Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Up and Running Again at the UrbanCow: The Udderly Long Half Marathon (October 7, 2013)


Up and Running Again
Since July, I started volunteering for a group called Up and Running Again.  This program works with at risk people in training them for a half marathon.  Not only is it training them to run a half marathon but to hopefully teach folks that small steps to lead to big accomplishments.  I had heard about programs like this before so when my running friend Larry mentioned on a night run to me some time ago, I told him I would be interested in helping out.

I started volunteering in July and started off showing up once a week or so.  The group started week 1 with 5 minutes running, 5 minutes walking, for half an hour.  Getting the group to run for the whole five minutes was quite challenging.  But, bit by bit, the participants kept working on their running.

A few weeks into their training, I got into a bicycle accident and didn't show up for a couple weeks.  When I returned, I found some of the participants had dropped out but some were still sticking to the program.  They were running 30 minutes now.

Shortly after, when they started running the miles, I started to get to know the participants more.  And, I was  inspired by each of their stories.  Many are former drug addicts and are currently on the path of recovery.  This was refreshing as in my line of work, working in the criminal justice system, I frequently deal with addicts who are often times still in the stage of denying they have a problem.  It was refreshing to see people who have recognized their own problems and taken the steps to change that and move into a better direction.  It gives me hope for some of my current clients at work.

But as I ran more with this group, I developed friendships with each of the participants.  Running has that special way of bonding people, not matter what they're background, past history, etc. . . may be.  Running is running.

And, some I watched struggled through some of the training but continue training hard and slowly, bit by bit, they built up their mileage.  I am filled with pride watching them go from barely able to run 5 minutes to running miles and so looked forward to watching them finish their first half marathon at the Urban Cow Half Marathon.

Urban Cow
The Urban Cow Half Marathon is a special race to me because it is the first half marathon I ran just a couple years ago.  While training with the Up and Running Again group, I have many memories of my first half marathon.  I remember my friend Diane running the whole race with me and getting me to that finish line.  I also like the event because it always has a big showing of my fellow Java Joggers' friends.

The Race

All the Up and Running Again folks and Java Joggers are gathered together before the race.  The race has quite the crowd as usual.  Everyone is excited and some, a little nervous.

I head out to start out with the first wave of runners (there are two waves).  The gun goes off and I take off running.  I am hoping to get a PR (personal record) in this race.

As I run along, about 1.6 miles in, I see the "1 Mile" sign.  That's odd as I hit a mile awhile ago.  Someone near me says that's just the marker for the 5k route.  I run along in the crowd getting into my running groove.

A couple miles later, we all see the "3 Mile" sign but all of our garmins/watches say we are really at 3.6-3.7 miles.  Everyone around me, as does I, goes "Aw man!" or something of the like.  We all know, just a few miles into the race, that this course is going to be long.  There's some talk about how we were lead the wrong way and added some extra distance.  Everyone around me knows we are going long but we all keep on running.  I am really confused as to how this course can be long.  I have run it for two years and it was accurate in distance.  I did not know of any course changes.   How is it going to be long.  By nearly 3/4 of a mile!

I run along for a couple more miles and spot a guy that looks kind of like my friend Paul.  As I near him, I see it is Paul and he says "hi" to me.  He jokes "so, you decided to run an ultra-half-marathon too today?"...I chuckle and say I guess so.  We run together for a bit as we head near downtown Sacramento.  My legs are feeling good and strong so I just let them go.

I go flying through downtown and Old Sacramento, running sub-8:00 min/miles.  Feeling good.  But, as I run towards mile 8, where there is a turn around, I can feel my legs getting a bit tired hanging on to this pace.

As I hit the turn around, I look for some of my running friends and wave to the few I do see.  I eat a GU hoping that will help keep my legs going.  I can feel them tightening around the calves.  I am pushing the pace today and I have not run this fast, for this long of a distance, for quite some time.  With trail running, I am often running for a bit, hiking for a bit.  I am glad I wore my new compression socks today.  I kind of feel they are keeping my legs from cramping.

At mile 10, I come down a little hill and make a left turn.  At the turn, I spot my running friend Scott, who's out volunteering.  As I pass him, he's cheering me on and giving me some encouragement.  Just enough to energize me to keep going strong!

At mile 11, I stop at the aid station to drink some Gatorade and giving my legs a 20 second rest.  I find sometimes a little rest will help them run faster over all.  I take a moment to drink down some Gatorade then off I go again.  I can see the 1:50 pacer right ahead of me.  I hear him commenting to another runner near him that they will probably adjust our race times due to us going long.  Hmm.  Interesting.

When my garmin says 13.1, I look down and see what would have been my half marathon PR just slip away.  I still have 3/4 of a mile to go before I finish.  I will finish with a decent time but not a PR because the course is long.

I come around the last bend and cross the finish, still sub-2 hours but not sub 1:50 as I had hoped.

Bringing in the Up and Running Again Folks

Fortunately, for my Up and Running Again friends, they started in the second wave so did not accidentally run an extra 3/4 of a mile.  They would be running the correct distance.

After I got my cowbell and some chocolate milk, I walk up the course waiting for some of the Up and Running Again folks to come through.

In not too long, I spot Larry bringing in Mike.  Mike is looking good and running strong.  I jump in and run behind him as he heads towards the finish cheering him on.  He finishes 2:07!  What a great time for a first half marathon!

After Mike comes through, I head back to the spot I was waiting before.  Then, I see Sonya come around the final bend.  I jump in to run behind her and snap a couple pictures as she finishes up.  She says it's hard and she's happy to see the finish!   She finishes around 2:30.

I run back from Sonya and see Gilbert and Janelle coming down towards the finish.  They each have great big smiles knowing they are near the finish.  I watch them hold each other's hands as they run into the finish line.  I am beaming with pride!

As I run back, I see Trycia heading towards the finish.  I run next to her and tell her she's doing a great job.  She thanks me.  I tell her "you're almost there."  She says "I am?"  I tell her to look up and I point to the finish line ahead.  I watch her face light up in realization that she is doing it.  She is finishing her first half marathon.  And, she crosses the finish line with a big, triumphant smile!

After a bit, I see Darlene and Taleigha come through towards the finish.  I run up to the them and tell them they are almost there.  Both of them scream loudly "I KNOW!!!"  They both are just screaming and practically jumping with excitement.  I tell Taleigha that her mom is just ahead waiting for her.  She shouts "I KNOW!!"  They both just scream with utter excitement that it gets me even more excited to watch them finish.

As I head back to see the next runner to come in, I am taken by surprise to see Vaughn heading towards the finish.  Vaughn is typically towards the very back of the pack but he's looking so strong today and he keeps moving along.  One thing I know well with Vaughn is that he always has a good kick at the end.  And sure enough, he picks up his pace as he heads into the finish line and finishes very strong!

After running with Vaughn finish, before I can run back out, I see Michelle run through the finish line.  She comes through and I see her eyes well up with the emotion of the accomplishment of finishing 13.1 miles.  It makes me a little teary eyed.  I tell her how proud I am of her.  And, she does smile for a picture I snap.

I run my way back to see who is next and eventually see Thomas.  Thomas is a special runner to me because he is a guy who quit part way through the program.  He quit for a few weeks.  But, he did an even harder thing but coming back.  When he came back, I ran/walked with him for a very long, tough 4 miles.  But, he kept coming out and stuck with the training.  And today, I am so proud that he is here at the race and is doing it.  He is going to finish 13.1 miles.  I knew he had doubts as to whether he could do it but I knew he could and it is just pure pleasure watching him do it.

As we come around the last curve, his kids are there waiting for him.  His youngest daughter and son are run towards their dad with big smiles.  They have such excitement to help run with their dad to the finish line.  Thomas' foot has been hurting so he's been walking a lot.  But now, he starts to run.  Run to the finish line and finish strong.  He runs as his kids run shortly behind him and he finishes!

A little bit later, we all wait for Cynthia.  Cynthia has had concerns as to whether she could finish and whether she could finish in time. But, I know she's not the fastest but she is strong in spirit.  And, I know she can finish.  Finally, we see her.  She is running/walking with a police officer (and another officer is driving the patrol car behind her).  We all head out towards her.  All the volunteers and the participants of the Up and Running Again program head out towards her.

We walk/run beside Cynthia as she heads into the finish.  The cheering gets louder and louder as we head into the finish line.  Everyone is telling Cynthia she is doing this and cheering for her.

Only a few more steps to go.  She picks up and starts running towards the finish line.  The cop car blares off his siren.  Everyone is cheering loudly. . . .And, Cynthia crosses the finish line!  And, I am just about ready to cry watching this.  It is a moment that words cannot describe accurately.   I know it was not easy for Cynthia.  A lot harder than for me.  But, she did it and I am overwhelmed with pride and joy for her!


After the race, Rich Hanna (the race director) sent all of those in the first wave a letter apologizing for the mix up, a special 13.74 sticker, and a coupon for next year's Urban Cow Half Marathon.  We all understand mistakes can happen but quite a neat way to make up for it.

I will continue to run Urban Cow because it remains a special race for me.  A fun course.  A race filled with lots of memories, especially this past one.

Working with Up and Running Again has been a wonderful experience.  I have met and befriended some great people and I really hope that can take what they have learned through this experience into other aspects of their life.  And, I hope for some, that they can continue running.  Running has changed my life and made things a lot better than they were before I was a runner and I hope they can gain from running all the wonderfulness I have gained from running as well.  And, I hope to work with some of them again and maybe some new ones to finishing the next race.  :)


I would like to express thanks to Rich Hanna and all of those involved in the Urban Cow Half Marathon.  You put on a pretty great event every year.  I also express thanks for comp-ing the entries for all the runners in the Up and Running Again group and for leaving the clock up well beyond the so-called cut off time so our last runner could finish with an official time and earn a coveted cowbell.

I thank my Java Joggers for being out there for me and the Up and Running Again folks.  You are always the most amazing, supportive friends.

To Larry, thanks for getting Up and Running Again started in Sacramento.  It was a privilege to be part of the program and help those get to the race and finish the race.

To Mike, Sonya, Gilbert, Janelle, Trycia, Taleigha, Darlene, Vaughn, Michelle, Thomas and Cynthia, I am very proud of all of you in finishing your first half marathon.  Thank you for working hard and not giving up.   It was the utmost pleasure watching you all finish.

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