I'm going to give full credit to Marc Parent, writer of the Newbie Chronicles for Runner's World magazine for the idea to do this. Last March, I was reading his column in which he recounts the marathon relay that he had run with his family. He had requested that his family run a marathon relay with him as a birthday gift to him that year. As March is my birthday, this was very timely. Immediately after reading the column, I gathered my family around and let them know that I would like to make the same request of them. At first I got blank stares. Crickets. "No really," I said," we can do this. The Harrisburg Marathon has a relay. It's not until November. We have plenty of time to get ready for it." I grabbed the laptop and googled the Marathon to research the distances. 4 people relay, leg distances of 5.7-7.4 miles. "We can do this!". I think the responses were: "maybe", "we'll see", and "yes". The yes came from my 10 yr old son, the one we have dubbed "the runner". At the time that I suggested this, he was in the middle of track and field training. His favorite event is the 1600m, and he had run several 5K's. He was also planning on running a 10K later in the spring. At least I had one willing participant.
Time went on. "The runner" ran the 10K, I continued to train through the spring and summer, eyeing a fall marathon. Once fall came, our weeks became very busy with school, and after school activities. My oldest son had joined the middle school cross country team, so he was running 5 days/week, but his maximum distance was 4 miles. The "runner" started ballet training with CPYB, and rehearsals for the Nutcracker. It quickly went from 8 hours a week of ballet to 20+hrs. No time for running in that schedule. He also complained of some pain in his Achilles tendon 3 days before the race. My husband and I were also nursing injuries right before the race.
The night before the race, as we sat down to dinner, we discussed our race "strategy". It came down to "don't worry how long it takes us" and "we just want to have fun out there" and "the course is open for 6 hours". We had no time goal, no aspirations other than to finish. I was really just hoping we would finish, and that they wouldn't all hate me for making them do this. I had a very fitful sleep the night before, with visions of crying, pouting and long-term resentment.
In the morning, I decided I would just commit to a positive attitude, and hope that my attitude would rub off on them. We had decided to come up with a t-shirt design for our team a few days before. My daughter had slept over at a friends house, so the four of us on Team Hart were up early, ate a quick breakfast, mixed up some Nuun Hydration in our favorite flavors, and were on our way to Harrisburg. The marathon is set up very well for the relay. I was runner #1, so we all headed to the start line together. I lined up at the start line, right behind the 8:55 min/mile pace group, figuring that was a good place to start. As the race started, I waved to the rest of the family, assured them I would "return with honor" (inside joke among us), and I was off. While I was running, my husband was to take my oldest son, Runner #2 to the exchange point located only 1/4 mile from the starting area. Then he and my youngest son (Runners #3 and #4, respectively) would head to the other exchange area at the 1/2 marathon point.
As soon as I started to run, I knew it would be a tough one. My left leg was already bothering me, and all I could hope for was a decrease in pain once I was warmed up. I stayed with the 8:55min/mile group, feeling pretty well for the first 4 miles. At this point the route went on the Greenbelt path, a gravel trail. I enjoyed this part of the course because we were off the pavement. I started to slow a bit, mostly because of the pain increasing in my leg. The pace group got a bit ahead of me, but they were still in my sight. By the water stop at 5 miles, I was hurting. I walked through the stop, sipping water, then gave myself a inner pep talk to get through the last part of the run. I knew that my son was waiting for me at the exchange. I knew that he had never run more than 4 miles in his whole life, and I was expecting him to run 6.4!! I needed to show him that he could do it, that our team was strong and we could do it together. I didn't allow myself to walk, I just kept going. With 1/2 mile to go, we crossed the Market St. Bridge. My stride was altered at this point, but I pushed through. I saw my son at the exchange, he was so excited and smiling! I removed the relay timing chip from my ankle, and attached it to him. I handed him my watch, and he was off! The distance of my leg in the relay was 6.7 miles.
I was in pain, limping as soon as I stopped. I headed to the Carousel Pavilion, where I picked up my drop bag with warm clothes, and it was a place I could wait until my family was finished running and we could meet at the finish line. I called my husband to let him know what time I handed off to my son. He suggested that we plan on running across the finish line at the end. I suggested that he forget that idea since I was now limping and unable to run another step. So much for the positive attitude!
Now I had to just wait. For 2 and 1/2 hours it turned out to be. My husband called me to tell me that he was almost finished the 3rd leg, he had run faster than he thought he would. He also had run the most challenging leg: 7.4 miles, including hilly miles through Wildwood Park. I could not believe we were already 3/4 done with the relay!
Soon after, my husband called to say that he handed off to "the runner" and that they were heading to the finish area. I started hobbling to the finish line, which was less than 1/4 mile away. It was slow going, my left piriformis muscle was very angry with me. The full marathon runners were walking much better than me. It was quite sad, really.
I looked at my watch when I got to the finish line. It was now 3 and 1/2 hours since we had started. We may just make it under 4 hours! So exciting. I was still concerned about my youngest son. His Achilles had been bothering him for several days, and now we expected him to run 5.7 miles on it. What if he didn't make it? What if he hurts himself, and he is hobbling like me? The next thing I knew, my husband and older son were there. They said they had passed "the runner" with about 1 mile to go and he was looking good. We started watching the finish line. We could hear the crowd getting excited, we looked, and there he was! Coming down Walnut Street Bridge, smiling and happy. The crowd was cheering as he raised his arms while crossing the finish line.
After grabbing some food, we posed for a team photo.