First off, thank you to the four cities ( Moline and Rock Island, IL and Bettendorf and Davenport, IA) and their hundreds of volunteers and police officers and and musicians and supporters lining the route of this year's Quad-Cities Marathon. I ran it twelve years ago; it was great. Since then, you have grown this event into a celebration at every step of the 26.2 mile route. That helped yesterday as the temperatures rose into the upper-80’s. Here’s what I learned as I shuffled along with the nearly 5,000 other runners.
It’s a Celebration.
I’m 59. Stepping up to the starting line for any race of any distance is cause for a celebration. I celebrate:
- all the hours spent running - in the heat, the cold, the rain, the snow, the winds - and all the hours in the weight room.
- all the other runners, our collective spirit of health and fitness and smiles and positivity and support and laughing and cheering.
- the volunteers who handle the aid stations and hold traffic for us and help us untie our shoes at the end and make registration so easy.
- the sponsors who give us food and drink and cool shirts and cooler medals.
- the routes. I’ve completed five marathons. Their routes well-chosen for being scenic and safe.
I’m not, never was, an elite athlete. On the other hand, only 1% of the population has completed a marathon. That’s something to celebrate.I ran my first marathons over twelve years ago, full of optimism (delusion) about my abilities as a runner. And as those first races wore on their reality, my reality, wore me down, I grew frustrated. Long, slow, miles of crappy self-talk ensued. I shoulda, coulda, woulda ... if only ... maybe I can catch up on the next mile ... The only way I’ll win my age class is if I live long enough that I’m the only one in that age-class. And right now, that age looks to be 90. So, until then I’ll celebrate all of the above more each time I hear Get Ready. Get Set. Go.
As we ran by the volunteers who handed us GatorAde, water, ice-cold hand towels, vasoline, Gu packs, and the police and neighbors who managed traffic at intersections and those who rode bikes and carts making sure runners (and volunteers) were safe, I said ‘Thank you’, ‘Thanks for being out here.’ I wasn’t alone, the runners around me joined in or I joined them. It brought a smile to their face as any recognition does, to both parties.
If You Give a Little, You Get A Lot
Treating the race as a celebration, not a competition, left me something to give other runners and those who volunteered their time to make the race possible. A smile, a thank you, a wave, a cheer, a two-step dance past a band, a little conversation with another runner, a word of support, a high-five generated a wave of in-kind responses. One wave, ten waves back. One smile, two smiles in return. One two-armed motion to raise the roof and ten cheerleaders started cheering in return. Runners and volunteers around us joined in. Even though running is a solo sport, races are a collective, communal, event where everyone’s contribution makes it great.
Keep Putting One Foot In Front of the Other
Whew. I knew this one already. But as the sun rose and the temperatures ran behind it like a little puppy trying to keep up, the temptation to stop rose too. I got a little woozy at about mile 19 and faced another hour, hour and a half, to go. Quads ached, feet hurt, shoulder was getting cranky. I walked and kept walking until I cooled down, a bit, and could run again. In marathons as in life, it doesn’t matter how fast you go but that you keep putting one foot in front of the other. You’ll catch your breath, a spot of shade will welcome you, someone will offer an optimistic assessment - Looking good, runner, cause at that moment I was neither. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Plan for the Best, Prepare for ... the Rest
I’ve read where no battle plan ever survives the enemy. Well, no plan for running a marathon ever survives the first step, especially if that first step is on concrete. I’ve run races where aid stations are empty by the time I arrive, where I wanted a banana but they don’t have any, where they swapped Gator-Ade for PowerAde (never a good idea to mix the two on a long, hot, run. You’ll survive ... but you’ll learn.), where the Gu gels are caffeinated or not and I wanted the other, where the race description said ‘downhill’ and it was up, the temps dropped ten degree instead of warmed up ten. All of that is part of the fun.Now, I take carry my own stash of ClifBars, gatorade, a cellphone, an extra Gu shot, a banana.
Take a Break. You’re Running a Marathon!
Enjoy the day, the scenery, those around you. Those miles will still be there. Taking a break in a long run is a great way to sustain your effort, your smiles, your tolerance for pain, your creative problem-solving abilities in the face of the inevitable real or imagined challenges.
Clarification: That's a smile.