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

Sat, 10 Dec 2005 20:05:43 -0500

Messages to Marathoners

RUNNING COMMENTARY 601

(rerun from December 2002 RW, as the Marathon Team that I coach begins training for a race next spring)

Such is the state of the sport today that you likely are either a marathoner or have one close to you. You or your surrogate probably are training for or recovering from a marathon right now.

I'm not. My latest one is too many years past. But I remain part of the marathon family by encouraging and advising individual marathoners almost daily, and by speaking to them in groups and watching them race monthly.

My message to marathoners is more motivational than informational. The pep-talk takes one or more of these seven paths:

1. You're lucky to be here now. Never have so many of you with such widely ranging abilities been made to feel so welcome. Never have runners enjoyed so much valuable technical support and the more-important emotional support. Now is the best time to be a marathoner.

2. I know you. Maybe your names and faces are unfamiliar. But I know you by the training you're doing, by how you will feel on raceday, and by the memories that you carry away. I haven't done any of this for a while, but these are experiences you don't forget. Our sharing of them brings us into the same community of marathoners.

3. I admire you. I don't come to you as an "expert," imparting wisdom. Instead I bow in respect for what you are doing. You inspire me. I hope that what you're doing now can have the same effect on others who watch you do it. Marathoning can be contagious.

4. You can't fake a marathon. Maybe you can wake up one fine morning and decide to run a 5K or 10K that same day. Those distances aren't much different from what you'd run on your own. But few of us normally run far enough to jump into a marathon without special training. The long-term demands of marathons enhance their attraction and prolong the memories.

5. The marathon is brutally and beautifully honest. You get back on raceday almost exactly what you invested earlier. There's only one way you can buy a decent marathon -- not with your cash or credit cards, not with your fame or power, but only with proper preparation. If you don't pay in advance with training, you pay later in pain (not just during the race but in the days, weeks and even months afterward).

6. The marathon can humble you. No truer line has ever been written than that one by Bill Rodgers. He has broken 2:10, but also has broken down and dropped out (which means four-, five-, and six-hour marathoners who finished that day can say they "beat" Rodgers). Even with the best of training, you're still not home free until the marathon ends as well as you hoped it would -- or better.

7. The marathon can make you proud. If the distance can humble the proudest of us, then the reverse is equally true. It can make proud the humblest of us. I'm bothered by marathoners who say, "I'm only a back-of-the-packer," or, "I'm only a run-walker." No apologies accepted. Take pride in your marathon, however long your marathon takes.

This year alone the total finishes in U.S. marathons will number a half-million. You might think this figure shrinks your effort to insignificance. It's hard to brag that your finish time ranks you 202,000th for the year.

But let's find you some glory in those numbers. If you really want to know where you stand, turn around and look behind you at the people you can't see: those who trained for a marathon but didn't reach the starting line... who race but not at this distance... who run but never race... who used to run but don't anymore... who never ran and never will.

Which brings us back to that figure of a half-million marathon finishes a year. Eliminate the multiple finishes of some runners, subtract visitors from other countries, and the true count of American marathoners stands at about a quarter-million -- from a national population of a quarter-billion.

That makes you one in a thousand. Pat yourself on the back for doing something that 99.9 percent of your countrymen or -women couldn't or wouldn't do.

Don't call yourself "slow," because you aren't. You're fast enough to beat everyone who isn't there.

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