Yesterday’s Dexter-Ann Arbor Half-Marathon was one of the coolest and most impactful experiences of my life, and it’s all because of Max.
Max’s goal was to come in under 1:50–a modest goal of shaving a few seconds off per mile from his amazing time at the Martian Half-Marathon a month earlier. The weather was overcast but muggy, and rain was predicted, it wasn’t looking like an ideal morning, but aside from the humidity it wasn’t bad. Fortunately, the sun never came out—that would have been miserable.
We had the race strategy all planned out–3 mile benchmarks at 25:00 intervals. As long as we hit those, he’d be on pace for a PR and I figured it would be a little challenge but definitely within his capability.
As for me, my only intention was to pace with Max. I’d only run one official half-marathon before, years before, and had a PR of 1:44:50. Though I’d met/bet that PR in a few training runs at tempo pace, I didn’t do any hard-core training to be able to challenge my mark. This was all about Max.
So, we started out, and as expected the crowd was a dense at the start of the race. We hit the first mile at about 8:30, which was right on pace. We knew we’d start a little slow due to the density and be able to pick up as the pack thinned out. We were able to see the 8:00 pace group, so as long as we spent most of the race with them in our vision we’d be fine.
By the second mile, our adrenaline and energy were high and we reached the 2nd mile at around 16:00 flat. That was a little fast, but Max said he felt good and there’s no harm in banking up some time. We settled in about 50 yards behind the 8:00 pace group, and I figured we’d just cruise there as long as we could.
But as the race went on, Max never wilted, even a bit. He kept up a steady pace right with the 8:00 pace group, rolling with the up- and downhills. We were drenched in sweat due to the humidity, but were still able to keep up short conversations, talking about letting our legs recover on the rolls, the ice cream after the race, and hoping that the sun wouldn’t break through the clouds.
Then the magic happened at mile 9. We were about 2 minutes fast of our goal pace, so Max was definitely going to PR and I was going to get a good race in. It was then that Max said to me, “4 miles to go, Dad. Let’s go!” and he takes off and starts to overtake the 8:00 pacers. I’m stunned and say, “you sure you have enough to step it up?” Max responds, “Yeah. We’re both going to get PRs. You can do this!”
As we passed the pace group, the pacers and some of the runners called out their excitement and amazement, just like a lot of the runners that were around us throughout the race. This is what fuels Max–he loves the attention and encouragement (he called the spectator zones “power ups” because he got energy from the cheering. My little video game player).
Now, at that point my legs were starting to get a little heavy. Cardio-wise, I was fine, but I hadn’t trained myself up to keep up a sub-8 pace, but if my kid says we’re going, then we’re going.
By the time we got to the 10 mile mark, Max was coaching me, occasionally saying “good job” or “you’ve got this” and helping count down the miles. At this point, we’re actively passing people on the final 5k, and while my wagon is starting to shake a little, he just keeps going, encouraging me, even making jokes (“2 miles until I get gelato and you get beer, Dad”)
Honestly, my resolve and confidence in myself being able to keep up with him was faltering at that point. I felt a great deal of internal joy and relief when I saw the township and city limit signs, and being able to hear the freeway traffic that indicated that we were approaching the end.
The last .1 of the course is a pretty tough uphill coming into the downtown and the finish line. We got to the 13 mile mark together, but as we started climbing the hill, I was just pushing to get up–my legs were spent. Max started to separate from me a little as we climbed and were able to see the finish arch appearing over the crest of the hill. Max didn’t really surge ahead–just kicked it in enough to finish strong. As we were finishing the last few hundred yards, I called out, “Go Max! Kick it in!” as we passed through the several blocks of spectators lined up along the street.
He legitimately beat me by 8 seconds, bringing BOTH of us to a PR–144:16 for him, and 1:44:24 for me.
As I crossed the finish line, I felt emotion swell up within me, sucking the wind out of me and joyful tears trying to push their way out. I composed myself and went and gave Max a sweaty hug before we headed off to find the family.
On the bus-ride up to the starting line, we were sitting behind a couple of guys who were talking about their recent half-marathons. One of them mentioned he’d run this several times before, and how there was a tough hill in the middle and then the hill at the final stretch, and how you really have to make sure you leave some energy in the tank for that last hill. I leaned over to Max as we were listening to their conversation and said, “you know, that last hill isn’t about leaving energy in the tank, it’s about heart.” Max proved that true–he certainly showed more heart than anyone I have ever seen.
And then amazingly, when we got back home in time to go to Alex’s soccer game, there was Max, running around the field, kicking a soccer ball around and then spending the rest of the day playing with his friends. Limitless energy. Ah, youth. LOL