Thank God for Spectators

Posted on April 19, 2013. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |


I passed the family twice.  A little boy sitting in the yard with his parents, watching runners file by.  His dad held a cup of coffee. All three clapped periodically, yelled words of encouragement.

Last Saturday’s 10K was a double 5K loop through a hilly neighborhood. This family was just one of many to spend their morning rooting for strangers.  The second time around, I looked for them.  I was hot and needed support.  When I saw the little boy, I ran faster, glad he was there.

Two days later, I thought of them again when I heard about the horrendous bombing of the Boston Marathon.  Like many this week, I’ve struggled to make sense of it.  I can’t.

I have tried to imagine what it was like from the perspective of the runners, the spectators.  Any way I come at it, I am baffled, to say the least.

I have never been a race spectator.  I come to races to run, to compete, to enjoy the course, the day.  In almost every event I’ve entered, at some point as I’m passing spectators I’ve wondered, what are they doing here?

A running event is not like most other spectator events. There’s not a lot of action to follow, no rules to figure out, not even a separate, designated space for the athletes to compete.  Sure there’s a course, but it’s not for runners only. Anyone can jump in at any time and run with a friend or a stranger, cheer that person on.

(And thank God for that.)

Running is a relatively simple sport.  You go from over here to over there and, in some events, it’s really far.  So what’s there to see?

People line the streets in a race and practice random acts of kindness—passing out orange slices, hosing down runners when it’s hot, cheering on complete strangers—because they are inspired by what runners do.  They come out to see the face of endurance.

Running may be a simple sport, but it’s one that requires a tremendous amount of determination.  Perseverance.  Sometimes, a sheer act of the will to push the body places you did not think it could go.  It’s a sport that is simultaneously solitary and sociable.  Every runner is alone with her own mind and body, yet leans on the community that has gathered to help push her along.

Spectators at a race can get close enough to every single competitor to look endurance right in the eye.  They get to witness people reaching a difficult goal, one that takes time, hard work, and self-discipline to achieve.  How could that not be inspiring?

As it is for the runners who see and hear complete strangers yelling for them.  Their energy is like a magnet, pulling you ahead faster and stronger than you would be if they were not there.

Who are these people? They show up in the heat or the cold, stand around for hours on end, lose their voice from yelling encouragement.  The people who show up for races are the people who show up for you in life.  You know that you can count on them to see you through darkness and pain, or happiness and light.  They will be there, urging you along.

Tomorrow Girls on the Run of Bexar County will hold our end-of-the-season 5K.  There will likely be more spectators than girls.  We get to witness their determination and see it blossom into confidence when they cross the finish line.

I suspect some of them will be running for those who could not finish the race in Boston.  All of them will run, buoyed along by the people who will line the way and not let even one of them fall.

So we join the community of runners in our determination to support each other, and to run.


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All the best tomorrow!


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