A few days ago, I asked (maybe urged) my husband to do a guest post for my blog. Justin is the best writer I know, and I sometimes wonder why it is me who has the blog. I told him he could write about anything and he surprised me with something very near and dear to my heart. Sit back and enjoy…
It’s not often that Kristen hands me the keys to Glitter & Dust with the instructions to “take it for a spin.” In fact, this is the first and hopefully not the last time I have been invited to pen my thoughts about whatever subject interests me. Fly-fishing immediately comes to mind. So does marketing. Two topics that are of great interest to me personally, but probably not shared by many others.
So rather than write about something that is of interest only to me, I figured I’d write about something broader. Specifically, my place in Kristen’s training and racing life, and the role I willingly and happily play when it comes encouraging, motivating, and supporting her athletic endeavors and achievements.
I’m certainly not alone in my efforts. Behind every great runner (or just every runner, for that matter) there is a support team that helps make it all happen. Spouses, significant others, loved ones, friends, family, other racers, volunteers, and on, and on, and on, all play a role. But since this is a firsthand account I’ll focus on my role in the process, as just one cog in the wheel, and what I do to help make Kristen’s pre-race, race day, and post-race experiences the best they can be.
Pre-race support begins weeks if not months ahead of the actual race, and culminates with the pre-race meal the night before the big day. It mainly focuses on the training side of the equation, but has other valuable elements as well, particularly as we get closer to the race. On shorter training runs, I’m happy to tag along if only for the entertainment value I provide. My “running” pace is more of a brisk walk for Kristen, but slow runs are good for her once in a while—even if they aren’t slow by my standards! But for longer runs (15-20 miles), I hop on my mountain bike and ride alongside her for support. I carry extra water, food, and clothing, offer conversation to break up the monotony, and croon an occasional “Eye of the Tiger” on hills to keep her motivated and amused.
Throughout the entire training process, my job is simply to keep Kristen motivated, upbeat, and focused on the positive if any doubts creep into her head. Whether it’s to remind her of the dividends that all the training will pay, keep her focused on the end goal, or to simply compliment her on how well her outfit matches. Whatever it takes, right?
As we get closer to race day, and the training turns to tapering, my role also changes and begins to focus on the race itself. Depending on the length, location, course conditions, etc., I begin to plan out my own race day strategy. Where will I cheer her on from the course? Will I need to bike from location to location or will I drive? How long will it take her to get from point A to point B to point C to point D, etc.
If it’s a local race, and a course I am familiar with, I might even bust out the sidewalk chalk and poster board to line the course with inspiring messages for Kristen, as well as the other racers. The afternoon or evening before the race, I’ll sneak out to the office to make some signs, then drive to a few spots on the course to put them up and write some encouraging words. I remember after one race hearing a woman who had seen all of the signs and chalk along the course say something like, “Who the heck is racer #343 anyway?” I gave myself a pat on the back after hearing that one. ☺
No race is complete without one of Kristen’s favorite pastimes, Packet Pickup. Whether it’s the surprises that await in the goodie bag, the vendors at the pre-race expo, or the nervous anticipation building inside all the racers, there’s something about packet pickup that flips a switch in Kristen and hones her focus for the race. It’s fun to watch her go from being excited and energetic, to being quiet and reserved. The calm before the storm.
If she’s racing on an unfamiliar course, such as the Seattle Marathon, we’ll do a preview of the entire course following packet pickup. In Seattle, we drove the vast majority of the course, then ran a six-mile stretch that included their version of “heartbreak hill.” Hopefully it helped come race day, knowing where the opportunities were to step on the gas, where it was wise to let off the gas, and where there was risk of running out of gas!
The last, and perhaps the most important of my pre-race responsibilities is the pre-race meal. Making sure Kristen’s body has the fuel it is going to need for the day is a challenge that we have found the perfect solution to: Dungeness Crab. How great is it when your pre-race meal just so happens to consist of your favorite. Food. Ever. The stats don’t lie on Dungeness Crab: high in protein (19g per serving), very high in electrolytes (particularly sodium, potassium and magnesium), and extremely high in vitamin B12 (energy booster). It’s also low in calories and fat. I oven roast the crab with a seasoning of salt, pepper, shallots, thyme, and parsley, and coat it with a reduction of those ingredients plus blood orange juice and peel. The result, I think, is one of the tastiest meals I have ever had, and one that gives Kristen a definite “leg up” (Crabs have 10 of them, after all) on race day.
For most runners, race day starts early and the same is true in the Yax household. A pre-dawn wake-up call is followed almost immediately by a cup of coffee to literally and figuratively gets things going. While Kristen is putting in her race braids, I’ll make myself busy with a number of tasks including once again playing “Eye of the Tiger,” the Rocky theme song, or Katy Perry’s “Roar” through the iPad, gathering food, nutrition, clothing, and gear, and adding one more bit of motivation.
I usually try to have a good luck card and some sort of trinket for Kristen when she comes downstairs, in part to lighten the mood and in part to remind her that I’m proud of her accomplishments. The race, after all, is the destination of a much longer journey. It’s the celebration of months and months of incremental daily accomplishments, and when the race ends the journey still continues. Besides, what could be luckier than a banana card on race day morning?
While Kristen is eating her pre-race peanut butter and banana, I make sure I have everything I’m going to need for the day’s support efforts. Mountain bike, helmet, shoes, and gloves? Check. Backpack? Check. Camera? Check. Lots of extra clothes, gum, food, water, gloves, hats, flip flops, lip balm, etc., etc., etc.? Double check!!!
I’ll need all of that gear, and sometimes more, as I make my way around the course throughout the race. Whether as a place to stash layers that are peeled off right before the gun goes off, or to hold additional clothing in the event of rain/snow/hail/wind/sun or all of the above, it’s good to be prepared and I have learned that you never know when you’re going to have to fulfill the occasional “if only I brought a…” request. When in doubt, I try to pack with the motto, “it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it!”
Once the gun goes off, I’m left at the starting line, backpack in tow, ready to pedal like crazy to get to the first viewpoint in time to set the bike down, get the camera ready, and to try to anticipate any needs/requests that might come when I see her. Usually, the first time I see Kristen on the course is captured on film with some article of clothing being tossed at me as she attempts to cool down.
Then it’s back on the bike, hustle to the next location, cheer and photograph some more, give her fresh gum and a pat on the butt, and tell her how great she’s doing. That process gets repeated several times over the next 90 minutes to four hours, depending on the race and Kristen’s frame of mind. Generally speaking, I try to be in at least two and as many as five locations along the way to cheer. If she’s not feeling well or is having an off day, I’ll run with her for a bit and give her a little “pep talk” along the way. Or, if she’s in a really bad mood I’ll say or do something to intentionally make her mad. It’s my way of giving her a taste of her own medicine—a little reverse psychology on the psychology instructor—and the one time I used it, it really seemed to work. You should see how fast she is capable of running when she’s pissed off! ☺
The tricky part about cheering and spectating throughout the race is to make sure you leave yourself enough time after the last stop to get to the finish area, find parking, and get to the finish line in time to see your athlete finish. So far, I haven’t missed one of Kristen’s finishes yet (knock on wood) but I have come dangerously close. Particularly at the Sunriver 1/2 Marathon and the Seattle Marathon, where parking proved to be more difficult than I had anticipated and left me with a finish line sprint of my own in order to get there in time.
Watching Kristen sprint through the finishing chute is always fun, as there is a huge sense of elation—and sometimes relief—on her part for completing the event. That sense of elation is usually followed closely by the typical “That was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life!” and “Why do I do this?” comments, which are in turn followed by the “I can’t wait to do this race again next year!” comment.
After Kristen cools down and changes clothes, one of my last jobs is to keep an eye on the results being posted and to keep her company while waiting for the awards ceremony. I try to keep tabs of her position within the race as it unfolds on the course, but usually don’t get it right so it’s a wait-and-see affair after the race. Kristen has been fortunate to have some great finishes over the years, and I’ve been proud to be there to see and to photograph her receiving various medals, mugs, plaques, and ribbons.
And from this point, the journey begins anew with planning and preparation for the next big race. It’s a great big cycle that doesn’t really have a beginning or an end, it just kind of chugs along in perpetuity. But along the way, it has its triumphs and tragedies, highs and lows, good days and bad days, and its successes and failures. We learn a lot about ourselves from how we handle both (fortunately the successes tend to far outweigh the failures), but often it is the failures that motivate us the most. From my perspective, as Kristen’s #1 cheerleader, fan, and supporter, there is no such thing failure—there are only varying degrees of success.