Mind Your Marathon Manners

The Chicago Marathon is only a few days away. Elite and average runners have been training for this 26.2 test of will for months. As someone who has run Chicago twice and as a veteran of numerous half-marathons, 10 and 5 K's, this is good time to review our manners for the event.

I am certainly not in the elite category. Even though several of my non-runner friends have observed that 'running kills brain cells, I keep running because I believe the opposite is true. Research shows that exercise enhances brain power. But to non-runners, the thought of running 26.2 miles for 'fun' is incomprehensible. At times, it was incomprehensible to me, too. During an office visit with my doctor, I mentioned I had run 10 miles earlier that day. He looked at me quizzically and asked, "Don't you have a car?". That is pretty much the typical response. But, for those of us who understand the agony of the feat/feet, this is a good time to remind first-timers and veterans alike of a few things to keep in mind as you run toward your goal.

If you are running Chicago for the first time, be prepared for well-meaning friends trying to talk you out of it. Setting a goal as difficult as running a marathon is a challenge. You don't need to listen to the nay-sayers. If running a marathon were easy, they would do it, too. Instead, they will complain about the traffic October 11. Some of them might ask if you are worried about your knees as you get older. I suppose you could ask them if they are concerned about the effect the extra 20 pounds they are carrying might have on their knees, but that could sound snarky. They will also ask if you are nervous. Yes, you probably are, and thank them for pointing that out for probably the 100th time.

Runners, please try to mind your manners as you run. Find you pace 'lollypop' and line up accordingly. The marathon is tough enough, so assuming you will take even one minute/mile off of you pace may be unrealistic. Instead, take the advice of experts: Start slow and taper. Certain bodily functions must be addressed, so if you have to spit, please look to see if someone is coming up behind you. The same is true for any other fluids. Many runners will need to clear their noses during a run: please look before you honk. Remember to think of others when you are pulling over to the water/nutrition stations. Any sudden cuts could be disastrous. At the water stations, look before you toss the water over your head to cool down; or before you throw your cup away. Seriously, do you have to be reminded about the dangers of discarding banana peels, orange rinds or gel packets? At another race this summer, the woman ahead of me actually raised her hand to 'signal' her intention to pull over. That made it easier for me step to the side as I passed. Say 'thank-you' to the volunteers. They got up early, too, to provide support so you could meet your goal. Thank the police who provide crowd control. Thank the crowd.

Spectators, thank you for coming. You honestly don't know how much your presence, cheering and noisemakers mean. While running the Oak Brook Half Marathon in September, students from high school track teams held up signs of encouragement. My favorite: "I don't know who you are, but you are awesome!". That made me smile as it boosted my morale. Since names will be on the runners' bibs, it really does mean something when you call out our names. High fives are also appreciated, but be careful not to endanger the runners behind you. But, what else to call out? This is tricky; you want to be supportive, but sometimes comments are counterproductive. You might think "I'm lookin' good", but trust, me I've looked better. Please don't tell me 'You're almost there", unless I can see the 26 mile marker!

Let's address the use of cell-phones during the marathon. Unless you are the lead surgeon for a transplant team awaiting a life-saving organ to become available, you don't need to make or receive calls during the marathon. As hard as it might be, you can be out-of-touch for the duration of the race. During a recent half-marathon, I was forced to dodge around runners who stopped dead in their tracks in the middle of the course to turn around and capture the hordes of runners in front and behind them. 45,000 runners signed up for the marathon, be considerate of them. Honestly, you and your best friend don't need to take a selfie. At the start, maybe. At mile 15, no. Even as you cross the finish line, resist the urge to take out your phone. There will be plenty of professional photographers who will capture the moment. For the sake and safety of the 44,999 other runners, don't stop to take a picture.

Friends and family: thank you for your patience as we embarked on a training program to get us to the START line. It was hard; it did take sacrifices from you, too. You had to listen to us plan our long runs, evaluate new shoes or the merits of gels, beans and chews. When we are finished, you might have to watch us take off bloody socks or shirts. Bleeding nipples or black toenails are real side effects of long distance running. We know that, and we are willing to put up with the discomfort. Yes, you will be forced to relive the experience with us as we tell our stories. Co-workers will also have to put up with us. But, honestly, we just ran 26.2 miles. And, let me tell you from experience, that .2 is a killer! Congratulate us; tolerate our stories; support us.

Runners, believe it or not, you will enjoy the experience. After my second marathon, I told everyone my mouth hurt more from smiling than my toenails. If you have been training for the marathon, you are ready. Believe in yourself. When you go out to dinner, look around the room and ask yourself, "How many of them could run 26.2 miles?". Congratulate yourself on meeting a challenge . . . and start to plan your next one.

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