an athlete photographer's blog

The race is just the backdrop.

The running community has been a buzz the last two weeks with back to back international events, the Boston Marathon on April 20th and then the London Marathon on the 26th.  It’s hard not to walk away inspired.  But it’s not the race that inspires, it’s the people.

The Run
4.50 miles

The Picture

Kansas Farm

The Recap

Have you ever watched a race in person?

It’s very boring.  Wait for your runner to pass you, wait, wait.  Then there is the moment you’ve been waiting for, You see YOUR runner, Come On!  You can do it!  Great Job!  RUN, RUN, RUN!!  Keep it up!!  Your runner passes and you’ve left them with a feeling of joy and spurred them on.  You’re excited because they waved or acknowledged you.  You can tell you Helped.  Congratulations, you were a good fan.  Your reward?  Yep, waiting.  30 seconds of cheering, followed by wait, wait, wait, and maybe a move to the finish line where you again wait for your runner.  And of course when they show up you, CHEER, CHEER, CHEER, them to the finish and it’s over.

I think some fans get a little more into it than that, but from having my parents watch me run in high school and now having my husband and daughter watch me run as an adult, I will be the first to admit that running is not the greatest spectator sport, which is unfortunate because it isn’t boring for the runners and because having fans makes all the difference.  I love having my husband and daughter at a race.  It makes me feel like I’m not alone.

So if watching a 5K is bad enough, then why, oh why would anyone want to watch a marathon?  Nothing could be more boring.  Right?

There is a quote, “If you’re losing faith in human nature, go watch a marathon.”  For all of us mere mortals who will never stand on the professional stage, the race is just the backdrop.  The marathon is about the people; it’s their struggles, their victories, and their failures that draws in the crowd.  It is never just about the race.  It is always about the people.

Monday, April 20th was the Boston Marathon, which is THE pinnacle race for runners everywhere.  We couldn’t watch every minute, but I had it on in the background.  Of course watching the elites is pure inspiration – even my six year old was mesmerized.  These men and women maintain a 5-6 minute mile pace for 26.2 miles.  It’s insane.  It’s amazing.  It’s like watching the Olympics, you can’t help but get caught up in the surge of emotions.

I think my favorite part of watching the race was seeing Meb Keflezighi finish.  After the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, Meb came back to win in 2014 becoming the first American to win since 1983.  We were rooting for him.  He struggled.  He slipped from the main pack and it was clear he wasn’t going to have a repeat win.  We still cheered for him.  He was the second American man to finish, coming in 8th overall.  He knew all eyes (and cameras) were on him so as he came down the home stretched he started waving to the fans.  And then, since the women start 30 minutes before the men, Meb finished at the same time as amateur elite Hilary Dionne.  Did anyone know her before this?  I’m sure they did, but most didn’t.  He could have stolen the spotlight and just let her fade into the background, but he didn’t.  In a super classy, professional sportsman move, Meb grabbed her hand and they crossed together.  (You can read more about Meb’s race here.)

Photo from the Boston Herald

And THEN, six days later on Sunday, April 26 was the London Marathon, where Paula Radcliffe ran her goodbye marathon.  I can’t do this woman’s story justice by writing a tiny snippet, so I urge you to read the big before and after articles.  Here are the highlights: In 2003 at the London Marathon, Paula broke the women’s world record with a time of 2:15:25.  She holds this record by three minutes.  Then in 2012 at the London Olympics, she withdrew from the marathon due to a foot injury.  A bone graft and hours of rehab later she was back on her feet and relearning how to walk and run.  Finally, she was able to run and in early 2015, she announced this year’s London Marathon would be her last as a professional.  In the days prior to the marathon, the online running community came out in full force on social media with their #thanksPaula posts.

From reading the before race interview, it sounded like she was just trying to finish.  She wanted to have one last hurrah.  Her goodbye.  She didn’t even start with the elite runners, but instead started in the corrals with the “regular” runners.  I have no doubt the fans and onlookers were cheering her the whole way.  Of course, as Britain’s most famous runner, running on her home turf in the same race where she broke the world record, she did more than just finish.  She finished with a time of 2:36:55.  What’s even more awesome is that her time is still inside the IAAF qualifying standard for the 2016 Rio Olympics.  And I loved how one news article put her world record in perspective: The winning time for this year’s London Marathon was eight minutes slower than her world record.  Whoa.  #thanksPaula  (For the Pre-Race Article, click here; Post-Race Article, click here)

Photo from the London Standard

As a fan, you know your runner (unless they are really good) isn’t likely to win.  So why did you come to the race?  You came to watch and support YOUR person.  And somehow even when the person we are watching doesn’t win, they still inspire us.  How does that work?  Because although winning is great, there is more to competing than just winning.  Heroes that lose well embody the morals and values we admire: courage, commitment, grit, sportsmanship.  It was never just about winning and losing.  The race is just the backdrop.  It’s about the people.



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