Sunday, May 4, 2008

Meeting Kathrine Switzer

I'm sitting here in the afternoon after Spokane's Bloomsday Run, but I'm not primed to write about that yet. Instead I'm going to write about yesterday's arrival in Spokane and meeting Kathrine Switzer.

I first learned that Kathrine Switzer (the first woman to run the Boston Marathon with a number, and author of Marathon Woman) was going to be in Spokane for Bloomsday when I got my email with final race information. She was signing her book at the race expo and also speaking at the Doubletree Hotel at 2 p.m. on Saturday. Since I was on a noon flight to Spokane I figured I could probably get to my hotel and over to the Doubletree by 2, but it would be a close call. So we went early to the airport in hopes of getting an earlier flight, and in fact easily got on the 11:00 flight instead.

By 12:30 p.m. we were checked into the Davenport Tower Hotel and looking for something to eat before I headed over to the expo activities. We decided to have lunch in the hotel restaurant, since it was easy and the menu looked good anyway. I had a delicious steak salad on arugula and more than my share of a flatbread topped with roquefort, pears, and arugula (I'm very fond of arugula).

Around 1:30 I headed toward the Doubletree. It's not too far from the Davenport, about half a mile or a bit more. I had no idea whether to expect huge crowds (considering how many people were participating in the race) or what.

She was speaking in the Grand Ballroom, and I found my way back there by about quarter of two. Happily for me (although I was concerned for her), there weren't many people there yet and I easily staked myself a seat at a table front and center near the podium.

Kathrine was already there, selling and signing her books and talking to people. Now, I already have the book (and I've read it). I didn't bring it along, in large part because I just loaned it to someone else to read. After a few moments of mental deliberation, I decided to fork over more money to get another copy for her to sign. I could always give away the first one as a gift. (Or use it as a loaner.) I got into the line, which wasn't very long but it was slow moving since everyone wanted to talk to her a bit, or take pictures. I hadn't brought my camera because I didn't want to take the time to run back up to the room, but I did have a camera on my cell phone. (Handy!)

While we were waiting I chatted with the woman in front of me in line. She was from Colorado but had been working in Tacoma so decided to drive over for the run. She was a relatively new runner, and this was her first Bloomsday. (Well, it's my first too, even though I'm not a new runner!)

Two o'clock rolled around just as we got to the front of the line. Kathrine counted off those of us who were left—I was #2—and we got to be first after the talk. So we all took our seats.

She talked for about an hour, telling the story of her Boston Marathon experience and her involvement in running and athletics (including race organization and promotion) throughout her life. Since I'd already read the book, I knew most of the stories already, but still it was interesting listening to her.

And since the book ends at the first women's Olympic Marathon in 1984, we also got a little taste of her life since then. As the book says, she stopped running marathons in the seventies, but has continued to run for fun and exercise. Lately she's been back up to half marathons and is thinking about doing a marathon in the next year (in New Zealand, where she lives half the year with her husband Roger Robinson).

After the talk and questions, she resumed book signing and those of us with numbers rushed up to take our places. In addition to the book, I had decided to buy her "Marathon Woman" t-shirt, but wasn't sure what size to buy. They looked really tiny. I had the large in my hands, and wondered aloud whether I should get the extra-large instead. One of the most gratifying moments of my life occurred when Kathrine Switzer said, in a tone of shocked disbelief, "You?" The women in line behind me said "Show off that toned runner's body." .... I bought the large. Even if I never wear it, it was worth it for that reaction.

And I got a picture of me and Kathrine Switzer on my cell phone.

After that, I headed over to the expo to pick up my packet, number and chip. This was at the Spokane Convention Center, and it was huge! Masses of people were coming and going as I arrived. But they had the pickup lines so broken down by age and name that I didn't have to wait in line at all. After I scanned my chip, I decided to wander quickly through the booths before heading back to the hotel.

One Bloomsday shirt and hat, two runner girl logo shirts, one lightweight Nike running jacket, and a cookbook for my mom later, I left the expo and returned to the hotel.

The last item on Saturday's agenda was the traditional pasta dinner. My sister had recommended Luigi's, (also) about half a mile from the hotel, so after touching base with my mom I dropped my purchases and headed back out to check out the restaurant.

When I found Luigi's, I liked what I saw on the menu. So, apparently, did lots of other people, because they had absolutely no reservations available. I left in a bit of a huff (I can't help it, I get miffed when things don't go my way), and walked back to the hotel. There were a couple other Italian restaurants I saw along the way, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to make the trek for a second choice. There were several pasta items on the hotel menu, and maybe it would be easier to just eat there.

Which is what we did. Our dinner didn't go exactly smoothly, because after we ordered they forgot about us. About 45 minutes in (don't ask me why I didn't ask before that—it's hard to judge how long is too long), the waitress brought us our check and said "you can pay me when you're ready." We gasped, "But we haven't got our food yet!" She was a bit shocked. She returned with our plates a few minutes later, and luckily if they had been sitting around, they seemed none the worse for it. I had a very rich pasta dish, Scottish Smoked Salmon Penne with a Vodka Cream Sauce, and although I usually avoid creamy sauces (for good reason), I savored this one. Despite having to wait so long, and perhaps against my better judgment, I was determined to order dessert, because their desserts were little miniature portions, and I could try more than one without having too much. (So I told myself.)

I got Key Lime Pie, Peanut Butter Pie, and German Chocolate Cake, all served in shot glasses (that's how little they were). (Just getting one would have been more prudent, of course.) We took them up to the room, along with mugs to make tea, and enjoyed dessert in bed, atop the absolutely heavenly luxurious pillowtop mattresses.

So that was the end of pre-race Saturday. I set the alarm for 6:00 (to wake up early enough for breakfast two hours before the race), and tried to read but eventually gave up and went to sleep. Morning would come all too soon!

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