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

Wed, 31 Jan 2001 08:56:29 -0500

Three Cheers


Last spring a lingering illness kept me close to home. I didn't run much for those two months.

"Did you miss the running?" I was asked. Not nearly as much as I missed the runners.

The virus drove me into semi-hermithood. I canceled several visits to running events, losing the chance to cheer on the runners there.

My January Runner's World column talks about cheering. It tells the three great lies of spectating: "You're almost there," "It's all downhill from here," and, "Looking good."

Four readers wrote to me about their experiences as givers and receivers of cheers. Their contributions follow:

BRUCE KOCHMAN: I'm always waiting to see when the cheers during a race change from "looking good" to "hang in there."

MIKE LHOTKA: I think I heard a unique one during the Twin Cities Marathon. Between 11 and 12 miles a spectator yelled, "You are looking good. I should know. I'm an undertaker."

KAREN BEGUIN: During the Royal Victoria Marathon I spotted two little girls who had dolls and stuffed animals sitting on the curb. They created a cheering section.

At around the 22-mile point, when I was struggling, there was an older couple sitting on lawn chairs in front of their home. Seeing how tired I was, the fellow said in a soft voice, "We are proud of you," then the wife said, "Yes, we are so proud of you dear." I just about broke down then and still get teary when I think of them and how their timing couldn't have been more perfect.

MICK EVANS: One of my favorite things to do is spectate at the Portland Marathon. You're quite right about the final 100 yards, runners are usually celebrating, listening to the crowd and are displaying their public personas.

I think we're all voyeurs at heart -- catching people being "real" when they don't realize anyone's watching. One of the most powerful places for me is being a fly on the wall across from the finishing chutes, AFTER the finish line. The waves of emotion displayed by the finishers as they slip back into their private selves is almost overpowering.

One example that sticks out is a couple of women in their early 20s finishing Portland in 1998. They ran the final straight strongly, smiling, waving to the crowd. The moment after they finished, though, they collapsed into each others arms, sobbing, as I wiped tears from my own eyes.

That's part of what I love about marathons. They're not so much about running as about personal discovery and growth, including opening up the emotional containment system.

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