Team Challenge – 2011 Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon (Part Deux)

Race morning I woke up at 4:20 AM.  The one good thing about not running the race meant that I didn’t have to wake up at some completely insane hour just to be able to eat & digest before running.  Of course, I still had to wake up at a somewhat insane hour… but that’s okay.  Our early starters were boarding the buses to the start line at 4:50 and the regular starters had to be on by 5:00.  So I wanted to see that the early starters were making it on the bus.

After I knew that they were all going to make that, I got in our endurance manager’s rental car to drive with him to mile marker #2 on the race course.  He was leading a caravan of several people from various Team Challenge chapters while I was reading the directions off and using my iPhone to help navigate.  We got to mile #2 at about 6:10 AM.  Enough time to setup and help the aid station volunteers get going (the aid station volunteers were a little late, we started to get nervous they weren’t coming!)

My endurance manager came ready with noise makers and plenty of signs to hold up:
2011 Napa to Sonoma Weekend

Instead of standing with the cheering crowd, I walked a little ways up course so I could catch all of our runners as they ran past.  Our early starters came upon the aid station and I hugged each one of them.
2011 Napa to Sonoma Weekend 2011 Napa to Sonoma Weekend

Shortly after our early starters made it through, the elites and super fast runners started making their way past.  For the most part, they all looked angry.  I understand they were gutting it out and pushing, but only one of them smiled at all when going through.  I was a little surprised at that.

And it wasn’t too long before I started to see our team members running through.  It was great to see each of them so early in the race, when they’re smiling and still experiencing the thrill of just starting the race.
2011 Napa to Sonoma Weekend 2011 Napa to Sonoma Weekend 2011 Napa to Sonoma Weekend 2011 Napa to Sonoma Weekend

There were about 4000 participants in the race and 440 of them were from Team Challenge.  As soon as every race participant was past mile 2, the Team Challenge staff was packing up to head to mile 10 and 11.  But this is where I took advantage of one staff member who was heading to the finish line.  I was THRILLED at the thought of being able to go to the finish line and watch all of my runners finish.

We pulled up to the finishing area at Sonoma Square just as the overall winner was cruising in toward the finishing chute.  The first place male finished in 1:04.  I missed seeing the first place female finisher, who came in at 1:15, because we were driving around to park the car.  By the time we parked and I was walking back toward the finishing chute, I saw the Team Challenge top fundraiser finish, he won his age group with a time of 1:22.  Smokin’!

The range of finishes was fun to watch, from excitement to relief to frustration to bliss. I made sure that I got a picture of each one of them as well as shared encouraging words with them.  I was standing in between the 13 mile marker and the finish line, so they really were practically done when I saw them.
2011 Napa to Sonoma Weekend 2011 Napa to Sonoma Weekend 2011 Napa to Sonoma Weekend 2011 Napa to Sonoma Weekend 2011 Napa to Sonoma Weekend 2011 Napa to Sonoma Weekend

It was also fun to cheer for all the race participants at the finish line and encourage other Team Challenge finishers from other chapters.  I started teasing some of the other coaches from around the country, as they ran back and forth I told them they were doing too much and to pace themselves.  Ironic, since I was doing that same stretch over and over last year!

As our very last finishers approached with my co-coach, we let them take their finish and then we walked across the finish line together.  I got this great tweet from one of the Wisconsin coaches that seriously touched me:
[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/TheBeerRunner/status/92681889231548416″%5D

We made our way to the Team Challenge finishers tent and the after party.  They had a nice bbq going in the park for all of Team Challenge, burgers/veggie burgers, chips, grilled veggies, various cheeses, pita, hummus, bananas, cookies and pop (aka soda, aka soft drinks.)  Then we sat in the grass with the team members that were still hanging around (some had already caught buses back to the hotel) as we ate, joked and laughed.

The feeling at the end of this race was amazing, even if I wasn’t running with everyone.  I honestly love coaching this group, it is one of the most gratifying experiences of my life.  I would like to coach Team Challenge forever… I know that is probably not a reality, but as long as I can I’m going to keep doing it.

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