Gym Classy Lady: My Strange Fascination With Watching Other People Run Marathons

DC Marathon

I spend a good amount of time explaining that I am not, in fact, being sarcastic whenever I say anything nice. But despite being a snarky, sarcastic lady most of the time, I’m actually highly sentimental—and never does my highly sentimental side come out so much as the first Sunday each November. No, it’s not post-Halloween nostalgia; in New York, that first Sunday is marathon day. And nothing warms my cold black heart like standing on the sideline, watching (and cheering) while people achieve something for which they worked months.

I have no allegiance to the sport of running (I should link here to all of my past posts but you read them, right?). I wasn’t on the track and field team in high school. I have never run more than six miles in a row, and even that was a fluke. My strange fascination with watching marathons started seven years ago, when I was meeting a friend for brunch and we picked a place on First Avenue, on the Upper East Side.

Unbeknownst to me, that was mile 17, where New York Marathon runners first enter Manhattan off the Queensboro bridge—one of the marathon’s most popular spectating spots. When I rounded the corner to First Ave, I saw throngs of people, six deep in some spots. People with signs, noisemakers, costumes, screaming for their friends, shouting names of complete strangers. It was like Mardi Gras… a strange, healthier, alternate-universe Mardi Gras.

After brunch, my friend and I stood cheering for the runners for a bit and I was caught up in the pure emotion of the day. New York gets a reputation for being, uh, not the friendliest place. And while I don’t always agree with that, there’s something about Marathon Sunday that makes New York so much more approachable and small town-esque.

Since that year, I’ve tried to never miss a Marathon Sunday. I’ve known friends, coworkers, guests from out of town running in the race and I’ve always tried to find them on the course and scream their names, much to the surprise of some.

If you’re still reading (yay!), you’re probably wondering why this topic is coming up now, when the marathon is in November. What’s next, you’re thinking, a football post in March? Whoa there, killer. Let’s not be so sarcastic.

Anyhow, as I was saying before so rudely interrupted: Over President’s Day Weekend, I traveled to Austin, Texas, with my fiance. Let’s call him Chris (because that’s his name). Chris and I traveled to Texas for many reasons, one of which being that his entire family decided to come together and run the Livestrong Austin Half Marathon. Yes, these are the people behind the famed Mount Rainier debacle. They’re also extreme sports enthusiasts who ran a 50-mile race last year. 50 miles. Without stopping (I mean, except to pee and eat). Voluntarily. No, I didn’t realize people did that either. Yes, I CAN imagine the blisters, though.

Suffice to say, Chris’ family enjoys the extreme sports and for some contingent of them, a half marathon was just another morning jog. But other, less-extreme family members joined in the training efforts; ultimately  they had seven people at the start line for the Half that Sunday morning, including Chris.

So guess who got up at 6am with them, ready to cheer?

Although the crowds in Austin didn’t quite compare to New York (something about having 10 times as many people), and the first few miles of the race pretty desolate at 7:30 a.m., the spirit was there. After catching everyone in the first few miles for a quick boost of confidence (and almost being run over by one of Chris’ very excited brothers), we headed to the finish line, which was the same for the Marathon and Half Marathon finishers. We got to see the first few guys finish the Marathon, having run 26.2 miles in just over two and a half hours. And we were there to see the first women finisher, who got the biggest cheer from the crowd.

But for our little group of spectators, the most important thing was to cheer for the people jogging up, in varying degrees of pain. They were clearly struggling, but persevering nonetheless. We would tell them the finish was 400 meters away and it was all downhill. Which was true! We didn’t even have to lie to get them to keep going! And I like to think that for those runners who knew us, the seven members of Chris’ family, seeing us made them a little happier, eased their pain just a bit. Of course, after the fact, they told us it did and that it was really great to see us on the course supporting them. But they were hungry and I wasn’t driving them home until they told me what I wanted to hear, so you know.

fitness inspiration

It’s a weird little world, this marathon watching thing. You wake up early and go stand on a corner and scream stranger’s names to encourage them to keep going, to endure the pain for the finish line, and somehow, you’re left inspired. By a bunch of sweaty people, who do strange things like eat salt tablets and roll their muscles out with a piece of foam. But somehow, it’s insanely fun and rewarding. I feel weird even explaining my enthusiasm for something so random to all (five) of you. But then, people go to volleyball games and rugby scrums and even badminton matches. So it’s not really that weird, right?

What about you? Do you find inspiration somewhere random? Do you love watching races, despite not running in them?

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