Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sun, 12 Jul 1998 10:40:00 -0400

Music to Our Ears

(from RC 274)

It's called the "Avenue of the Giants," and it's one of my all-time favorite running spots. Whenever Barbara and I drive to California, we stop on this redwood-lined road that a freeway bypassed.

I ran alone there this spring, and think of it now when talking about the new Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. R-n-R was one of the loudest races ever, with its many bands and 18,000-plus runners. The Avenue of the Giants in May, and its companion Humboldt Redwoods on the same course in October, are the quietest.

I've only run the "Avenue" Marathon twice with 20 years in between. It had a couple dozen runners the first time, and a few hundred the second -- and almost no one watching from the side of the road either time.

You're likely to end up running alone here with the trees. These giants work strangely on sounds.

So silent is this forest that you can hear the conversations of runners hundreds of yards away. I like this.

I'm in the small minority of runners who didn't feel drawn to San Diego for R-n-R. The marathon is a fine addition to the calendar, good evidence that running remains vibrant and creative. But I don't need to be there.

Blame my background. I began running at a time when, if you didn't learn to like running in isolation, you didn't run. Race fields numbered in the low dozens, and runners outnumbered viewers a dozen to one.

You did most of your running alone. You hoped for blissful silence, because the only alternative was the sour notes of the heckler.

I'd run on the roads for almost 10 years without hearing many friendly voices from the sidelines. Then I ran the Boston Marathon, where hundreds of thousands of fans serenaded us.

These people not only came out to watch, but they yelled for us -- not just AT us -- for hours. Some even personalized their messages by looking up our names in the newspaper and shouting them as we passed.

But Boston was unique then, and big crowds like that are still rare in this sport. New York City may be the only other U.S. race where viewers outnumber runners.

Last fall at a race-directors' conference in Portland, Rock 'n' Roll was a hot topic. Someone in the crowd asked what I thought about it.

I applauded R-n-R for its innovation, not yet knowing what a hit the race would be. Then I added, "What I'd really like to see is races trying to recruit more spectators."

Most runners want to hear something when they run. Rock bands are fine, but a much finer sound is human voices shouting encouragement.

I told the directors in Portland, "Races might have volunteers go from door to door along the route, delivering flyers that tell residents what is about to happen and what they can do to help."

Every friendly face helps. Every supportive shout, whether personalized or not, is the sweetest music runners can hear.


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