This will be a different type of race report than the one I had originally planned to write. This is more of a rant-y one, a call-to-action. You’ve been warned.
The hubs and I ran the Mercedes Marathon this past weekend. This was my fourth year running it, and it is such a good race. Home turf, well-organized, full of friends, impressive medal and after party.
Originally, I was going to pace the hubs to a PR. But he had been battling bilateral Achilles tendonitis for a few weeks, and his ankles were obviously hurting. So my plan shifted to keeping him relatively uninjured and upright as he crossed the finish line.
Because of this, we ran/walked and finished in 5:32:47, making us back-of-the-pack runners. Now, I’m usually a midpack runner, so this race was a whole new experience for me and opened my eyes to some things that made my blood boil. As we were running the final miles of the race, a lot of organizations and spectators started to leave. Before all the runners had passed. The fuck?
The hubs was too mentally checked out at this point to really notice or care. But it fired me up for my good friend Rachel, who was a few minutes ahead of us and running her first marathon. She and all the runners around us were missing out on cheers and smiles of encouragement—all things runners need and appreciate while running 26.2 miles.
I want to make it perfectly clear that I’m not referring to the official water stops—they were still up and running and well-supported. You all rock! I’m talking about some of the cheer stations who were either packing up before our eyes or were long gone when we ran past on the second loop.
Do you know what message you give when you break down early? That slower runners don’t matter. That they don’t deserve the same enthusiasm and support and encouragement as faster runners. And that’s terrible. Back-of-the-pack runners are not any less of a competitor. They pay the same race fee, put in as much, if not more effort, and spend the longest amount of time on the course.
Put yourself in that runner’s position—you’ve spent hours on your feet, you’re cold, tired, hungry, wet. Despite all this, you’re excited to be out running and determined to finish the race. But there’s no one there to share your excitement with. The street where the music once blared is empty, the cowbells and cheers and funny signs missing, the faster runners long gone to the comfort of their hot showers. What a buzzkill.
To add insult to injury, at one point late in the race an acquaintance ran past me and asked what I was doing “all the way back here,” because I am “usually so speedy.” Right in front of the hubs and Rachel, who at that point were exhausted and giving 110%. I regret not swinging at said runner. It infuriates me that we’ve developed into such an elitist society that being “slow” is a bad thing. And. And! Who has the right to define what “slow” even is? AGH!
This is a huge reason why I gravitate toward trail running—there is no “slow,” and pace doesn’t matter. We’re all there to support each other. Runner #1 will win and hang around to wait for the DFL (dead fucking last) runner. The BUTS proved this unwavering support with their rocking aid station at Mile 10/23—right when struggling runners need an uplifting. The group was doing just as much singing, dancing, bubble-blowing, high-fiveing, and loving five hours into the race as they had been at the start of the race. And everyone appreciated it.
All cheer stations and spectators need to adopt this mentality. Right now. When you leave early, you are telling back-of-the-pack runners that they aren’t important. That their efforts aren’t worthy of celebration. That if they want support, they need to speed up. And that’s so wrong. If you’re going to go cheer at a race, do it right. Commit to the entire race. Don’t peace out when you decide the race is over.
I’m sure these people didn’t do it to be malicious. And I appreciate all cheer stations and spectators, I really do. It’s equally exhausting to be standing in sometimes crappy weather for hours handing out water and high fives and cheering until throats are sore. They make races fun and worth running. They can turn an entire race around.
But we can do better—we need to do better. Let’s show runner #5001 as much love as runner #101. Because in the end, we’re all running the same race.