Veterans Day 2018 was the 100-year anniversary of the Armistice Agreement that ended World War I, “the war to end all wars.” That agreement brought the end to 584 official days of battle, with 20 million lives lost around the globe. We celebrate the day to honor those who sacrifice to protect others. We say thank you to those who said yes when the world called for help. And we pray for wisdom and peace so there will be more days ahead to say “Thank you for your service.”
In 2018, for this runner, Veterans Day also was a chance to explore a new area of Vancouver, WA that has been changing over the past few years. The Race to Remember included 5K, 11K, and half marathon distances that began at Fort Vancouver and used the renovated waterfront area for much of the course. It was just around 32 degrees at the start so the 50 or so half marathon runners I started with were anxious to get moving when that horn sounded. Right away, I was thankful for the bikers from the Patriot Guard Riders started us in the right direction.
The half marathon course started with a loop around the fort, which provided the perfect views to start out the day. While my feet tried to adjust to different footing (we went over roads, sidewalks, grass, gravel, and bridges those first miles), my eyes were filled with views of our history. Passing the barracks, it was easy to imagine soldiers on morning patrol. With the small number of runners in our event, it was easy to get lost in thoughts of the past, present, and future.
After the fort loop, the course was primarily an out-and-back that weaved between the waterfront and sidewalks that paralleled it. The course felt more like a morning run than an event as we went through an apartment parking lot, past McMenamins, and in other spots that didn’t feel official but were still fun. As the temperature and the sun rose, there were more people out walking dogs or getting out for their own runs. Other than the number pinned to my leg, I was just another runner out there.
Now the course was mostly an out-and-back, but it did have a few off-shoots, and unfortunately those caused me a tiny bit trouble. I had looked at the course map in advance to know that the turnaround was around 6.5 miles. But shortly after the 5-mile marker, two runners ahead of me turned back early because of a sign on the path. When I got closer, I discovered that the “sign” was some laminated paperwork that a volunteer must have dropped along the way. A runner behind me and I thought that we needed to go further so we continued on, spotting a small white sign with a red arrow around the next corner. On my way back from the real turn around, I tossed the misplaced paperwork to the side of the road to help others avoid confusion.
There were many great things about this race, especially the beautiful course and the energetic race staff who clearly cared about this event and the runners. Unfortunately, course signage (perhaps due to some windy conditions) caused some confusion along the way. On the way back from the turnaround, the half marathoners were supposed to take two off-shoots from the course that we did not have to do on the way out. The first one had a sign pointing it out (cones or perhaps a volunteer would have helped), and I (and many others) missed the second one because there did not appear to be any signs. With the weather on race morning, I am thinking that maybe they fell over or maybe those signs were in the folder I had seen. Either way, what I thought was a PR sadly didn’t count since my race clocked in at 12.3 miles (thank you Alice for the extra run in the afternoon to help me earn my medal). These are easy fixes and I anticipate better turns next year.
Let’s get back to what was good about this race…Around mile 12 of the half marathon course was a final off-shoot section, which was well designated through cones and volunteers guiding us. We traveled past construction sites that were still Sunday morning quiet. Just when I was mentally questioning why-oh-why the directors had us running this way, the course went parallel to the Remembrance Wall. The mural depicts images of American wars and conflicts beginning with World War I. I saw a family walking together past the paintings, leaving me wondering how the parents were explaining the story of our nation to their children. Times of courage and fear intertwined over and over again. Thank you race directors for including this space in our run.
Back over the bridges and into the park area, the final mile of the course was flanked by photographs of veterans every tenth of a mile. Some were honoring heroes in memoriam, while others were heroes still living among us. Turning my head to the left and right, it was easy to offer a thank you to each by name and to see just a brief glimpse of their story.
The final turn brought the finishing arch into view, with flags adding color and hope to the final push. Once I had my medal in hand, I stood among the other finishers as we celebrated the day and thanked others for being there.
As I wrote before, the leadership for this race clearly cared about the experience of our runners and used the event (and even the raffle afterward) as a chance to celebrate our veterans. By adding some additional signs and volunteers next year, this event will get even better. I look forward to 13.1 miles next November.