Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Power of the Marathon

Last night a received a call from a friend who ran his first marathon at TCM on Sunday. He called to thank me for coming out to cheer.

He is new to the sport, and has never really raced at all. He is a quiet man who keeps to himself, so he was amazed at how inclusive the running community is.

He could not believe how many people called out his number during the race, and how other runners encouraged him when he started to slow down.

He started training last year after reading stories about people running TCM. He could not even run around the block. He put in a whole year of training, and went through the same phases we all go through, especially the self doubt. He never told anybody he was running for fear of not making it to the start line. I am guessing this race help conquer some issues of self doubt and confidence. Although, I still struggle with those.

Course Spectating

The spectators around me were surprised I was able to get people who were walking to run again. A lady said "Wow, you are good at that". I responded by saying "at mile 24, many people need to be held accountable to finish stron. They really don't need Suzy Cheerleader".

I would call out runner's numbers (running or walking), and say something like "dig down deep and pull it together". I also gave the "looking great" comments when I could tell they were picking up the pace. I found people just liked having their nubmers called out. Someone was watching THEM, and they would start running.

I saw one guy walking, called out his number and made one of those comments. After he passed, I realized it was Sven the weatherman on Kare 11. So I started yelling to the people behind him "you are not going to let pretty boy Sven beat you, are you".

I enjoyed cheering because I felt like part of the race. I also remember a time like it was yesterday. 1992 Chicago Marathon. I was on course to break 3:10, but I was slowing. I hurt bad. I ran in silence for about 5 miles. For much of that time I was almost next to a much older man in a red shirt (all I remembered was red). As we approached a minor hill (the old Chicago course). I started to slow at the hill going up to the bridge over the Chicago River. This man turns to me as he was pulling ahead (we had never said a word to each other) and said "no you're not! You are not slowing down now! Get your ass moving!" I picked up the pace and left him in the dust. Running down the hill into Grant Park I could hear him yelling "that's the way to do it!". I searched for him at the finish line, but could not find any red shirt. I still wonder if he was a hallucination.

To this day, I have tried to "pay it forward" by encouraging others. Because of him, I broke 3:10 (by a very small margin). I wish I could meet him today and say thanks.

This sport is not about bragging to your friends about accolades. It is not about racing against each other. It is not about fame, glory, or money (exept for a few). It's about challenging yourself, and helping others stay true to themselves.

As we saw Sunday, the Marathon continues to be a "humbling race". I think that is why so many are drawn to it.

For those who fell short of their desired results, thats what payback races are for. There is nothing sweeter than getting a monkey off your back.

Sometimes the monkey is the one who pushes you to new heights.


Runnin-from-the-Law said...

Your Sven comments made me laugh. Around mile 25.5 someone was yelling, "go 11. go Sven". It made me kick it in to realize he was behind me and I did not want him to beat me! I crossed the finish line before him, but see that his chip time was a bit better.

I didn't have much left in me when I heard your cheers, but it made me kick it in for about 10 steps (which is all I could handle at that point). Thanks.

SteveQ said...

When Sven went by, I was cheering "Go Kip!" Kip is Sven's dad; he was an Olympic ski jumper and went to my high school. Sven paced his dad - something you can look forward to in 20 years (gotta be one runner among those boys).

Helen said...

I like your cheering strategy. At mile 24 it's amazing how a not so gentle kick in the butt can get you moving. Having someone call my name never fails to get me moving faster - even just for a few strides. It makes me run a little taller and prouder. Congrats to your buddy and great story about Chicago. Speaking of monkeys - did you spot the guy with a furry purple one around his neck - beats any marathon 'costume' I've ever seen.