“What do you want to do for your birthday?” DP asks me in January.
“A race…duh.” I say, smiling.
So 2:30am last Saturday, the alarm goes off for our 46.5-hour jaunt to Austin. Why Austin? Because they have a marathon in February. Also, I’m toying with the idea of doing marathons in all 50 states…but that would be crazy.
The only hiccup on our early morning flight to Austin is that the trike comes out upside down, despite the sign that clearly reads: “DO NOT TURN UPSIDE DOWN!” Oh, American Airlines. If only this was your worst transgression of the weekend…
We brunch, we packet pickup, we find a bike shop to tighten up the shifter, a casualty of the upside-down-trike incident.
I’m nervous about the course so we drive the first six miles.
“Is this it? I/You got this,” we agree, and opt for a much-needed nap instead of driving the rest. Silly rabbits.
We dine by candlelight in the hotel restaurant. It felt extra special to break out of the takeout/TV routine and really talk for the first time in a while. A date: something I remember not to take for granted, knowing how many of our friends with ALS and their loved ones don’t have this luxury anymore.
Race mornings are highly choreographed for us. I usually sleep in my race clothes to expedite the process. DP gets ready, helps me, and we’re out the door.
After DP retrieves the trike from the car, we join the horde of people walking towards the start line. Even with 30,000* runners, we bump into Shari, a Team Drea member from Denver who is doing her 40th(!) half marathon.
(*BTW, Lance Armstrong is the last runner and will raise $1 for every runner he passes. Penance.)
We make our way to the front and only other “wheeler” introduces herself from her handcycle, Beth.
“How many marathons have you done?” I casually ask.
“This will be my 89th,” Beth says, as our mouths drop open.
Beth tells us that she has done marathons on all seven continents – including Antarctica, where it was 50 below and she lost a couple of fingernails. (She didn’t mention the 7 marathons in 7 days she did in Africa, ending on her 63rd birthday.)
Maybe 50 marathons in 50 states isn’t so crazy.
We start at 6:55am and, predictably, Beth takes off up the first hill and out of sight. It’s a gradual climb that goes on for three miles. The good news is that it turns right and right again so we essentially go back down the same-ish hill.
I don’t wear a watch so I’m never sure of my pacing until I happen upon a pacer (someone who deliberately runs a certain speed and carries a sign so runners with a similar pace can stay on target). This race is so big that there are pacers in 5-minute increments. I speed past 3:20, 3:15, 3:10, and catch up to 3:05, which makes me so giddy and giggly that I start waving like crazy to all the volunteers and spectators.
My favorite sign: “RUN LIKE RBG’S HEALTH DEPENDS ON IT.” Amen.
All is well until Mile 8 when I turn a corner and run smack into a hill. Like a holy-moly-what-the-hell-do-I-do? kind of hill. I start cranking, but I quickly drop all the way into my granny gear with nowhere else to go.
I’m at a standstill, halfway up this monster, with people walking past me. No one is even attempting to run. I brake, take a deep breath, and start pushing down slowwwwwly, one leg at a time. I force my way through five pedal strokes: 1…2…3…4…5. Rest. Breathe. 1…2…3…4…5…
And that’s how I make it up the ridiculous hill and three more like it. 3:05 is long gone; I’m hanging out with the 3:30 pacer and his flock. My PR is 3:34, but I started 5 minutes early. I know the back half of the marathon is flatter than the madness I’ve already done, so I start creeping up past 3:25 towards 3:20 so I have some wiggle room. I remember seeing a hill towards the end on the elevation chart…
I look UP towards the Mile 26 marker on top of a doozy of a hill. I have no power left in my legs and I feel my new PR slipping away as people pass me.
Suddenly, DP is beside me shouting, “You got this, you got this!” and then to the crowd, “Make some noise!”
1…2…3…4…5. Rest. 1…2…3…4…5. I try to tell him about the PR, but I’m too winded. I crank myself all the way to the top. I start chasing the 3:25 pacer I just saw.
Apparently, Lance Armstrong passed me on the hill and the live video stream at the finish line is following him through the arch. Somewhere in France, my brother-in-law, John, and his fiancée Molly are yelling at the computer, “Turn around! Turn around!” Molly’s mom, in Dallas, is crying.
I might have cried too…if I could stop smiling. “3:32,” John texts me.
I hang out in the airport wheelchair until it’s time to board. DP goes up to the gate agent – like we’ve done a hundred times – and tells him I need to be pushed down the jet bridge, but I can walk onto the plane using my foldable walker.
“No, the walker will need to go under the plane,” says the gate agent, testily.
“No, she needs the walker to get to her seat. It folds up and fits in the overhead bin,” says DP, testily.
“No, it needs to be pink-tagged and go under the plane,” says the gate agent, more testily.
“Well, you can pink-tag it, but it’s staying with her. We’ve done this for almost five years.” DP is pissed.
“I’m sorry, sir, but our regulations will not permit her to take it on the plane,” he’s practically shouting.
“Show me the regulations,” growls DP, the lawyer, and walks away.
Flight attendants LOVE my walker. I can’t tell you how many of them have remarked on how perfect it is for getting down the aisle because it folds to the width between the seats.
The standoff continues when we scan our boarding passes. “Remember, that’s going to have to go under the plane,” the gate agent says again.
“No, it’s not,” DP retorts, while I shriek something like, “What if I have to go to the bathroom??” which I’m sure wasn’t understandable, since I’m mad.
But the gate agent has called ahead and now the flight attendant is arguing with DP that I’m not allowed to keep the walker.
“If something has been pink-tagged, it has to go under the plane,” she says.
DP leans down, rips the pink tag off the walker and thrusts it at the employee who just pushed me down the jet bridge. “Here. It’s not tagged anymore.” DP snaps, as I step into seat 1F. Thanks to all of his traveling for work, we often get upgraded to first class.
DP folds the walker, puts in the overhead, and slams it. “See? It fits.”
I don’t know whether to swoon or panic because he’s about to be arrested.
The flight attendants back off and we assume it’s over as the plane full of people stuck behind us start filing in.
Either someone checked DP’s astronomical frequent flyer status or a supervisor told him he had to apologize, but here comes the gate agent.
“Sir, things got heated up there, and I want to apologize. I don’t usually talk to customers that way,” he starts.
“It’s fine,” DP says tersely, not meeting his eyes.
I won’t recount all five minutes of the awkward groveling that ensued in front of the entire plane, but the main themes were: “I just want you to be satisfied with my apology, sir” (we’re not) and “It must have been mistagged in the system” (bullshit) and “I just don’t want you to write a letter, sir” (bingo).
It saddens me to think how many people might just go along with something like this and give up their mobility device. I probably would have if DP hadn’t been so insistent.
The other takeaway is that we need to get smart, not angry. DP needs to say, “Are you telling me that you are taking a mobility device away from my disabled wife?” and ask for names. I need to start video recording.
My other takeaway: my husband loves me very much.