Runners of next Saturday's inaugural Blue Ridge Marathon will need some pep talk. Here are some ideas to help them tough out a brutal run. Running a marathon may seem like a solitary, even lonely, accomplishment, but it really rests upon the aid of friends, family, and a bunch of complete strangers.
Saturday, April 17, 2010
I'm not fast.
So don't get the wrong idea when I tell you I've run three marathons. I'm no great athlete. It doesn't take a great athlete to run a marathon, just a patient, committed one.
And if you can pull it off, running a marathon can change your life. Your whole notion of what you're capable of is exploded.
That's going to be especially true for those who complete the mountainous gut check that is the inaugural Blue Ridge Marathon on the Blue Ridge Parkway next Saturday.
If you want to give the runners encouragement up and down the tough miles of Mill Mountain or Roanoke Mountain, get an early start and be prepared to stay awhile. Fishburn Parkway and other mountain sections will be closed from 7:30 to 10 a.m.
But here's the truth of it: Running a marathon may seem like a solitary, even lonely, accomplishment, but it really rests upon the aid of friends, family, and a bunch of complete strangers.
Many are race volunteers who staff water stops and keep traffic off the course.
But many more are people who just show up to watch -- especially if they know how to be a good marathon spectator. Sure, you could just holler encouragement while making asides to your neighbor about the insanity of those running by. But you could also do so much more.
Roanokers don't have much experience at this kind of thing. So, I thought I'd pass on some wisdom that will help runners in the Blue Ridge Marathon feel as much love and support in this inaugural race as in any other -- and hopefully, a lot more.
IF YOU KNOW A RUNNER
Your spectating strategy might depend on why you're out there. If you don't have a friend or family member in the race, maybe you just want to park yourself in one spot and watch it all go by.
But if you want to really support a special runner or two, find ways to see them pass by more than once. Runners will cover the Roanoke River Greenway by Rivers Edge Sports Complex twice, for example, so you could just stay there.
Better yet, move around. Watch your runner pass by on the greenway, then maybe head up into South Roanoke and shout encouraging words along Avenham Avenue (the tail end of a long, steady climb from miles 17 to 19) then head back down to the greenway.
Give 'em something to think about
Tell your runner where to look for you on the course, make an inspiring sign that will also help them spot you, and have a fresh, cold water bottle or a snack for them when they get there. In a race like this, the thought of seeing someone you care about, if you just keep going, can be enough to keep you going.
Get there early to see the mountain stages
If you just want to see those nuts run up Mill Mountain or Roanoke Mountain, or you want to give runners encouragement in these tough, uphill miles, get an early start and be prepared to stay awhile. Fishburn Parkway and other mountain sections will be closed from 7:30 to 10 a.m.
Make yourself heard
Call out to particular runners by shouting their bib number. Some will have their names on their shirts just for you to call them out. Don't be shy.
IF YOU WANT TO BE A HELPFUL SPECTATOR
This marathon has an impressive 19 water stops along the way, but there's still not always one there when you need it. It's not uncommon for folks who live along a race route to set up a card table, a garden hose and some Dixie cups in their driveway.
You don't have to limit yourself to water, either. I've accepted sliced oranges, bananas, jelly beans and hard candy (and once, 22 miles into the race, a beer. But that's not necessarily recommended). Just hold it out as they pass, and they'll grab it if they feel the urge.
Be a hoser
If it's a hot day, haul your garden sprinkler out to the roadside and turn it on for runners to pass through. A brief, cooling mist can give a runner terrific relief. You don't want to soak them, because wet clothes are heavy and they lead to chafing. But a mist helps cool the skin and evaporates quickly, which adds to the cooling effect.
Dust off that "Rocky" soundtrack
In my first marathon, I was at mile 21, beat down and battling a headwind, when suddenly I heard it: the theme from "Rocky." It was faint and almost mystical at first, but it grew louder with each step.
Suddenly, my pace was picking up, the music pulling me along. It turned out to be coming from a lonely boom box on a lawn chair at the end of a driveway, with yards of orange extension cord trailing back to a garage. Music can be incredibly uplifting to a runner, so get out your boom box and make a playlist or mixed CD of songs to inspire the crazies as they plod by.
Make it a happening
If you're gonna be out in the yard blasting music, well, you might as well have company. Get the friends and neighbors over and have a breakfast party on the lawn so you can all holler at the loonies together. Bloody Marys and mimosas? Well, that's up to you.
Don't quit on the stragglers
The fastest runners will probably be done with a course like this in less than three hours. The slowest will be out there pushing themselves for twice that long -- or longer. Don't pack up early and leave them lonelier than they already are out there bringing up the rear.
Stay on the sidelines
A favorite marathon memory: A half-mile from the finish of the Marine Corps Marathon, a horrible race for me in what became withering heat by the end, I was starting to cramp in my right calf but was determined not to walk across the finish line.
I was gritting my teeth, pushing on, eyes barely open, when suddenly I became aware of someone in front of me. It was a total stranger who had run onto the course to scream in my face, "GUT IT OUT!"
I owe that guy. I did gut it out and finish that race running. That said, such behavior is not encouraged. Know your place, know your role. Leave the course to the runners.
Watch for those in trouble
A marathon is achievable for more people than you might imagine, but it's not easy, and there are serious health risks involved, from dehydration to heart problems. The marathon organizers will have medical staff available, but they can't keep an eye on hundreds of runners strung out over many miles.
So, if you see a runner struggling, don't hesitate to help them to the curb and call 911.