It's been almost three years since WOOT was formed, and since then we've grown from a small group of women who used to meet every weekend at Yuimaru carpark, to a Facebook membership of almost five hundred. Granted, not all of our Facebook members are actively running with us, but every weekend, as we prepare to put in some miles together, we continue to welcome both familiar and new faces. This was always Anna's vision - to see our group grow, but more so, to see our group run together, race together, and bond together. I think it's fairly obvious by now that her vision has been realized, and more recently, another vision of hers came to fruition.
Last weekend, to mark the end of another great year of WOOT bonding and running, we headed north to Okuma to run our very own half marathon. Just as she did three years ago, when she presented me with her plans to form a women's running group, Anna once again ran her idea past me, only this time asking me what I thought about WOOT hosting a women's-only half marathon. My initial response was admittedly a little apathetic, although I was definitely on board with supporting the effort if Anna decided to follow through with it. Then, as the weeks drew nearer to the event, and more women began to show interest, it was hard not to feel just a little excited.
The weeks leading up to the half marathon were fairly chaotic; we all had holiday happenings going on, as well as races to run, and also our WOOT christmas gift exchange in the midst of it all. But behind the scenes, the route was being carefully mapped out to ensure that an exact distance of 13.1 miles would be covered. Emails were also being swapped with details of supplies needed, how many volunteers and aid stations would be needed, who would be able to help set up the night before and the morning of, and other minor essentials. It's surprising how many things need to be considered when organizing an event like this, but not surprisingly, Anna did a great job of recognizing all that needed to be done. With the help of a great team of volunteers, it wasn't too difficult to make this event a success.
At 8am, on Saturday 29th December, we gathered around the starting area for a short pre-race brief. The weather was amazing, and everyone was in great spirits, all ready and eager to run what we were hoping would turn out to be a beautiful course. Anna gave us a description of the route, and mile markers to look out for, and at approximately 8:30am we started running. Miles one through three were flat and fast, and we reached the first aid station at our first turn, off route 58. The Morales family (and my Jade, who ditched her dad so she could hang with some kids instead), were enthusiastically waiting with refreshments. Anna and I weren't thirsty, but the sight of smiling kids holding out drink cups for us was too precious to ignore.
|Making sure everyone had numbers on their arms|
|Our sweet little helpers at Aid Station 1 - Anna and I stop for a quick drink|
After a quick drink and high fives, it was time to face our first incline. We headed upwards for a half mile or so, but then it was downhill again and a right turn onto flat roads once more. Now we were running in a small rural neighborhood, with just a few homes around and pleasantly quiet. Another shift of gears, and I picked up the pace for about a mile or so, until I reached the next aid station where our volunteers, Ivette Kragel and Antonia Sautter, greeted me with their beautiful smiles and positive words of encouragement.
|Antonia and Ivette - the best volunteers ever! So supportive - and, entertaining!|
Encouragement! That's exactly what I needed at that moment, because as I turned the corner to start the next two miles towards the halfway point, I saw nothing but a big old mountain in front of me! I thought the hill I climbed in the Shouhashi half marathon a couple of months ago was a killer hill, but that was nothing compared to the monster that stood facing me.
|Check that out!|
Upwards and onwards, and a winding road that was so steep at times that I'm sure my run could easily have been mistaken for a walk by anyone who might have been watching. I must have looked at my garmin at least a half dozen times, only to be disappointed, as I realized with each glance that I had moved forward by maybe only a tenth of a mile. Seeing my husband at the halfway point, at the top of the hill, was a welcome sight, not just because I was glad to see his face, but because this also marked the turn-around point and the start of some downhill running.
|Kim O'Byrne just a couple of feet away from the turn-around point|
The last three miles, although flat, were by no means easy. This part of the course was back on the 58 headed north towards Okuma, and there was no longer any shade covering from the trees. My energy reserves were almost depleted, and I was sweating quite profusely by this stage. Going through the gate at Okuma was one of those bitter-sweet moments where it felt great to almost be done, but painful to have to run one more mile around the resort, before reaching the start/finish line. Once I did cross the finish line however, I relished the feeling of having successfully completed another half marathon, and this one was by far, one of the most difficult I've done.
As all the ladies, one by one, crossed the finished line, it was clear from the looks on their faces that they were all so proud of what they had just done. And they deserved to be; a half marathon the likes of what they had just completed is no simple feat. But beyond the feeling of pride, I suspect that the joy we all felt that day was mostly due to the camaraderie that was experienced.
|Jennifer Green - happy to see her little guy waiting for her at the finish|
|Valerie Patmore - big smiles as she crosses the finish line|
In the old testament of the bible, there are some verses which infer that two or more people together, stand a better chance of overcoming obstacles than when they attempt to overcome them on their own (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). These verses, I believe, can be taken out of the realm of a Christian context and applied to virtually any life situation.
What I think we all witnessed last weekend was an example of what these verses teach. As difficult as it was to run a course that included two miles of steep climbing, we all cheered each other on, and our volunteers helped to provide the extra reassurance we all needed. My point though, is that what we are capable of accomplishing in our own strength, can often be multiplied when we act on the encouragement and support of others. Besides just being a women's running group, that's essentially what WOOT is about.
|Nice job Shonna Calisi|
|Some good old WOOT bonding! Anna Boom and Audrey Naini|
Not a single runner failed to finish the course, and not a single runner left before the last runner finished. That to me, was the icing on the cake, and the thing that made our first half marathon a great success!
|We did it! Congratulations ladies!|
Photos by Erik Myers, Jim Blankenmeier, Alexis Knutsen, Monica Galvan, and Ivette Kragel