October 19, 2011

Race Report: Grand Rapids Half Marathon

This weekend, I went to a wedding. I also ran a half marathon. How did I fit two big events into one short weekend? Easy – it was a running wedding!

After a few days of training in Chicago, I flew to Grand Rapids, Michigan on Saturday afternoon. After a quick stop at the grandmother of the bride’s home, we headed over to the park where the wedding ceremony would take place. While having a running wedding already puts her at the top of my “awesome brides” list, I want to specifically call out another reason my friend Che is the complete opposite of a bridezilla: after about 5 minutes of the rehearsal, Che said, “That’s enough. I’m hungry and it’s cold out here. Let’s just go eat dinner.” Um, AMAZING!

So we headed to a delicious Italian restaurant and chowed down on salad, pasta, and peach cobbler. I reminded myself that it is all too easy to gain weight when you’re running long distance if you overcompensate for the extra calories that you are burning, but that didn’t stop me from eating about four full plates of ziti. After all, nothing prepares you better for a half marathon than bingeing and indigestion. But I couldn’t help it – it was all delicious! Time for that well-loved phrase: “my diet starts Monday.”

The bride and I headed back to our hotel room downtown for one last night of single girl fun… but given how tired we both were, that turned into basically just jumping up and down on the bed for 10 seconds, and then falling into it and falling asleep. No squeeing with girlish glee, even. Tragic!

We got up at 6am to head back to the park, knowing that all the roads to get there were part of the course and therefore would start closing at 7am. However, it took us a bit longer than we thought to get ready, and we found ourselves driving away from the hotel at 7:01. Sure enough, we got stopped by cops just one block from the hotel, telling us that the roads were closed and we couldn’t go any further. Fortunately for us, we had the best excuse ever: “But we have the bride!” Those magic words opened up all the roads to our car, making it easy to get to the park without a hitch.

But when we arrived, I was reminded how much I am longing for daylight savings. Despite being 7:30am, it was still pitch black out! We had a lot to do in terms of set up to get ready for the wedding, but the pavilion wasn’t lit. Until the sun came up, we relied on the headlights of the golf carts that we would later be using to shuttle guests to and from the pavilion.

In addition to the dark, it was cold out there! I had bought a pair of fleece sweatpants the night before, realizing that I had totally underpacked for Michigan fall, but on top I just had my tank top, a very thin running jacket, and my pink bridesmaid’s t-shirt. Brr! One of the bridesmaids, Jonelle, said she didn’t have an extra sweatshirt, but offered me a sweater that she said was in the bag in her car. Taking her keys, I grabbed the first duffel bag I could find in the backseat and pulled out… a pink sweatshirt. Score! I figured she must have forgotten that she had packed that as well, and pulled it on. 10 minutes later, the maid of honor Nichole was giving me funny looks – and I realized that she too had left a bag in Jonelle’s car, and I had totally stolen her sweatshirt from her carefully packed bag! Oops 🙂

To repent of my thieving ways, I assisted with more setup: helping Che to place signs all along the path from the parking lot to the pavilion.

While that particular sign was pretty straightforward, Che and Nichole had gotten pretty funny and creative with their sign making, so the signs said things like: “If you think this is far, wait till you see how long the bride has to run to catch the groom!” Very cute 🙂

Before we knew it, it was wedding time! I snagged a bagel from the buffet and headed over to the pavilion from which we were going to make our entrance. And what sort of entrance might that be? Well, most bridesmaids have to practice and practice that whole “step-touch-step-touch” in time to Pachelbel’s Canon, down what feels like an endless aisle. As I mentioned, Che wasn’t one for rehearsing, and I didn’t need much of a rehearsal anyway for what I was supposed to do: jog from our waiting place to the pavilion! What a fun and appropriate way to get to the altar. I led the way, with Jonelle and Nichole right behind.

When the ceremony began, it soon became clear that just as the altar approach was non-traditional, the ceremony itself would be pretty distinctive too. For example, the officiant had the bride and groom share a “unity bagel,” whose circular shape represented how their love would be never ending. I later found out that Che herself had come up with that idea, but I guess she hadn’t thought through how she and Steve were going to chew and swallow a massive bagel before getting to the part where they said their vows. We ended up laughing hysterically as she tossed the remains of the bagel to Nichole to hide so the ceremony could continue.

While the officiant had included a lot of running language in his hopes for the new couple (e.g., “marriage is something that requires dedication, practice, and a lot of hard work as you run hand in hand toward a shared goal”), it was never cheesy at all – it was actually quite beautiful. And the vows were very traditional – of course resulting in a few tears being brought to my eyes. While I usually bring tissues to weddings for exactly the reason that I am a total sap, I hadn’t thought to stuff any in my pockets (or my fuel belt) for this one. No matter – I did what runners always do and used my shirt sleeve to dab my eyes 🙂

After the kiss is usually when everyone breathes a sigh of relief. When the ceremony has come to an end, there’s nothing left to worry about, and you just get to go party, right? Not in this case! We still had about 14 miles to run (1 mile to the 13.1 halfway point chipmat, where the race director was going to start timing the wedding party), and I was terrified. I would be running with the bride, groom, and a few other members of the wedding party, and all of us were incredibly undertrained (oddly enough, all of us had the same distance for our long run – 8 miles). Would we make it? I was pretty concerned. But there was no time to worry about it now, as we took off down the road toward the finish line and the reception, far, far away.

(Stay tuned for part 2!)


11 thoughts on “Race Report: Grand Rapids Half Marathon”

  1. That sounds like so much fun!!!

    I almost skipped Steamtown to do Grand Rapids since my family is in Michigan. Though it would have been just a regular race for me…no wedding 😛

  2. I wish I had read this before my own wedding last year — what a GREAT idea!

    Hubby and I are both runners… our nod to running in our wedding ceremony was taking lots of photos in our fancy clothes + running shoes and doing a celebratory sprint down the beach after our ceremony.

    A post-wedding half marathon takes the cake! And I can’t wait to read Part 2!

  3. I have never heard of anything like this. What an awesome cool idea! When I ran the Portland Marathon last year a couple ducked out at mile 20 to get married and I ran past their ceremony! I don’t think I’d want to get married AFTER running 20 miles though, I like your friends idea much better 🙂 LOL

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