Finding the cowbell

Where is my cowbell?

I know it’s around here somewhere and it’s the most important thing I can pack for this weekend. I’d rather have the cowbell than clean underwear.

This weekend it is my turn to play support crew for Mark as he runs the Wineglass Marathon — a point-to-point 26.2 miles from Bath to Corning, N.Y. And I can’t help but be completely excited. I’ve only been a support person at a race once, when my friend Sue finished her first triathlon last year.

Most of the time, I’m the one in the race.

This time, I’ll get the opportunity to watch and likely be a bit jealous about all the athletes competing while I’m sprinting down the course on my road bike to cheer Mark at the next stop. Of course, I have my own pre-race anxiety, hoping that I don’t act in a way that becomes distracting and annoying. (I do have that tendency after all to be annoying.) But mostly I’m just excited for the chance to pay it forward a bit, or repay the debt of gratitude I owe him.

Anyone who has undertaken a major project — whether it be training for an endurance athletic event, advancing through an educational program, or reinventing a career — understand intimately how important it is to surround yourself with supportive people. It’s not necessarily crucial they understand exactly what the appeal is to running a marathon or studying on the weekends to get your master’s degree. What is crucial is they understand and appreciate your joy — and that they celebrate with you.

I was lucky enough to have Mark with me through my Ironman training and at the race in Montreal. It wasn’t just his physical presence that made me smile during those tough moments. It was knowing that he got it. He knew why this was important to me. And when I wandered over to the land of doubt, he would bring me back — sometimes gently, sometimes forcefully, but always with care and compassion. He wasn’t just along for the ride. He was enjoying the ride along with me. That subtle difference means a lot, especially when you’ve had others in your life who scowled while they dragged they feet through your joy.

If you’ve been there, you understand what a true blessing it is to have someone start the wave with strangers when you pass them on bike lap 23.

I hope I’ve been able to give Mark a sliver of the support he’s given me. He has his own goals for this race, goals which are his and his alone. I’ve seen him do the work. I’ve seen him get it done even on the days when he didn’t want to. I’ve seen him bounce back from illness and stress and crazy schedules. I’ve seen him plan, get excited and turn somber at being “realistic.”

He’s been at the marathon many times before. He know the game pretty well.

And whatever the numbers read on that finish line clock, it’s a cause for celebration. Because setting a goal is one thing. Training for it another. Stepping up on race day and putting yourself on the line, allowing yourself to be vulnerable in a way, is a place that takes a lot of courage. When you’re in the moment of the act, you forget how strong you really are for being there.

Every day I am amazed and inspired by  Mark.

Sunday, I’ll have the cowbell and hoarse voice to prove it.

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