I had set the alarm for 5 a.m. I woke up before that. I always beat the clock when I have something special planned.
I was going to run in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon on Sunday, Oct. 21. The event includes a half marathon (13.1 miles). That’s the race I was doing. It was not only my first half marathon; it was my first race.
I’d been running, purely for exercise, for many years. I had never entered any events and ran anywhere from two to five miles at a time.
My daughter Liz had encouraged me last spring to sign up for the Columbus event. She had taken part in it the two previous years.
Liz’s involvement began in 2016 after some friends’ tragic loss. Ben and Tricia (Echemann) Randolph’s daughter Amelia Bea died after an accidental fall. Amelia had been taken to Nationwide Children’s for treatment. Born Sept. 22, 2014, Amelia died June 30, 2016.
To honor and remember Amelia, Ben and Tricia got involved in the race, which raises money for the hospital. Their friends and family did, too, either by running or walking in the event or by cheering on the sidelines.
Liz had registered to take part this year, but ended up not having time to train. Tim Spangler, my son-in-law, stepped up to run in her place. He joked that according to the registration data linked to the computer chip on his race bib, he was a 31-year-old female.
I began training for the half marathon last spring and continued throughout the summer. Using a training program I found online, I increased my mileage over the weeks and months that followed.
It’s amazing what a 67-year-old body can do, even in the heat and humidity of an Ohio summer. I ran 11 miles once during the late stages of training. I figured if I got that far, I could tough out another couple of miles to complete the half marathon.
My mile times were pitiful, however. It was taking me an average of 15 minutes per mile to run/walk longer distances. I feared I’d be the last person to cross the finish line in Columbus.
Hot weather wasn’t a concern when Tim and I arrived at the starting area before dawn Sunday. The temperature was in the 30s and wouldn’t rise out of the 40s throughout the race.
We got some relief from the cold when we entered a crowd of runners waiting for the starting gun. It’s amazing how much body heat thousands of people can generate.
According to an online report in Columbus Business First, more than 15,000 participants ran the full and half marathons. They were from 46 states and 16 countries. About 100,000 onlookers lined the course to cheer on the runners and walkers.
A check of the race results found 29 people from Sidney ran in either the half marathon or marathon. I suspect a number of other residents from Shelby County also took part.
Participants raised more than $1.3 million for the hospital, bringing the total raised to more $8 million since the partnership began seven years ago, according to the news report.
Tim and I wished each other good luck before our corral of runners was released. I knew I wouldn’t see him again until after the race. His mile times were much faster than mine.
Having never run an organized race, I didn’t know what to expect at the start. With all these runners around me, would I run into someone and fall down, or worse yet, trip up another runner? There were no problems, however, as the field quickly spread out.
I clicked on my tracking wristwatch. Early in the race, I was surprised to find I was averaging sub-12-minute miles. I must have been carried along by the excitement
of the event, spurred by my fellow runners, the cheering crowds, and the live music along the route.
Of course, I eventually had to slow my pace. I lost a few minutes when I had to use one of the many portable toilets thoughtfully provided by the race organizers. Many other runners had to, also, as there were lines at most of the toilets.
Around mile 7, my left knee began hurting. I knew it would. It had nagged me in training, usually after only three or four miles. A compression sleeve I wore for the race delayed the problem until a few miles later.
As the race wore on, I slowed to a walk a few times. However, encouragement from onlookers — some holding posters with photos of their children who had benefited from Nationwide Children’s – often spurred me to resume running.
The most emotional part of the course is mile 11, the Angel Mile. That’s where children who have died are remembered. Ben and Tricia’s friends and family were there, as were both my daughters, my wife, and two grandchildren. The grandkids held handmade posters that urged their dad and granddad to keep going.
I was wearing a T-shirt imprinted with “Running for Amelia” on the front and “I’m fast!” on the back, along with Amelia’s name and birth and death dates. The shirt’s graphics also included angel wings.
Despite the T-shirt’s message, I certainly wasn’t fast, but maybe the angel wings helped. Before the race, I predicted I’d average 14 to 15 minutes per mile. My actual average was 13 minutes, 14 seconds.
In the end, though, it wasn’t about me. It was about grieving parents who decided to take their great loss and turn it into something positive. It was about Amelia — a little girl I hardly knew who taught me I could do what once seemed impossible.
The writer is a former reporter with the Sidney Daily News. He retired in 2016 after 37 years with the newspaper.