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

Sat, 19 Jun 1999 11:51:20 -0400

Standing By

(from RC 285)

It wasn't my turn this weekend to run a marathon or half. But I could still take part by standing beside the National Capital course in Ottawa, Ontario.

The viewer gives encouragement to the runners, and also takes inspiration from them. Having favorites to support adds to the thrill of watching.

No one in Ottawa inspired me more than Ernie DeCaro from Auburn, New York. His story appeared twice in my newsletter last year.

He wrote first after undergoing cancer surgery that took the gluteus muscles of his left buttocks. His condition was serious, but he could still joke, "I now have official certification that I'm a half-assed runner."

He had run and raced for years, but had never tried a marathon until New York City last fall. After finishing in 5:57 he wrote, "My thoughts go immediately to next time."

National Capital came next for Ernie. After corresponding for more than a year, we met for the first time at this race.

We walked from the expo to our hotel on Saturday, splashing through a rainstorm. Heads down, we paid little heed to the British-style government buildings to our right.

"We're almost there," I told Ernie, his running partner Cathy Troisi and our mutual friend Larry Sillen.

Cathy said, "That sounds like one of the lies that spectators tell you during races." Sometimes they shout specifics, such as, "Only one mile to go."

Distance and time are elastic. Early miles seem to pass in a few minutes each, while the last mile feels a half-hour long.

A related lie is, "It's all downhill from here." The last mile always seems uphill, no matter what the topo map might say.

My favorite lie: "You're looking good." No one looks his or her best at the end of a marathon, especially a rainy one.

You're not supposed to look good. This is not a beauty contest or a style show, but a survival test.

Don Kardong once wrote, "Do you want to see how you'll look 20 years from now? Glance in a mirror right after you finish a marathon."

A rare truth-telling spectator asked me late in one race, "Are you okay? You don't look so good." I must have appeared to need a 911 call.

Cathy Troisi recalled a sign that a woman held in the late miles of a New York City Marathon. It read, "Remember, you CHOSE to do this." And runners even paid for the privilege of pushing themselves this far.

I took a position about a kilometer from the finish. The view is closer here than at the finish line, and the voices are quieter.

Most of my cheers stayed neutral: "Way to go"... "Good job." Or I just clapped.

It doesn't matter what's said, if anything. Runners only want to know that someone, loud or silent, cares what they're doing.

When Ernie DeCaro passed, I had to shout the three great lies: "Almost done... downhill from here... looking good!" He bettered his PR by nearly a half-hour, and that's the truth.


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