Yesterday I ran the Ely Marathon. I ran as the 5:00 pacer and finished in 4:55:30. Perfectly adequate for a pacer.
This was the inaugural running of the Ely Marathon. A huge contingent of community volunteers pitched in to plan and execute this event. They were quite obvious in their blue volunteer shirts. They were everywhere. They did a wonderful job. I have run 64 marathons now, a few of which have been “first-of’s”. This one was as well executed as any.
85 runners lined up along side me at the starting line somewhere northwest of Ely. It was a gorgeous morning. A light layer of fog lay among the tall pines and over the lake. The starting line was alongside something of a cabin which must serve as a warming house for skiers in the winter and became a waiting room for the runners. The bus I was on dropped us just a few minutes before the race was to start. I just had time to doff my warm-ups, stuff them in a bag, hand them over to the bag handlers, make my way behind the start line, and sing the Star Spangled Banner.
With only 85 runners, I didn’t expect to have many in my 5:00 pace group. One lovely lady stepped up when she saw my balloon and introduced herself. As pacer, I was bound to maintain the 11:27 minutes per mile pace the entire 26.2 miles. My men-tee was with me the first mile and then disappeared as I struggled to keep the pace up a steep hill. I didn’t see her again until she finished about six hours later.
I swapped positions and chatted in brief spurts with a couple of Marathon Maniacs the next five or six miles. One was from Seattle. She came out to visit her friend in the Twin Cities and run the Twin Cities Marathon. Being Maniacs they had looked around for another marathon to fit into the trip. They had found their way to Ely.
Lakes, trees, exposed outcroppings and lakes made for a beautiful morning. The skies stayed overcast as the fog began to life amid a dead calm. It was amazingly quiet. No machinery humming, no planes overhead, not even any birds broke the silence. There was not even a whistle of wind blowing in my ears. No sounds but my own shoes slapping the ground.
Eventually the sun broke through. I ran alone except for those passing the other direction in out-and-back sections. Brilliant volunteer helped me with water and kept me on course. One even helped me tie my shoe. A lone tuba player at mile 22 played only for me.
A few runners fell back to me in the last five miles. I shouted encouragement and urged them to run along with me. Still I finished alone, passing the last mile through the deserted main street of downtown Ely. The road had been closed for the race and all the supporters had moved over to the finish area in the park.
The finish area was packed. Well, at least as packed as you would hope to expect an hour after most of the 85 marathoners and 250-odd half marathoners had finished. The Jaycees were serving up beer at a garden with a tent under a blazing blue sky. A light wind stirred the 70-something degree day. As I guzzled several cans of good beer, I talked with all the marathoners and volunteers I had met along the way including the lad from Ireland who won the race in less than three hours. It was a magnificent day and a magnificent community event.
Mostly this is intended to be just a write-up about the event and my experience, but I want to emphasize what this event meant to the community. I had the chance to talk at length with many of the organizers and volunteers. They worked together through the last year with every facet of community government and volunteer organizations to pull this event together. There had been some resistance. Closing the main street for a large part of the day had irritated many of the business owners. Closing parts of some of the few roads in the area had trapped some folks at home. Still they managed to work together and pull this together, building the strength of their community in the process. I have to think that even the dissenters were impressed with the quality and effectiveness of this event.