Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hangin' with Haile in Motor City

(Photo: Detroit Free Press)

A few minutes before the start of Sunday's Detroit Free Press/Flagstar Marathon, the race coordinator called me forward from the first corral to the start line. For a couple of embarrassing minutes I stood there all alone holding my 2:47 pace sign, with several thousand runners staring at me (or so it seemed).

The elite women that I was pacing were then ushered to the line from their warmup area, along with the elite men and their pacer, a small man with a big smile named Haile Gebrselassie. While I was in the midst of briefing the elite American women on my pacing strategy to help them quality for the U.S. Olympic trials, I turned to see Geb strolling to the line with his characteristic grin. We exchanged a quick smile and a nod before I finalized my pacing duties.

When the gun went off, my mind was entirely on getting through the first mile near the 6:22 pace I had to maintain for the whole marathon, but looking back, it's amazing to think that I was lined up at the start of a marathon not two metres away from one of – if not the – greatest distance runner in history.