The California International Marathon is this Sunday. Thousands of runners of every skill level will line up before dawn on Folsom Auburn road waiting for that starter’s gun at 7am. A couple hours and 26.2 miles later, the first runners will cross the finish line at the state capitol. Then, for the next several hours, everyone else will too.
I’ve run it twice and count both experiences as among the best of my life. The run itself is incredibly well-organized by the Sacramento Running Association but beyond that, there is a spiritual joy that can be felt by every runner for every single mile, and much of that comes from the endless support of spectators lining the race route. Many are there to cheer on a friend or family member. But many are also out there just to buoy runners’ spirits with applause, cheers, funny signs and cowbells and believe me, it makes a difference, especially in the late miles.
Most runners have prepped for this event for at least 18 weeks–putting in the time and the heart for training runs of up to 20 miles …in between whatever else they have going on in their lives. But even many well-trained runners will tell you: a marathon’s later miles are never easy, physically or, more importantly, psychologically. They call it “The Wall” and it usually appears around the 17th or 18th mile. By then, every part of your body is becoming either really stiff or really sore, or both. You’ve tried to maintain your water intake and nutrition but the benefits are diminishing. You’re brain starts to wonder what the hell you’re out there doing and, oh yeah, you STILL have another six or seven miles to go!
In the CIM “The Wall” starts to occur for many runners right around the Fair Oaks and Watt, which is why somewhere in there is where you should come out if you’re thinking of cheering the runners on. It’s great seeing people in the early miles–the trek down through Old Town Fair Oaks, with it’s high school marching band and partying residents is a blast–but it’s the later miles where the runners actually get something from you. It can be as simple as a “Good job!” or “Looking strong!” It can be a funny sign (my favorite was a guy dressed like Jesus holding one that read “The End is Near”). If you must, a cowbell (I say “if you must” because runners have literally been hearing cowbells for 18 miles and they, um, can get a little old but hey, the sentiment is still appreciated!).
For these last several miles, through East Sac and Midtown, the runners draw their energy not from another pack of Gu energy gel but from YOU. I remember how much I enjoyed seeing Pat standing at the end of his street in Midtown with a big “glad it’s you and not me” grin on his face as I plodded past, or my kids towards the finish line, dodging in and out of the spectators yelling out “Go dad!”
And in return..? You might get something from them: inspiration. Not necessarily from the elite runners finishing in two or three hours: they’re machines, freaks of nature and while they are definitely fun to watch, to me the real heroes are the folks who are finishing in four or five or six hours. These are the “normal” folks–folks with average physical skills, who’ve juggled training and jobs and families for the past four and a half months and who are grinding it out for a myriad of reasons–to see if they can do it, to celebrate overcoming an illness, to honor (as I did in 2012) a friend or family member who’s passed away. To me, they’re the ones to really be impressed with because they prove that there is so much we can do if we just dedicate a little bit of time and our hearts to it.
For more on the run, click here. And good luck to ALL RUNNERS!!