Monday, March 22, 2010
For a day, marathoners make hockey players look like a bunch of pussies
I spent yesterday watching the Los Angeles marathon from a bunch of different places: the start, mile 12 in WeHo and between mile 23 in Brentwood and the finish line in Santa Monica. To make a long story short, I was going to participate in the race, but a knee injury sidelined me but I went anyway to cheer along a running buddy and to watch what I believe is one of the greatest spectacles in sport: the 26.2 mile footrace.
Once upon a time, I was a sportswriter. That job entailed watching pro athletes compete at the highest level of sport, often for great sums of money. It was fun. And it certainly gave me an appreciation for the pressure on professional athletes to not just give their best effort, but win. Always.
Marathons take that premise and stand it on its head. The vast majority of participants are not paid -- rather they pay to participate. Almost no one "wins" in the sense that they're the fastest. Except for family and friends, most of the racers are anonymous, with maybe their first name on their bibs. And, unlike pro athletes who compete often, marathoners typically train for hundreds of hours over many months, hoping it will pay off in a three- to six-hour span on race day.
And finally there is the issue of pain. All the smiles I saw on runners at the start were pretty much gone by mile 12. At mile 23, most runners looked like people who wouldn't even understand the concept of a smile. The mile marker corresponded with the end of a long, slow climb up San Vicente Boulevard -- when I arrived there on my bike it was just in time to see one young gentlemen sidle up to the grass median and projectile vomit for a spell.
After purging himself, the guy gave his head a shake -- like my dogs do -- gingerly stepped back onto the pavement, slowly turned west and resumed running. I wanted to cry. It was the most beautiful puke I've ever seen.
And that's it in a nutshell. There's no sensible reason to run a marathon, yet thousands do it for that precise reason and it makes a shitload of sense: it's a way for people to break themselves down and test every last shred of their mental and physical capacities (kind of like people in their 40s learning to skate and place ice hockey). I know runners get obsessed with their times, and I think it's worthy of their attention. But I also think the issue of time tends to obscure something more important: they put themselves on the line literally in front of a good chunk of the city.
By my count, four people I know ran in the race (all women, all in their 30s, btw). I know they're in various stages of pain today. While crawling around your respective domiciles and workplaces, I also hope they are insanely, prepostrously, dementedly filled with pride.