Yes, it's a long post, and I'll probably have some more general things to write on Tuesday.
Today was the Cayman Islands Marathon
. It was the fourth such event; it was labeled as the fourth annual one although they effectively skipped a year due to Hurrican Ivan. It was a good day: the temperature and humidity were seasonal, and it didn't rain.
Gun time was 5am, so some folks could avoid most of the heat of the day: fast marathoners, half-marathoners, and early-leg relay runners. Water stations were every mile, so there was good support for those willing to undertake the challenge.
As I'm still trundling along in base training it seemed a better idea to volunteer than to participate, so I sent an e-mail to the organizers offering to help staff a water station or some other such activity. However, at the volunteer meeting, they had a much better open slot: biking the course to accompany/shadow the marathon leader. I jumped at the opportunity! Amongst other things, it meant finishing early ;-)
In previous years they hadn't had a shadow for the marathon leader, and the race director was keen to have one. In retrospect, it was probably worthwhile to have one, even though the event had motorcycle cops. Not all that long after the starting gun, two distinct lead groups formed: short-course leaders (half-marathoners and relay runners) and back of them the marathoners. A motorcycle cop led the short-course folks, but after a bit they pulled far enough ahead that having a shadow with the lead marathoners gave them a bit of visibility and encouraged a few vehicles to give them a bit wider berth. Sunrise wasn't until 6:44am, and I had enough blinking lights to do a passable imitation of a Christmas tree on wheels.
The marathon was two laps of a mostly out-and-back course. On the return leg of the first lap another use of the shadow role became evident: encouraging the on-coming runners to look up and break around.
The marathon leaders completed the first lap about 6:33am, so not long before sunrise. As the half-marathoners had completed, the motorcycle escort picked up the marathoners and cleared way ahead of them. This was very important as the roads were not closed to traffic. My utility at that point was simply as a tail-light and a bumper; traffic coming from behind would have hit me before having a chance at one of the running group. I'm not aware that anyone even came close, but I know that along one stretch we had a somewhat frustrated driver behind us for a while; I made sure that there was no space that could encourage the driver to try to squeeze past.
Past mile 25 I did one other thing that was useful. One of the additional motorcycle cops pulled alongside me to confirm that I was indeed shadowing the marathon leader. The motorcycle escort up ahead had experienced a little confusion because a relay runner had managed to pull ahead late in the second (final) lap. With that confirmation they were able to lead the right person to the finish chute.
OK, so that was the role.
What I got out of it was something pretty special; I got to hang with the marathon leaders! I got to observe their pacing, and because I was on a bicycle I was able to hear their breathing when it became laboured, and listen to whatever chatter they made.
From perhaps mile 6 through 12 I rode with a breakaway from the marathon leaders, Martin Palavicini
. Before the end of the lap, though, a group of three caught him: Julie Stackhouse
, Michael Ridsdale
, and Mark Hydes
. Mark called out that Martin should jump on the train, but Martin didn't have that in him.
Somewhere in the leg heading out on the second lap (miles 13 through 19), the lead group whittled down to two: Mark and Julie. Mark was the local favourite. I had no idea who Julie was (heck, I didn't even catch her name until I heard it over the PA at the finish line). Along the way I did hear that this was her first marathon; she ran track in college; until today her longest running races had been half-marathons; and she had done some triathlons.
Coming up on mile 24 Julie pulled ahead of Mark. I hung in the space between briefly, looking back to see if Mark were going to close the gap or were in extreme distress. Neither was the case; it was clear that Mark was feeling some hurt, but he was still running. I rejoined Julie.
Around mile 25 I told Julie it had been a privilege and wished her a great finish. I hung back and gave her more room; as she approached the finishers chute I pulled over to the curb to become a spectator.
So she ran her first marathon (without a heart-rate monitor in warm and rising temperature with dead-even splits) in 3:06:17 and was the first overall finisher. Wow! And her breathing around mile 25 told me that she still wasn't red-lining (the shadow knows).
Mark came in as first male finisher, running but with a hobble, at 3:09:26.
Congratulations to all the participants (marathon, half-marathon, and relay runners) and to the organizers and sponsors.
My thanks to Rhonda Kelly, Race Director, for giving me a dream volunteer assignment; special thanks to Martin, Michael, Mark, and Julie for the view of the front of the pack.