I got no race shirt. No timing chip. No official time. And my bib had some Japanese characters on it instead of a number.
That's because I was running as a guide for blind Runner EJ Scott.
I met EJ in Antarctica for the White Continent Marathon when he was starting his quest to run a marathon on all seven continents for his charity that supports the degenerative disease called CHOROIDEREMIA that is rendering him blind. He mentioned that he needed a guide for some upcoming races and I knew that it was opportunity I needed to jump on, despite having no experience as one.
I realized this could get expensive pretty quickly and after some collaborating with the race director, Steve, of the White Continent Marathon (and Founder/CEO of the company Marathon Adventures), he decided to sponsor us. Upon our return from Antarctica and Chile, I was suddenly running Tokyo, the Big 5 Marathon in Johannesburg, and the Victoria Falls Marathon in June.
Steve, EJ and I arrived in Tokyo and upon checking in, I hardly counted as an athlete even though I was running a marathon too. I mean, a marathon is never easy and I felt a little like a second-class citizen. But we checked in and got my bib which I tried to decipher but still have no idea what it actually says. I assumed/hoped it said something along the lines of "Guide."
Race day came and EJ stood on the starting line, wrapping his blue and beige bandanna around his eyes to protect them from any light. He truly runs blind. The girls behind us running in pencil-skirt-suits and pink shoes smiled and held up a camera and pointed at us, as if asking if they could take our picture.
"Sure" I said, flipping EJ around and telling him to smile.
Five minutes, a few fireworks, some helicopter footage, and one National Anthem later, we started. EJ wanted to run for five minutes and walk for two, and I was immediately worried we wouldn't make the cutoff with this race plan. Don't ask why I didn't know about this before the gun went off.
My super-runner grabbed my arm and started to run. My tiny, shuffling steps didn't match his longer gait, but it was on me to adjust. Another challenge.
A few miles in and we were a little behind where we should have been and were making a bathroom stop. This was going to be a long race. Miles ticked on and slowly but surely, we were able to run more minutes and walk less. Fourteen miles in, I realized something:
I was running a marathon too.
I KNEW I was running a marathon, but it occurred to me I hadn't done anything remotely close to how I usually raced...and I kind of liked it. There is a huge difference in running a marathon and racing a marathon, and I'm damn competitive.Usually I'd be over-thinking my hydration and pacing strategies and PR's and so on, but suddenly, 14 miles had gone by and I was solely concerned about EJ feeling confident and having enough water and nutrition to crush this marathon. A manhole in a road can be devastating to a blind runner, so my attention to every crack in the road and distance between us and the people around us was so acute, it sucked every bit of attention and brainpower I had.
We were Daredevil and...his lady-sidekick. Eighteen...19...20 miles ticked on and I took a drink of my UCAN superstarch (an incredible, slow-burning fuel that promotes fat-use for fuel) and asked EJ for a little more push moving into home stretch. "One step closer to me," I said. "We have a walker." He asked about our time.
As we crossed the finish line, I couldn't help but be a little frustrated that we didn't make it under 6 hours at 6:06. Running a marathon is never "easy." but I have to admit, I gained a new respect for people that are out there running longer. I was really tired!
I watched a woman put a medal around EJ's neck and thought about what he said to me about 1k before the finish line: that he was so grateful for me being there with him to help him finish and I was doing a great job being a guide.
I almost cried. My whole attitude changed and I knew I'd had been incredibly selfish in my goals and motivations for this marathon before we started. I was thinking about MY needs and goals and wanting to bring EJ along for the ride. I hadn't thought about myself at all during the race and had spent every ounce of my being serving him - wanting nothing but for him to be proud of what he'd done and was about to do by running all seven continents...some of them with me.
To be someone's eyes, and be TRUSTED with the task of guiding someone through 26.2 miles of crowded city roads...something we take for granted every single day...was an incredible honor and I was so ashamed that I had an attitude going up to the starting line. I was honored to be with him as a number-less, chip-less runner while he stood in the limelight, and not getting a race shirt didn't take the experience away from me.
As a very competitive athlete, EJ humbled and inspired me, and I am so excited to get to run as his teammate again this coming June in Johannesburg. I believe this attitude is something we should all be aware of (even though it's hard sometimes!) that will help us in life and business. Think about serving others. What are your clients' needs? What are your friends' needs?
Be there for them and you will absolutely be rewarded in the end.