Katie McLenaghan is stalking me.
It is kind of flattering, really. Rolling all over the country, eight boys living on a bus, it’s kinda cool to think of a hot little runner chick scouting my journey, tracking my moves.
I get the call just a few days before the race. The 21st Annual Red Flannel Run is scheduled for February 13, 2010, the same day our tour stops through Des Moines, and Katie, currently living in Chicago, is in town visiting family. It’s snowing, it’s cold…and I am to serve as coach, runner, and escort in her attempt to set a personal record on the five-mile course.
But of course, fair maiden; it would be my honor.
Katie. She first popped onto my grid two years ago, a dedicated and longtime friend of Team McGraw’s running rock star and brain tumor survivor Jen McDevitt. Katie had elected, seemingly out of nowhere, to take on the 2008 Bank of America Chicago Marathon in Jen’s honor. It was her first time to bear the Team McGraw colors, and we were glad to have her.
Don’t get me wrong; I love Katie. But running shoes, dirt in the face, and possibly puking at the finish line just doesn’t seem to match up with her daily diet of jewelry endeavors, fashion sense, and the pursuit of all things, well, glamorous.
I don’t really think she was even a runner back then; she was choosing to be…to support her friend. Did she know what she was taking on? Would she be like so many that climb this mountain…once…motivated by friendship…and then mark it off her bucket list?
Absolutely not. After months of training, she completed the 2008 Chicago Marathon in honor of Jen with style and sweat, grace and grit: two parts Runners World, one part Cosmopolitan magazine, and a pinch of “Sex in the City.”
In 2009, Katie returned to shatter her personal marathon time by almost 40 minutes, shod in the most chic of running shoes – covered in glitter, no less.
In 2010, she is running the Chicago Marathon for the third time with Team McGraw, followed exactly four weeks later by her first ING New York City Marathon. Awesome.
So, absolutely …I’m in for the five-miler with ya. You bet.
I crawl out of my bunk on the bus while it is still dark. We have rolled in from the previous night’s concert in Madison, Wisconsin…and the bus is cold and quietly parked outside of our hotel. Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I drag me and my luggage up to my room to suit up, stretch out, and get the blood moving.
Katie calls; she’s in the lobby. It’s been snowing, and I’m less than prepared, so she’s got a great green “Loras College” cap for me to wear during the race. Both she and Jen attended Loras College together; I’m honorary for the day.
We grab some coffee and then do a quick radio interview with a local station. I guess this race is a pretty big deal, and the folks there are happy to share our message of support for the Tug McGraw Foundation and quality of life research for brain tumor and brain trauma. It was quick and easy…and much appreciated.
Then we head to the race course. It’s really more of a fun run than a race; lots of folks have prepared well for the race with wigs, costumes, and various versions of flannel pajamas. Katie takes special interest in one runner wearing long johns…with his seat flap…uh…flapping.
She says she has his back; well, I guess so!
We then run up on a few of our military that are using this race as training for an upcoming exercise that will require them to run distance heavily laden with gear. As I recall, all three of these men are headed toward Officer Candidate School in the U.S. Army; jubilant but focused, they are suited up in fatigues and 50-pound packs for a short practice run. If Team McGraw doesn’t offer us enough inspiration…now we’ve got THESE guys!
Thanks for your service, fellas. Really. Thanks.
Katie is hoping to set a PR for five miles – anything under fifty minutes is good with her. She tells me that she plans to do her first mile in 9:30 to get her started. Uh…no.
Change of strategy. Kicking off with 9:30 is a plan to hit 47:30…and we are just trying to get under 50:00. I explain the benefits of running negative, leaving enough in the tank such that we might actually run the back half of the race faster than the first half. We’ll run the first mile in ten minutes, see how it feels, get things rolling, negotiate the crowd swelling the streets…and then carefully crank it up.
Stick with me, Katie…and we’ll get your PR.
We had not run together before, so despite my frequent “How are ya doin’?” checkups, I’m not sure how she’s feeling throughout the race…but I know at the end she is still strong and sassy. We stick to our strategy, sneak up our pace after the first mile…and ultimately snag her a 48:46…1:14 seconds under her goal!
A quick breakfast stop and back to the hotel. I’ve got a show to play tonight, and Katie is anxious to wash off the run and don her best diva for the concert.
But for a few minutes yet…she’ll be relishing her runner.
And a darn fine runner you are; good job, girl.