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

Sat, 05 Jul 2008 05:50:17 -0400

Faces at the Races


[rerun from July 1998 RC]

This is their raceday. It's my morning after.

They rested yesterday. I worked.

Their reason for being in Kelowna, British Columbia, is to run the Okanagan International Marathon or Half. Mine is to speak to them as a group and individually at the Running Room store.

They're now underway. I'm finished with the day of talk.

My work is great fun, but it still takes some effort. I have to get "up" for it, and a letdown inevitably follows.

This feels something like the fuzzy-headed fatigue of the day after a race. Today as the runners leave the start, I'm left feeling disconnected from them.

I chose not to run here, with my last marathon only two weeks past. I have no job to do now other than to clap and cheer at the finish. But this is one of the best services that anyone can offer a runner.

The runners begin to arrive. They start to give at least as much back to me in renewed enthusiasm as I do to them in final encouragement.

Walking the infield next to the track where the races finish, I'm close enough to reach out and touch the passing runners. I know few of them, and few show any sign of knowing me. This is a stranger reaching out to another stranger in admiration and support.

The faces fascinate me. Smiling and pained faces... faces scrunched with effort and slack-jawed with fatigue... flushed and ashen faces... faces that make eye contact and those with the 26-mile stare... young and old faces and all ages in between.

Some runners stick out a hand to be slapped. Some nod in acknowledgement. Some show no sign of hearing, but I know that at some level the encouraging voice or clapping is always heard.

Beyond the individual faces, I see the face of the future here in Kelowna. The look of this event is the youngest I've seen in years and the most female ever at races of these distances.

The sport has been graying for a long time. Young people haven't been attracted in great numbers to what they often view as a sport of their parents and grandparents.

"Other races in Canada and the U.S. still cater to the older runners, in their 40s and 50s," says John Stanton, president of the Running Room chain of stores. "Fifty-eight percent of runners in this race are under 40, and almost one-quarter are in their 20s." Women made up the majority of the young here, and outnumber the men by six percentage points.

"Our Running Room clinics and marathons are not only doing the job of getting folks to the finish line," says Stanton. "We are also getting many who would not get there under some of the old programs and old-style races. We are getting a whole new group running."

Today I look into the fresh faces. They might be sending my age-group and gender into eclipse, but I like what I see.

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