Seattle Marathon 2015 – Running With Jackson

Posted on December 5, 2015 //

Looking out at the road rushing under my wheels
Looking back at the years gone by like so many summer fields

Running on, running on empty
Running on, running blind
Running on, running into the sun
But I’m running behind

Everyone I know, everywhere I go
People need some reason to believe
I don’t know about anyone but me
If it takes all night, that’ll be all right
If I can get you to smile before I leave

In the immortal words of Jackson Browne, “People need some reason to believe”. In most every race I’ve done and been lucky enough to complete, there is a backstory or two that makes it special.  For the Seattle Marathon, it was Jackson, but not Jackson Browne himself – though Michelle and I were fortunate to meet the man himself after a concert in Oakland a few years ago.

Running at around the same pace as me in this marathon was a gentleman named Peter who was pushing a special needs man in a combination wheelchair/running pram.  On the side of the device was a handwritten cardboard sign that said, “Jackson’s Fourth Marathon”.

For most of the first fifteen miles, they were either running ahead of me or just behind.  The course is extremely hilly with rolling stretches of pavement and it could not have been easy to push the added weight on top of running 26.2 miles.  More on Jackson later.

I had selected the Seattle Marathon since we were going to be in the city for a number of personal reasons including seeing our place there and spending time with our friends Joe and Judy who were kind enough to host us for a couple of nights as well.  Coming from Singapore where the normal temperature is around 30 degrees Celsius to Seattle where the temperatures were hovering around 30 degrees Fahrenheit was quite a shock.

We stayed the night before at the host hotel, the Westin, right in the city and very near to the Space Needle.  On Saturday afternoon, we spent time with Judy going to the Public Market (Pike Place), EMP, and the original Starbucks (where the massive around the block line prevented us from getting in), but we enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells of the funky downtown.

After registering and getting the bib and goody bag, we had a lazy pre-race dinner at the hotel, and I sorted through what to wear for the race.  We were worried about the ground being icy, and the cold, so I selected my trail shoes, three layers on top, a couple of woolen hats and gloves.  I expected to discard the hats, at least one of the tops and for sure the gloves.  It never really got over 32 degrees and I only ejected one of the hats and it might have been one of the only races I ran in so many layers.  But it still absolutely beat the Singapore Marathons and Ultra I did wearing no more than the shorts, socks and shoes in the unbearable heat and humidity.

After a short one mile walk to the start area, we got to see the half-marathoners go out first and waited our turn to go.  I headed out in the group, starting slow, ran through town until it took us to the I90 bridge where we would run past the Seahawks and Mariners stadiums.

(Not only were our friends rabid Seahawk’s fans, it seemed like the entire city was.  Seattle was playing Pittsburgh right around the time the race finished and would end up winning 30-29 where we got to the see the fourth quarter on big-screens while enjoying a post-race well-deserved meal of burgers and beer.  Everywhere we went were signs of ’12’, symbolizing the ’12th man’ as [American] football teams have 11 players on the field and the fans can carry a team to victory from the stands.  I came to think of Jackson as our #12.)

After running up and back along the I90 bridge I started to count-down for when Michelle would meet me with much needed encouragement and snacks around the 11-12-mile mark, about the halfway mark near Seward Park.  As we ran down Lake Washington, we had full views of the lake, with mist rising above, the Seattle skyline and the snowcapped mountains in the distance; Seattle is indeed a beautiful city.

Jackson and Peter were right there with me at this point and Michelle had some waiting bananas and yummy chocolate covered pretzels for me here, and after running around the park to the 14 mile point where we’d have to say goodbye until the race finished.  Crowd support was very light and there were very few people who were cheering on their runners, which made her appearance in the deep cold that much more helpful.

It would be a very long stretch now of counting down the miles and knowing my time was not going to be enough to qualify for Comrades next year, but the goal of finishing and getting the medal was never lost on me.  It made me mentally redouble my efforts to train more and qualify by May.

Around this time I started getting two problems: my right leg was cramping and my left leg was going very numb, from my foot to the calf muscle and I was getting worried about finishing since these were the only legs I had to run on.  But then I thought about Jackson and how much he would love to be on his own legs and running or walking like Peter and I were.

There were however, many moments of joy in the race as any runner can attest to.  A favorite song would come on, or a brief conversation with a fellow runner, or a stretch of downhill where running seemed effortless.  This happened going on and over the Interlaken part of the race that would eventually carry us down to a view of the city and final miles.

I had lost sight of Jackson by then and concentrated on all that I could do; put one foot in front of the other, try to enjoy the moment and focus on the finish.

I had picked up enough pace that I was passing many runners or walkers that were exhausted.  Shouting words of encouragement, I’d run by and say that I’d see them at the finish line.

The final mile or two is always great.  We could see the Space Needle and the beautiful city and know I could crawl to the finish if need be.  Instead I ran on and was so happy to see the final chute that would lead us into the Memorial Stadium where crossing the finish line with immense happiness, a volunteer then puts a medal around my neck and I see Michelle and we get a wonderful hug and a congratulatory kiss.

As we migrated our way to the shuttle bus and the short ride to the hotel, I shared with her the highlights of the race and thanked her for looking out for me selflessly.

It turned out that Peter was not Jackson’s dad, but a friend of the family who wanted to do something selflessly himself, to make a difference in Jackson’s life and show the rest of us that it is about how we help other people live better lives in whatever way we can.

‘Jackson’ is special to us.  It was one of the singer/songwriters that Michelle and I bonded over and continue to love his meaningful music.  It is also the name of her most recent grandson, born to Jessica and Eric just as we were moving here last April when she stayed back to help with the birth and weeks afterward.

Thank you, Michelle, for your continued love and support and thank you to all the Jacksons and Peters of the world who show us what’s possible, the beauty in people, our cities, and our families.  12th man indeed.

As the title of Howard Schultz book says: “Onward – How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul”.  We can all fight and win without losing our soul.