Any major marathon, especially one like any of Competitor Group's Rock n' Roll series, has no lack of interesting stories and "did I just see?" moments. I'm lucky; as an average guy who has friends in high places, the perspective is a little different than the average race participant; I'm grateful to have friends who spread the tent wider when I'm in the mood to do a little bit of work. And when I'm injured, I'd rather be doing something constructive. Last time I got seriously "injured" was not long after I started doing triathlon, decided to tempt gravity one Sunday morning, and ended up writing blog posts like the one-armed bandit I envisioned myself to be for that six-week period of time.
An injured, rehabilitating runner often has two plans of action. The first and least effective plan is to go into isolation. It's less painful to avoid answering the "what happened?" and "how long will you be that way?" questions, but eventually we need to get out among those going "shanks' mare." I've said many times "running hurts; not running hurts more," it's easier to feel better while we are getting better by giving back to the community of which we are a part.
We were walking through the race expo at the New Orleans Convention Center to get my race staff credentials on Friday afternoon; I saw a slender gentleman with salt and pepper hair. I had one of those Darth Vader moments: 'a presence I haven't felt since...' Ah, but there are plenty of people in this life who look like someone else, so I shrugged it off. I almost said something to Suzanne, my wife; she probably would have told me to go catch him...trouble is he knows her better than he knows me. You see, Suzanne decided to have one last beer at the bar in the Hyatt in San Francisco after the RRCA convention two years ago. Frank Shorter was the banquet speaker that evening, and was holding court in the bar. He called out to Suzanne as she walked in, something along the lines of "where's your husband? Why didn't he come down?" Okay, I was tired of hanging out in my "misplaced college professor" attire.
Next morning, while walking into the staff hospitality area, I realize the gentleman I thought was Frank Shorter actually was. He was chatting with the elite and guest runners; he probably would have recognized my wife if she had been there. Again, like the last time I was close enough to say hello, I decided to not be a fawning fan. Many folks love to have those photo moments - I'm not one of them, for a couple of reasons. The first one is that it seems so contrived. I would much rather have sat with Shorter over a couple of beers and let him talk about Munich and "Pre" and how good we have it now in the highly-democratic era of participatory running, where all you have to do is have desire, the entry fee - and in some cases, a little luck - to get into most major races. The second one is I rarely prepare for the possibility. Travel light, travel fast; that's the code under which I live. Sea stories are more portable than scrimshaw.
Later on that afternoon, once the temperature had climbed from the mid-40s at 7 in the morning to somewhere closer to the mid-60s...and maybe a little higher, I marveled at the back-of-the-pack marathoners as they finished. All right, at least they made it to the starting line healthy and got to have their finish line moment underneath the oak trees in City Park. But I saw so many of them who looked like they prepared for a much colder day on the course. There were guys in sweats. There were guys in wind pants and warm-up pants. There were more ladies in CW-X tights than at which a person could shake a stick. And long-sleeved tops. And music headphones. At a Rock n' Roll series event. With bands at every mile...and impromptu entertainment added.
I talked with my wife and my athletes during the week before the race and recommended a few clothing items for race day. I even bought my wife a pair of arm-warmers at the expo, in the hope she would wear them instead of a long-sleeved top...which she did. She bought herself a pair of comfortable padded socks on the recommendation of her girlfriend, another one of my athletes, whose claim to fame is finishing the infamous 2007 Chicago Heat Wave, er, Marathon, before Carey Pinkowski finally shut the course down.
But, when I stood by and listened to some of the questions which were asked to the information desk volunteers at the expo, I couldn't help but wonder whether race participants are being spoon-fed and don't know how to prepare themselves for a race.
The Internet puts our location information out (on course) for our family to see where we are, not to mention weather forecasts for five or more days in advance, places where we can park without getting ticketed or towed, dates, times and locations for where we can pick up the information, which we also can download from parts of the same web page. We have mapping programs which provide elevation profiles we can download to our GPS units. And yet, we really prefer someone else to tell us exactly how to prepare and what to do.
Three-time Boston Marathon "bridesmaid" Juma Ikangaa said: "The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare." Maybe we don't want to find out how good we are? Is this so we can lay the responsibility for our shortcomings at someone else's feet? I'm not certain. Once again, as part of the democratic society we enjoy as runners, we are also saddled with the responsibility to use the freedom to run wisely. For me, running wisely is running prepared for the conditions, the natural and human terrain, and within our limitations.
After seeing many of those finishers, and hearing many of those questions, I cannot wait to get back into running again.