Why Non-Runners Should Come Out And Cheer

Approaching the finishing straight of the 2011 KL Marathon. Photo credit: Tey ET.

“The marathon’s about being in contention over the last 10K. That’s when it’s about what you have in your core. You have run all the strength, all the superficial fitness out of yourself, and it really comes down to what’s left inside you. To be able to draw deep and pull something out of yourself is one of the most tremendous things about the marathon.”
– Rob de Castella, 1983 World Marathon Championships Winner, Australian marathon legend.

The Marathon. 42.195KM. If you find the number in kilometers a bit unfathomable, please go ahead and adopt the US standard of 26.2 miles. Any which way you look at it, Usain Bolt will have to run his 100s 422 times to earn the title Marathoner. It’s the distance that you’ll normally complain of when driving from Shah Alam to the Kuala Lumpur City Center. The distance is significant enough that big cities around the world design and market their Marathon courses as a way for tourists to experience the culture and place. Also in the case of big city Marathons, 35-40,000 Marathon finishers in a single race is the norm. Downtown Manhattan avenues shut down to welcome participants and 2 million spectators line the streets 5 deep in some places to see the show. On a much smaller scale, commercial and organization-wise, but no less welcoming, enthusiastic villagers hand out refreshments and cheers to runners in road races in Thailand. In KL, touted as the largest marathon in Malaysia, things aren’t quite as spectacular. Runners cover the capital’s streets watched by indifferent and sometimes rude residents who would honk and shout at the tired runners, and curious foreign labourers on their day off. There may actually be more volunteers than supporters en route. Things definitely are cheerier at the start and the last KM of the race. What still entices the 3,000 marathoners (out of the 28,000 total participants) to the streets this year are definitely not the mass support and raucous cheer teams they’ll get along their journey. Instead, the drivers are the fun and fellowship among fellow endurance athletes and personal goals.

Supporters at the 2011 KL Marathon. Photo credit: Tey ET.

“To describe the agony of a marathon to someone who’s never run it is like trying to explain color to someone who was born blind.”
– Jerome Drayton

The Marathoner. The average runner is said to go through 52,000 foot strikes in a Marathon. Yet world beaters run the distance at a speed of over 20 kilometers an hour. Astounding. Mind boggling. Even runners wonder how can these feats be possible. Marathoners typically put in 3-6 months of training that peak with a 3 to 3.5 hour long run, to be able to eventually cover the distance in the least uncomfortable manner and shortest amount of time they can, even though not everyone runs the entire the distance nor seek a personal best timing. Life’s many road bumps will ensure that many will not be able to put in the optimal training required. But being perpetual optimists that they are, Marathoners will still stubbornly harbour hopes of a good race, if not in their finishing time then in terms of a rollicking good time with their fellow runners.

“Of all the races, there is no better stage for heroism than a marathon.”
– George Sheehan

“The marathon is a charismatic event. It has everything. It has drama. It has competition. It has camaraderie. It has heroism. Every jogger can’t dream of being an Olympic champion, but he can dream of finishing a marathon.”
– Fred Lebow, New York City Marathon co-founder

They turn up on race morning at the starting line, nervousness masked by laughters and high-fives. Some have personal missions. Most will be jesting around and posing for photos. Many will be in costumes, in vests bearing messages for the cause or charity they believe in. The odd one or two will run sightless, limbless without a doubt inspiring all around them. Chances are there will be cancer survivors in the midst, all raring to go. Each one have given up something for this chance to run and complete the race. Each with a story to tell on how they got there. In a parallel world, they could very well be the superheroes we cheer. Yet, one of those who toes the starting line could be your co-worker, friend, neighbour, grandfather, aunt, parent, son, daughter or teacher. Ordinary folks doing extraordinary things.

In the final quarter of the race, some will be introspective and casting their gaze downwards as they shuffle along seemingly reaching into the depths of their battered spirits and bodies still hoping to draw on some undiscovered energy source. A few will be vocal, urging their fellow sufferers to never let go of their dreams and to keep moving forward and cross the finish line impossibly happy.

“The body does not want you to do this. As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be strong. You always go too far for your body. You must handle the pain with strategy…It is not age; it is not diet. It is the will to succeed.”
– Jacqueline Gareau, 1980 Boston Marathon Winner

“I’ve learned that finishing a marathon isn’t just an athletic achievement. It’s a state of mind; a state of mind that says anything is possible.”
– John Hanc

“We runners are all a little nutty, but we’re good people who just want to enjoy our healthy, primitive challenge. Others may not understand running, but we do, and we cherish it. That’s our only message.’
– John J. Kelley, Boston legend

Now that you generally know what it takes to finish a Marathon, and if you’re even mildly inspired, I invite you to come out this one early Sunday morning to witness the drama unfolding first hand. Position yourself anywhere within the last 10KM of the route where they need all the encouragement they can get and applaud the runners as they pass and give them your best smile. Tip: “Keep it going!” is much preferred to “Looking good!“. You may still not understand why a person would put themselves through this. Chances are the Marathoners won’t be able to explain to you concisely either, simply because the reasons are usually the stories of their lives. A number of them may gesticulate at the medal and finish sign and say “Because of these“. One runner in particular may point at his blade prosthesis and remind you that, “Because I want to show you that if I can do it, anyone can“. In this challenging and stressful times we live in, are these not examples of the indomitable human spirit that embodies all that’s right and therefore worthy of our support?

“There is the truth about the marathon and very few of you have written the truth. Even if I explain to you, you’ll never understand it, you’re outside of it.”
– Douglas Wakiihuri speaking to reporters who have never run a marathon

Yes, I am a Marathoner. Maybe one day, you’ll be one too.

Published: June 22nd, 2012.