
Valerie was dedicated when track season rolled around. She went to all practices, she always worked as hard as she humanly could, she went all out. However, like most teens, when it wasn't track season, she went about doing other things. In seventh grade she came home crying during the first week of track. "The other girls are all better than me, I feel like I don't belong," she said through tears. I reminded her that they had all been playing different sports all year. She was at a very small high school in rural Iowa. Most of the kids that liked sports were in sports practically all year round. She wasn't like that. She had other interests that didn't involve chasing a ball around a court or field, and her school didn't have cross country in the fall. She always had a lot of catching up to do every spring. The amazing thing was, no matter what, she kept at it.
She would never be a star. She would never win a race. In fact, she came in last, every single race. You know what though, every time, she sucked it up, she practiced harder, and determined to do better next time. Which, she did. I was always so proud of her. Never once did she give up. Never once did she not complete her race. Never once did she quit. She kept running track every single year until she graduated high school. She amazed me. As the other girls reveled in their medals, Valerie looked to run a little better time next time. The courage it took for her to go and sign up every year, and finish every single race. I was probably prouder of her than any of the mothers who's daughters always came in first or second. She was my rock star.
Valerie graduated high school, started her life as all young people do. She kept running on and off as casual enjoyment. Two years or so ago, she really started running again. She started getting serious about it. Her feet gave her problems. She has issues with the her joints, especially in her toes and ankles being overly flexible. She also has high arches. Finding running shoes became a horror for her. She saw a podiatrist who told her what to look for in a good shoe for her. All of this set her running back, but never stopped her.
She tried shoe, after shoe, after shoe. She wanted to try to run a 10k, but the shoe issue kept making that impossible. Finally, she found a shoe that worked for her. She found the best way to wrap her ankles, and tape her toes. Once she got the combination all down, she was off.
She set her sites on a half marathon. The IMT Des Moines Marathon, in well, Des Moines, Iowa. This marathon, the full marathon, is a qualifier for the major marathons and the Olympics in Olympic years. It aint no wimpy thing. Not that she was running the full marathon, or trying to qualify for anything down the road, but even the half marathon brings in very good athletes from all over. The full marathon brings in elite athletes from around the world. It may not be the Boston marathon, one day, it might come close.
Marathon day came. It was a very foggy day in Iowa. Willie and I had a rather harrowing drive to Des Moines. The fog was so thick, and it was dark. The full moon helped light our way the first twenty miles. The last sixty, even the super moon could no longer cut through the fog. By the time we reached downtown Des Moines, the fog had lifted, but only a bit.
We caught up with Valerie's husband at the back of the pack of runners. The full marathoners and the half marathoners were starting together. They were, of course, organized by their mile pace times. Elite at the front, novice at the back. There were about 8,000 runners running the race. Valerie was waiting, a bit impatiently, at the very back of the pack.
Willie, Joel and I walked back to the car. We tried to get to Grays Lake to cheer her on as she did the two mile loop there. There was an app for the run that you could keep up with where the runners were on the corse. Once we got back to the car, it looked like Valerie was almost to the lake, with the road closures, we probably wouldn't get there in time. We found a place close to Principle Park, where the I-Cubs play, which was totally engulfed in fog, and waited. It was about halfway through the corse.
As we waited, we started to realize, perhaps the app, wasn't completely accurate. Joel had a cousin running the half marathon, too. He was tracking both her and Valerie. About the time that his cousin should have been passing us, he didn't see her. She was about a quarter mile ahead of Valerie, or that was what the app showed. Joel never saw her. Then the app showed that Valerie should be coming down the road soon. I lifted my camera to may face to use the long lens to scan the crowd. We couldn't see her anywhere. Joel kept checking the app. "She should be right in front of us," he said. We looked our hardest to find her, to no avail.
I was getting a little worried. Valerie also has asthma which flares with exertion. "The app still has her moving right?" I asked Joel.
"Yup, she's moving," He answered. We kept looking. Every woman we saw with a hat that remotely looked like her aqua colored hat we watched closely until we could verify that it wasn't her. Nope, too tall. Nope, she had black shorts on. Nope, hair too long. "Maybe she took her hat off."
Another ten minutes went by. Still no sight of Valerie though the app said she had come and went. "I don't know how we could have missed her," Joel said. "Unless she took her hat off." We waited another five minutes. "We must have missed her, the app says she is way past. I'm going to find a bathroom," Joel sighed. He walked away, and quickly returned. He pointed to the crowd of runners streaming past us, and there she was! Slowly, as she moved through the foggy air her features became clear. She was doing great. She was in the middle of the middle pack of runners, looking very good. Steady and smiling when she saw us.
We cheered her on, me particularly loudly. We watched her go by and disappear into the crowd again. The worst part of the corse was yet to come. Some very large hills (yes, Iowa has them) were in her future. She was keeping steady to her pace. She knew what she needed to do, but I still worried about those hills. I am MOM after all. It's in the job description.
We went and found a place about a block from the finish line to wait for her. We watched the elite marathoners, flanked by motorcycle police, run by at a pace that astounded us for the end of a 26 mile race. They ran by as if all they were doing was running across a busy street. The pace was quick and looked so easy. They looked like they'd been running after a bus for five minutes, not a marathon for two hours.
We kept watching as more full and half marathoners ran by for their last block of the race. Some looked exhausted, some looked fine. A few stopped, hunched over and the crowd cheered them on. They took a deep breath, straightened their backs and started on again to the finish.
I could see the large hills that the runners had to face from where we were waiting. Joel kept checking the app, and we tried to recalculate to guess where Valerie really was. He told me that she was probably on the hill at that point. I asked him if she had her inhaler with her, of course she did. "She hasn't needed to use it much though, lately," he told me. I looked at the hill, and said a little prayer under my breath. A little later he told me she should be on her way down, her line on the app still staying steady.
We watched as more athletes ran by. We saw the women's marathon winner run by. We saw a group who was helping a friend in a wheel chair finish the race. We saw another man in a wheel chair, arms as strong as a weightlifter's, cruise by on his own. We saw a man dressed up like Forrest Gump, so obviously, I had to yell, "Run, Forrest, Run!" We tried to guess how long before we would see her. The app already had her past the finish line. We recognized many runners that we saw when we were looking for her before. I again scanned the crowd with my camera. Pretty soon, there she was.
She smiled and giggled a bit when I screamed "GO VALERIE!" at the top of my lungs. Her pace was as strong as it was when we had seen her last. She was doing great. Not only that, but for the first time, she was not the last person to cross the finish line. Far from it. She was well in the middle of the pack with hundreds of runners behind her. The clock said 2 hours and 44 minutes, but it was set for when the first runner crossed the start line. Her real time was 2 hours and 37 minutes. She originally thought it might take her 3 hours. She said she'd be happy with 2:40, she beat that by 3 minutes!
She was, as always, amazing!!!