Past the cemetery, the runners encountered a man in a full-body plush bear suit with a diaper over it. His sign read “Course Liar,” and he spouted a stream of lies.
“The finish is just around the corner!” he shouted convincingly. (It was not.) “You’re doing great! I love getting up early and standing in the cold!”
The sarcasm was a brief respite from a morning-long blue-sky run of positivity.
Across from the cemetery, two flag-waving youngsters, Janie and Elliot Hubbard of Battle Creek, scanned for their dad, Shawn, who was running his first half marathon, but the stream of human confetti seemed endless. About 500 marathoners and 2,000 runners in all registered for the event.
“Start looking for a blue shirt and a big beard,” their mom, Betsy, encouraged them.
Blue shirts, scarves and hats were everywhere, a tribute to the Boston Marathon a week earlier. At the 8 a.m. start, Mayor Virg Bernero eagerly took up the relay baton of marathon solidarity from battered Boston.
“Congratulations, Lansing,” he told the crowd at the starting line. “You look positively beautiful this morning.”
Nearby, red-bearded Mike Vincent of Traverse City waited in the wings to start his first half marathon. “Onward to Valhalla” was scrawled on his number tag.
“They should call it ‘The Angriest Marathon in America,’” he cracked, referring to the Boston blowback and Bernero’s cable news stint as “America’s Angriest Mayor.”
“We are not deterred,” Bernero continued. “We are not cowed. We will not relent. Thank you, Lansing. You make me and America proud.”
A few feet away, Luke Titus of Haslett quietly leaned on a wall, wearing a tie-dye shirt with a peace symbol. “For Boston,” he shrugged.
His feet were bare.
“I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way,” he said. “I have shoes for cold weather, but I hate ‘em.”
Joe Kwan of Singapore drove to Lansing from Boston with his wife, Stella, who ran her second Boston Marathon last week. The two are on a three-week vacation in the United States. Kwan said he heard the two Boston blasts from a few blocks away.
“We thought it was a celebration at first,” he said. “Then we saw the ambulances and security and people started running around.”
The trip to Lansing was a practical matter for him.
“We were trying to find a marathon I could run, because I did not qualify for Boston,” he said.
Alice Blackwood Wyman, a marathon volunteer from DeWitt and a 5K runner, said the Lansing Marathon is ideal for a first-timer. “It’s nice to have it near home,” she said. “We train regularly on the River Trail. It’s like going out and doing another training run.”
If you were looking for East Coast intensity, forget it. With apologies to Vincent, Lansing may have ended up with the least angry marathon in the world. Encouragement from strangers and thank-yous from runners were relentless all the way along the route.
At major water stops, boom boxes pumped up the runners with rock anthems like “Feels Like the First Time.” Wyman, by contrast, gently tinkled a bell for every passing runner at her post, a sleepy residential patch of the east side at Lathrop Street and Kalamazoo.
“I don’t want to wake anybody up,” she said, nodding toward the houses behind her.
Two thin, long shadows snaked down the asphalt toward Wyman, followed by the women who produced them. “Great job, keep it up,” Wyman said, shaking the bell. In response to Wyman’s bell, a woman with a slow sashaying stride, Teri Pulice, identified herself as “The Mighty Caboose.” She was among the last to pass.
“I’ll beat all the couch potatoes,” Pulice said.
Late in the course, after the runners dodged one of many floodings and joined up with the River Trail, a volunteer was getting hoarse from the good cheer.
“One and a half miles to go!” he repeated dozens of times. “You’re doing great! Ah-hem, hm, hem.”
By Mile 16, some of the smiles had faded. A stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue grew oddly quiet save for the flapping of feet.
“My body!” yelled a man to nobody in particular.
Back at the cemetery stretch, the runners were still rounding the corner, looking splendid under a blue sky and warmed by 20 degrees of exertion, but the chilled spectators began to flag. “My arms are tired,” one sign read. One of the runners, a 60ish wise guy in a red bandana, waved his arms like a symphony conductor at the curbside crowd.
“Pick it up a little bit,” he urged.
After a long wait, Janie and Elliott Hubbard popped up from the curb when their dad’s distinctive beard rounded the corner, followed by the rest of Shawn Hubbard. In seconds, the family completed a flag-waving pit stop worthy of Daytona, with hugs, high-fives, a quick snapshot and a cooling change of shirt.
“See you at the finish,” Betsy Hubbard called after him.