Posted by Rebecca
There was no sleep to be had the night before the race. You would think I was the one running, with all the anxiety I was feeling, but it was all in behalf of my brother. Weather advisories had been put out over the weekend. It was forecast to be a record-breaking 90 degrees that day. The race organizers requested that anyone who was not a qualifier, and was running for a charity to defer to next year. They also strongly suggested anyone who had not been training in the heat to defer. Liam was a qualifier, but had been training in the Arctic.
When Liam left Svalbard, just a few days before, it was -20. His training had been in below freezing temps, while carrying a rifle. If you remember, Svalbard is located between Norway and the North Pole, and all residents are required to carry a rifle in case of an encounter with Mr. Polar Bear. So Liam’s training had not been as diligent as he would have liked because, as he said, “I really hate running with a rifle.”
Therefore, I was a bit of a nervous wreck anticipating the day. I was envisioning a mid-race collapse at worst, or a case of heat exhaustion at best.
We attempted to follow the race – starting at the 10km point, taking the train to the half-way mark, then again to mile 23, where my friend, Cara lives. However, we didn’t think to check the train schedule in advance, and the only train that came out to the 10km stop was a commuter train, which only ran sporadically during the day.
We set up camp along the race course. First we saw the disabled racers fly by in their racing wheelchairs, showing unbelievable athletic determination and strength. Truly inspirational! Next, the elite women ran by, made up mostly of elegant and graceful African runners, who made the race seem effortless. After that, the elite men – again mostly African, and barely breaking a sweat. Then the rest of the runners. Some clearly already struggling in the heat, others smiling and engaging the crowd, yelling for cheers and support. One odd man ran by shirtless and barefoot. And then along came Liam – smiling, happy, keeping a good pace. We all fumbled for our cameras. Uncle Vern got a picture of the trees, John managed to get a picture of the ground, and I couldn’t even get my camera turned on in time. But we yelled and cheered, and he knew we were there!
Because of the train schedule, we had to ride it all the way to the finish line, missing the other stops along the way. I had signed up for text tracking, so we would know when he crossed the 10km, half, 30km, and finish line. His time was outstanding, especially considering the conditions. Many residents along the way brought out hoses to spray the runners and cool them down. Misting tents had also been set up throughout the course. Every effort was made to keep the racers safe. Even so, of the 27,000 runners, around 5,000 deferred to next year, and over 2,100 sought medical attention, with about 100 taken to hospital.
Liam came in 1,027th, which put him in the top 4% of racers. My anxiety had been for nothing. I’m so proud of him. His final time was 3 hours, 9 minutes, which is just 21 minutes longer than my half-marathon time. He clearly got the runner genes in the family. He wants me to do a marathon with him some day. He makes it look easy, but I know it’s not. It would likely be the greatest physical challenge of my life. But it would be a fun thing to do together.
Maybe. We’ll see.