I promise I’ll write about something other than running again soon, I really will. It’s just that it’s been occupying my thoughts (and my legs) lately, and it turns out I have quite a bit to say about it.
I took this picture on Sunday morning, in the middle of a three mile run. I love this view. I look down this valley frequently, usually from further to the right, but on Sunday, looking through the trees, with the clouds threatening rain, it was almost magical.
I squeezed in my own run before travelling to York to watch a friend finish the first Yorkshire Marathon. It wasn’t his first marathon, but it was the first chance I’d had to see him since the start of my own marathon last year.
When I arrived he was at mile 18, so I squeezed along the finish funnel with hundreds of other spectators, and set to the important business of clapping and cheering people as they ran the last few yards.
It’s an emotional business, this spectating lark. Have you ever done it? I’ve done it a few times now, mostly when I’ve known people who were running, and I never fail to shed a tear or two. Marathons are particularly bad for this. Some people look pretty sprightly, like they’ve done this before, and could go round again if they wanted to. They’re usually the ones with running club vests and muscly legs, probably veterans of many marathons before this one. Some have their heads down, concentrating on finishing. Some are limping, or wearing bandages, and some even look disappointed if they haven’t got the time they were aiming for.
As the clock ticks on, people arrive in fancy costumes. One man was dressed as a cat (complete with tail). Another wore a rather fetching flowery dress. Someone was dressed as a banana, and I still don’t know how they ran for well over four hours with the point end sticking out from between their knees.
Some people wear charity t shirts, and run down the last stretch holding hands with fellow runners, or even with their small children who’ve joined them for the last few yards. There are large smiles, and sometimes even tears. The announcer cheers people across the line, and says a few words about why they’re running, often to raise money for this cause, or in memory of that person. That usually sets me off, if I’m not already sniffling.
What really gets me though is the look of exhaustion and triumph on people’s faces, especially as the day wears on and the slower runners arrive. The crowd thins as spectators drift away to meet their friends who’ve cross the line. Some of these runners, too, have their head down in concentration, or their eyes fixed on the finish. But even at this point you can make them smile by calling their name, which many of them seem to forget is printed on their race number and pinned to their t shirt. Shout ‘go on, Julie, you’re nearly there now’, and she laughs and picks up her pace a little.
Even before I did my own marathon it was exciting watching other people finish theirs. I knew how long they’d trained for. I knew I could never do it myself, although it’s difficult to be in the presence of all that achievement and pride and not want some of it yourself.
Incidentally, you should be wary of this – I once watched friends do an ironman distance event (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, followed by running a full marathon) and came far too close to signing up myself when I got home.
Having done one myself, I can tell you it makes a huge difference having people there to cheer you on, whether you know them or not. Cheerful race marshalls, who stand for hours sometimes in dreadful weather just to make sure people go the right way, can make a difficult race even enjoyable. Volunteers handing out water bottles, or people standing on street corners handing out sweets lift the spirits, which in turn seems to give new life to the legs. Hearing a wave, or a cheer, or a word of encouragement, makes you able to carry on when you thought you couldn’t.
So if there’s a race near you, do yourself a favour and go and stand at the finish for a while and cheer. Especially if it’s a charity race, perhaps with lots of people who haven’t run that far before. I can guarantee you’ll be spreading happiness, and you might even receive some in return.
(Please shout something nice though. I remember being near the end of my first half marathon, trailing right at the back, having been on the road for nearly three hours. I was having a (fairly long) walk break, when a small child leaned from a van and shouted ‘get some running done, you old lady!’ I was 23…)
And my friend? He finished in just under 4.5 hours. Not his fastest marathon, but not the slowest, and I think he was pretty happy with his time. He ran to the finish line with his hands in the air and a smile on his face. Well worth travelling to see that.