January 31st, 2011

2011 Houston Marathon: A Photo Essay

It’s a race against the clock. Will the pot of coffee finish percolating or will the race leaders scream by first? As the clock inched toward 7:05AM, that was my only concern. I took a stroll down to the corner of my street and Michaux. Fans and supporters were beginning to gather, but no runners were in sight.

Success.

I fill up a large to-go mug with my drug of choice and set a course back to the mini-burm on which I will sit and photograph the runners of the Houston marathon. Of course, as I’m walking down the driveway, the first police motorcycles cruise down the road signaling the leaders. Of course, I didn’t take the opportunity to calibrate my camera on my first trip. Of course this first photo of the photo essay is helplessly fuzzy.

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That blurry man (aren’t they all) with the pink shoes, third from the left, is Bekana Daba of Ethiopia who set a course record of 2:07:04. It was his second competitive marathon. I feel like far less of a man than I did 15 minutes ago when I applauded myself for waking up after only four hours of sleep after drinking all night.

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I take a moment to regain my composure. The coffee is starting to work. I’m thankfully sans hangover at this point. Finally, the camera starts cooperating and I get off a couple of decent shots. The leading ladies were approaching soon. I could hear their motorcycle brigade approaching.

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And… disaster. Still blurry. Let’s just pretend that they were running too fast to be captured for this photo essay, shall we? Then again, the point of my waking up before sunrise on Sunday morning wasn’t to follow the winners’ race from downtown back to downtown. But if you wanted to know, that first female is Ethiopian Mamitu Daska who was the fastest woman at 2:26:33.

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After the leaders zoom by, I’m left wondering what exactly my purpose is for being out here on this morning full of nothing but drizzle and people a million times more athletic and driven than myself. One reason would be so that I would have something to write about. Another would be to support my friends that will be running. But what is in it for me?

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Am I here only to report on the number of runners who shouted “Go Steelers!” when they passed the man across the street from me wearing a black and gold jacket? There were no less than eight occurrences by the time I switch spots. Am I supposed to make a funny quip about the UT Soccer fan running alongside the man wearing an English national jersey? Eh, I like soccer, so that jokes not for me. That’s really when fate stepped in, and by “fate” I mean my rich neighbors.

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“Would you like a mimosa?” The wife asks me just as the husband pops the second bottle of champagne this morning.

This is the experience that I’ve been waiting for. I’m now a part of the crowd of supporters who warrants notice from the runners as much as the runners all warrant the support of the gathered crowd. Cries of “can I have one?”, “my kind of people,” “I wish I were you” start coming from the marathoners as they whiz by.

Honestly, I feel a little bit guilty. I may as well have drug out a rocking chair and sipped on a snifter of brandy while taking long pulls from a pipe. So, I take a photo of my accoutrements to log it, but miss my friend who I had told to look out for me. She throws her jacket at me and now I feel a little bit more guilty.

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I finish the mimosa quickly, thank my neighbors for their charity and resolve to meet my friend as she runs down Studemont to give her a proper “good job, keep going, you’re my hero.” That’s when I found Waldo. My childhood feels a bit more complete.

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I make it to Studemont near White Oak where the course shrinks from three lanes to two. The port-a-potties have growing lines as the racers realize that their bodies are not agreeing with the six-plus miles so far. This time I miss my friend not for a lack of trying, but a problem with logistics. She’s on the opposite side of the street from me. I take a photo as she cruises by just for “I told you so” purposes.

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Richard eventually meets up with me. We take in the scene. He’s a runner, so even before he mentions it, I know he’s thinking about training for next year’s marathon. I’ll pretend to be interested and even flirt with the possibility that I will train as well, but we both know this will be a lie. I scan the crowd for familiar, albeit exhausted faces of friends. The police officer directing runners and prohibiting vehicular traffic starts giving out high fives. It’s probably the only time he can give out high fives all year long.

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Houston, I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed in you. I expected to see more colorful costumes. Where is the marathoning hot dog? Juggling clown? Velociraptor? All I get are a couple of tutu-wearers, a Waldo and Santa?

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Wait, I don’t think that’s a costume. That’s really Santa Claus.

So there you have it. Two hours in the rain, one mimosa, one high-fiving policeman and a visit by Saint Nick. I’m pretty sure that’s as good as it gets.

— Paul

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