Volunteering at the Detroit Marathon

Today I had the honor of being a bike escort for a hand cyclist (wheeler) in the Detroit Marathon. That means I got to ride my mountain bike along the 26.2 mile course that winds through downtown Detroit, over the Ambassador Bridge, through Windsor, Ontario, back into the USA through the tunnel, more through the streets of Detroit, around Belle Island, and then across the finish line. This was my third year in a row of having this privilege, and this experience was much different than the first two. 

Two years ago I was paired with a 22 year old veteran who didn’t even know how long a marathon was. He pushed very hard through the first half, and I remember him asking me how many miles a marathon was when we were around mile 15. He slowed down after that, thankfully! It was hard to keep up, but manageable.

Last year I rode with a 17 year old girl. She had done many races and was very pleasant to ride with. I think we finished in around 2 hours and 45 minutes. Still a work out, but very enjoyable.

This year, I was assigned a 61 year old gentleman who competes in many races and does the Detroit Marathon every year. He had reported to the organizer that he would finish in about 2:15, but when I met him this morning he told me he hoped to be just under 2 hours. I was nervous. I haven’t ridden my bike much at all this summer, and 26.2 miles is a long ways to ride my mountain bike at a consistent 13+ miles hour with no training.

So, when I spoke to him one last time at the start line he told me that he’d prefer that I ride behind him and he’d give me a wave if he needed anything. This made me feel a little better. All I had to do was keep him in sight so that I could see if anything went wrong. 
And then it was time to go. Instantly, 40+ wheelers and 40+ cyclists began moving forward at full speed. It’s like this every year, and normally everyone settles into a manageable pace and spreads out. Well, this year, my guy did not settle into what was a manageable pace for me. I spent the first 6 miles pedaling with all of my might. I literally thought I might vomit and I’m pretty sure I peed my pants a little. Yes, it was that bad. I could see him the whole time, but I could not catch him. 
Finally, on the way up the Ambassador Bridge I caught up with him and joked that I wasn’t going to be of any use to him if he didn’t let me catch up! He laughed. And then it was time to fly down the other side of the bridge, where once again, I couldn’t keep up. I was back to riding my heart out and feeling like I was going to puke. As we passed a slower guy who was escorted by a man on a road bike, he asked if I wanted to switch wheelers. Yes, please. 
Ahhh. For a few moments I was with someone that I could keep up with. I started talking with him casually, and then all of a sudden he told me that he was hoping to finish around 1 hour and 40 minutes and he needed to speed up. NNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! Panic. Mode. I rode with him for as long as I could handle it until a floating escort on a road bike saved me and took over. 
So, I was about 1/2 way through the ride and I no longer had anyone to ride with. I started feeling like a total slug and wondering why I had gotten up at 4:00am to come down and “help” out when I was helping NO ONE. I kept trying to ride at a pretty fast speed, hoping that maybe some of the wheelers ahead of me would begin to slow in the second half and I could catch back up. I was riding through the streets of Detroit at 9:00am on a supported race course ALONE. Literally alone. There weren’t any runners around yet. There were no wheelers in sight. It was just me. Volunteers at aid stations gave me odd looks and I just smiled as I rode by. I felt like I could drink a gallon of water, but felt too foolish to stop and get a drink when I wasn’t even with a racer!
Just as I was having another moment of “What am I doing out here?”, a disheveled looking spectator yelled out, “Congratulations, Super Hero!” I smiled and thanked her. (I think maybe she had super powers and was able to see my invisible cape!!!) She got me out of my funk and I started to just enjoy the moment. I was lucky enough to be riding the course on a beautiful morning. I meant to help out, it just hadn’t really worked out that way.

So, that’s how my ride went. Occasionally I would take breaks and wait for other riders to catch up and ride with them for a while. I even saw the one Detroit Police Officer that I know, and stopped to chat with her for a few minutes. It was a great morning. But it was not the morning that I expected.

Sometimes things don’t go how you think they will, and it takes a while to realize that different doesn’t necessarily mean bad. It just means different. That was me this morning. It took me a while to get over the fact that this year’s volunteering experience was not going to be the same as it was the last 2 years. But once I got over it I was able to really enjoy my morning ride.

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