From the Sidelines

I ended up spectating at Grandma’s Marathon today for about an hour. I left the house shortly after the end of the women’s race, got some coffee, drove around for awhile deciding where to park, then walked about a mile down Superior Street following the runners, ending up in front of Pizza Luce, which is somewhere between miles 24 and 25. I think I ended up there right around the time the 3:45 or so runners were heading through (just guessing), and I stayed until the 4:45 pace group had gone by (I saw the pacer, so no guesses there).

As I was walking, I passed a lot of fans and sort of observed. Some people were yelling generic things, some people were clapping, others were calling out specific things (“Go braids! C’mon yellow shirt!” or other distinguishing characteristics), and some were silent and taking it all in. I passed a woman holding a small megaphone, who turned to the other people she was with. “Why don’t one of you say something?” she asked, holding out the megaphone. The others demurred, and she said “They’re never going to see you again, and it might make their day!” (Or something. I just remember the “They’re never going to see you again” part.) I took that to heart, and when I got to the spot where I stopped to watch, I made sure to cheer loudly, even though I was by myself.

I wasn’t sure what to say, so I just “Woowoo-ed!” a lot and clapped, and said platitudes like “Looking strong!” and “You got this!” I yelled “GO NAVY” to a guy with a Navy t-shirt on, which he liked. I found it interesting that every once in awhile, my voice really penetrated into someone’s running fog, and I got a smile, or a nod, or at the very least eye contact. I gave a lot of thumbs up, too. I tried really hard to think about what would annoy me if I was running. I figured I’d be annoyed if I needed to stop to walk, and someone yelled at me to keep going or something, so I just sort of clapped and made noise as those folks went by. I also didn’t lie, so I was only yelling “Looking strong” at people who looked strong. And I didn’t yell anything stupid, or try to make jokes, and I didn’t yell “You’re almost there!” because I am sure to people who were struggling it still felt like forever. That’s a lot of thought to put into cheering, I know, but I like to overthink things, it’s the hallmark of an engineer.

Watching a race is fascinating. Watching the different running gaits and postures of runners as they went by was interesting. Here are all these people going the same speed, and they are accomplishing it in wildly different ways. Wearing a wide variety of outfits. Most people wear standard running gear, a few wear costumes (I saw these guys!), some wear as little as possible, a few had no shoes on (one was CARRYING his shoes), and some even appear to be in street clothes. One guy was wearing a button-down short-sleeve plaid shirt. Another woman looked like she was out hiking and stumbled into the marathon, in what looked like camping shorts and a t-shirt. All that matters is it’s comfortable. And doesn’t make one’s nipples bleed, which several more traditional running shirts seemed to do to some poor men. This is preventable! Don’t let it happen to you! Towards zero bloody nipples!

My friend (whose daughters weren’t with her, they were at the Mile 15 aid station probably charming every runner they saw) met up with me a little after the 4:00 pacer passed me. She told me her husband was running with the 4:30 pace group, so we had plenty of time to cheer together before he came, and to chat. As she started to recognize some of the runners she’d seen along the course while she’d been waiting to meet up with him at other checkpoints, she started to get nervous, and we were on the lookout. We spotted SEVERAL decoys, including white people, women, and old men, all who were revealed as not him once they neared (apparently a blue shirt and black shorts is a VERY popular running kit). This made us laugh and kept her from worrying too much as the 4:30 pacer came and went and her husband still didn’t show up. We crossed the street since she said he was running on the other side of the pack. I HATE crossing in front of racers. I think it’s incredibly disrespectful, especially of someone who has run 24.5 miles already. I hated it in my high school sports days (along with varsity skiers skiing the nordic skiing racecourse backwards after they were done with their fast races and had nothing better to do while us peon JV losers plodded through our races), but sometimes a street must be crossed. We were very careful not to cut anyone off.

When we finally saw her husband, we started screaming and cheering for him so he could see us a block away. Her concern was for nothing, because even though he’d lost his pace group, he looked strong and happy and gave us a big smile and two thumbs up. He thanked me as he passed, which I thought was kind. He ended up finishing in 4:38, which I believe he was happy with. I am really glad I was able to cheer him on at the end. My friend actually had tickets to the bleachers at the finish line, but we weren’t sure we could make it there in time, so at least we were able to give him a final boost of energy as he finished.

Part of me felt more compelled to run this marathon, but part of me was a little weirded out. It’s just so many people. It did solidify my resolve to never run the half marathon of this course. If I had run the half (and not gotten swept from the course), I’d have been finishing long after people had lost interest in the race and were looking ahead to the leaders of the marathon. Plus, it starts way way way too early.

Maybe I could run the Grandma’s Double instead? Ha!

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