Oh, the Marathon! What a run. I never let the minor detail that I don’t "run" marathons, keep me from thinking that I'm not completely and totally immersed in the marathon action and participating in one of my own.
My marathon starts before the first racer come in, as I’m stationed, bright and early at the finish line while a mere 26.2 miles away, the race is just beginning. I’m well hydrated, carbo loaded and poised to cheer for the wheelchair racer, who can average 45 miles an hour on the downhill (and I marvel at his pecs). I’m mentally trained for the six hours that I will be standing on my feet at the sidelines, clapping my hands until they ache, shedding tears for every participant that wrenches my heart as they limp, stumble, and sometime crawl over the finish line. I sob out loud as I watch them running past the pain of bloody nipples, torn off toenails, and wrenched ankles, I marvel as these people lose control of minor bodily functions at the end of the race and fall into the arms of volunteers poised there to catch them.
For the most part, I myself have escaped permanent injury, only once falling off the curb and being ambulanced by overeager medics to the race hospital. While I was in the emergency room getting taped up, I could hear the comments of the personnel next door regarding the runner brought in from crashing and hitting the wall at mile 23, “Oh, he coding again, shock him. . .” I did that day, feel a tiny hint of a fraud.
But back out on the bleachers, my voice grows hoarse as I yell my marathon mantra, “Good race, Way to Go, You’re Awesome!” I cheer my heart out for the runner who is walking the last few feet so dehydrated that he is cramping up on one side, so dry that his head is being drawn down toward one shoulder which makes him veer off in the opposite direction and he has to keep overcorrecting as he flops one foot in front of the other, eyes never veering from the finish. Soon, I’m so exhausted that it comes out, “Good to Go, Race to Way!” But, in their state, they probably don’t notice.
Total emotional breakdown and tears at the finish line are not uncommon and I sob in anguish when a racer falls 100 feet short and on his knees, forces his arms to lift his leg manually one at a time to place them in front of himself because if he gets any outside help, even this close to the finish, he will be disqualified.
At one marathon, I sit near the same three women every year, sisters who always have "someone" running and they camp out early, and stay until the last racer drags in—long past the final six hour cutoff. They say the last ones need the encouragement most. I have participated in some thirty odd marathons, anguished and sweating, wondering if I will have the mental stamina and willpower to put mind over body and make it to the finish. I still marvel about the genesis of the sport, about those days when the messenger raced to King Darius of Persia after the Battle of Marathon and then keeled over and died. I want to know who looked down at the body and said, “I think that would make a great sport.”