Every February thousands of runners with wide-ranging ability take to the streets of Birmingham for the Mercedes Marathon. Some run hoping to qualify for the Boston Marathon, while some just walk most of the way. Some choose to compete in the half-marathon. And for others, there is a third option: a five-person relay.
This year I ran in the Mercedes Marathon relay for the first time. The two-loop, 26.2-mile course is divided into five legs: a 10k, then a 5k, another 10k, another 5k, and lastly an 8.1-mile leg to the finish. Not quite ambitious enough to attempt the half-marathon like several of my friends, I volunteered to run the eight-mile leg of a relay.
Sunday, February 12 was a cool, humid morning with rain forecasted. A little over an hour after watching the first handoff, I was in my place, waiting for Courtney Callahan to hand off the timing belt to me—not without anxiety, as I’d never competed in anything longer than a 5k before. At last I spied her coming around the bend, sprinting valiantly up the final hill toward me. She handed me the belt, and I struggled to fasten it around my waist as I started running. Not too fast, I cautioned myself—I have eight miles to go.
But the air was cool, and I felt strong, so I set a moderate pace. Despite several hills, the miles passed quickly beneath my pounding feet. The wind blew against my face as a passed through scenic streets I had never seen before. This, I realized, is why I love to run. My strength started to fade about five miles in, but I pressed on, even forgetting that I had been running for over an hour by the time I reached the twenty-six mile mark. Then my relay team met me and ran the final stretch with me to the finish line! Our combined time was three hours and 45 minutes. But, honestly, I didn’t run for the time or the place. I ran for my team, and I ran because I love to run.
Who knows? Maybe next year I’ll move up to the half-marathon!