Ten things I learned at my first marathon

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my first marathon (and hers).  On Saturday, March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, I was an honored spectator as my daughter ran the SunTrust Rock’n’Roll marathon in Washington DC.  I thought I’d share a few things I learned from that event.

1.Marathons require intense concentration and focus, which is exhausting.  Oh, sure, you’ve heard that from runners,  but let me just tell you, spectating isn’t a cakewalk, either. It was not easy figuring out the best place to stand while holding my sign so she could see it, making sure the camera was ready to get good shots, listening for the text message to give me an idea when she’d crossed the five-mile line, all the while avoiding the annoying woman who insisted on moving with me, stepping in front of me whenever I got myself just so.

Fifteen minutes of this and I was ready to carb up.

2. Marathon-watching is a fantastic pastime for those of us who live up inside our heads.  The characters pass by you quicker than a simile that fails to come to mind because I am busy trying to remember all the wonderful images I want to write down.  Even better when the marathon takes place on a drinking holiday.  Granted, at 9 in the morning, only a few people were under the influence, but you should have seen some of the outfits.  I haven’t seen so much green hair since the year my seventh-graders went through that Lime Jello hair dye fad.

Not everyone went with the St. Patrick’s Day theme, although I started to feel bad about my sign when I realized there were leprechauns in the race.  Captain America zoomed by, as did a guy who looked exactly like a real-life GI Joe, in fatigues with a backpack. The backpack had a Union Jack, so I don’t think he was promoting a movie, but he could have been. EXACTLY like GI Joe. I swear! There were a few people in street clothes (armed robbers making a getaway?), and one guy juggled the whole way through.

3. Spectator positioning is important.  When you stake a spectator position just after the banana station, people throw banana peels at you.  At first I just figured  I look like somebody’s mother. I AM somebody’s mother. I have years of practice taking responsibility for other people’s food waste. After a while, the peels started piling up and I realized I was not being singled out.  I don’t know that this lesson helps anyone except my monkey readers, but there you go.

4.  Spectators are fun. Non-spectators are more fun. The sideline of a St. Patrick’s Day race  is one place where bagpipes absolutely belong.  As do human bananas and people in chicken costumes.  The bagpipes I get. The bananas I sort of get. The chicken not so much, but how can you not love  a person in a chicken costume on K Street?

Not everyone on the sidelines is a spectator. Annoying Woman was actually trying to cross the road, which she eventually did by just jumping in front of runners, like George Costanza in the Human Frogger episode of Seinfeld.

This is where those of you who haven’t already picked up on it come to realize that  I’m not always a nice person, because secretly I was hoping she’d be scooped up by a group in lime green tutu’s with matching hair and they’d just send her off in a crowd-surf until she unintentionally “ran” an entire marathon.  But then she’d have blogged about it or gone viral on YouTube or something and she didn’t deserve that fame, so I decided to summon nicer me and hope for her safe journey to the other side of the road.

5. Crossing the road in a marathon might be a sport of its own.  I’m pretty sure Annoying Woman was just annoying, but I noticed others taking the Human Frogger approach that seemed to have a finesse about it. If you’re an ocean swimmer, you know there’s a technique to getting through the crashing waves to get out to swimming water.  Same sort of deal.

There were a bunch of amateurs who just hung around waiting for a lull in the race when they could make a dash without causing runners to avoid them.

Nice, thoughtful people are rarely entertaining, so let’s move along.

I know what you’re thinking, but let me clarify: the human chicken did not at any time attempt to cross the road.

6.  Whoo-Whoo Girls provide an important public service on marathon day.  I am not a Whoo-Whoo Girl.  I am a quiet girl.  Sometimes I like being around Whoo-Whoo Girls, because they are entertaining. At some point, whether due to excessive alcohol consumption,  time exposure, or both, Whoo-Whoo Girls lose their entertainment value for me and I seek stasis. I wear out easily.That did not happen today.

Eventually I found a perfect spot near an Extreme Whoo-Whoo Girl, a cute, peppy blonde with a bright green sign and a megaphone.  As you know, I am all about the “Yay, You’s,” but they’re usually delivered quietly sometimes even just with a wink or a smile or a light touch of the hand, which are way too subtle for marathon cheering. Plus, winking at strangers can be hazardous, even if they are whizzing by you and you’ll likely never see them again. And I don’t think you’re supposed to touch them unless you know them.

So, I surfed on Whoo-Whoo Girl’s enthusiasm and good looks. She was awesome:  “Good Job, Runners!!” and “Whoo-Whoo!!” reverberated non-stop. She waved her sign, She spun around. Male runners dashed over to high-five her.  This drew all the attention I needed to catch her eye, so she could see my masterpiece.

I liked Whoo-Whoo Girl. She’s good people.  When the banana peels started to pile up, she added “Safety First, Runners!! Watch Out For the Banana Peels!!” to her repertoire.

Yay, you, Whoo-Whoo Girl. Yay, you. ::wink/smile/light touch::

(I didn’t take her picture because it has been my experience that it’s best not to engage a Whoo-Whoo Girl unless you want to become a co-Whoo-Whooer. Anyone who knows my friend <name deleted for my own safety and well-being> knows what I mean. Fortunately, the marathon had an Official Whoo-Whoo Girl.)

Official Whoo Whoo Girl greets marathoners at the finish line.

7.  I am quite possibly the world’s worst photographer,  marathon spectator, and, let’s face it: mother. After all this effort to work around Annoying Woman and align myself with Whoo-Whoo Girl, what was I doing when I heard, “MOM!!!”?

I have no idea.

I do know that I did not have my camera fixed on my daughter. By  the time I remembered that I am somebody’s mother and realized that voice was familiar and I wasn’t being pelted with banana peels, I gathered myself enough to see her happy face whizzing by me.

Fumble, fumble, fumble.  I snapped a shot (that didn’t come out well) and all I could say was, “Oh. Oh. Oh!!!!” Not even enough time to turn to Whoo-Whoo Girl for backup.


8. There’s a Krispy Kreme on Dupont Circle.  How has this escaped my attention?   You may be thinking that doesn’t really qualify as a “lesson learned from my first marathon,” but I wouldn’t have known it otherwise. So, yes. Yes,  it does.

9. The Lucky Bar needs a proofreader. You might want to go there when you’re feeling lucky, because you’re probably taking your chances. They don’t appear to be what you might call detail-oriented.  Again, would I know this if I hadn’t strolled up to Dupont Circle to check out the band at the SunTrust cheer station?  No, I would not. Please see above.

Gimme an ‘e’…

10. When you cross the finish line, remember to smile.  After my daughter  passed by my office, I walked up to Dupont Circle and checked out the sights, listened to a rockabilly band, proofread all the bar signs, and meandered back to write 1-9, above. I also had time to chat with a colleague, take a restroom break, have a cup of hot cocoa, write some post-it notes to myself about the stacks of paper on my desk that I should maybe one day look into.

Spectating is exhausting. Good music helps.

 When I got the automated  text message that she’d passed the  20 mile mark, I took the Metro over to the finish line.  It was hot and I was tired and my feet hurt.  When she crossed that finish line, she was hotter, more tired, and her feet looked probably as bad as they hurt, but she had her characteristic smile on her face.  I love that smile.

Yay, you, Marathon Girl. Yay, you. :-)

20 thoughts on “Ten things I learned at my first marathon

  1. OH, this was one of your best, hippie! Only you could make watching a marathon so darn enjoyable. I’ve had plenty of practice spectating at marathons, being the sort who’d never spend that much time in running shoes following a bunch of people. And it’s the only time I come out of my introvert shell and be a Whoo-hoo girl. Yep. I whoo-hoo and yell all the things one is supposed to as a way of showing support. In May here, they hold the Robie Creek race. The start runs right past my house. I yell Whoo-hoo a lot, but I also shriek, “Get off my plants!” This year I’m turning the sprinklers on. Some spectators just have no manners…


    • Your complexity and depth are what I like so much about you: sensitive artist, loving dog person, passionate politico, and now whoo-whoo girl and grumpy old man. Yay, you, J! Yay, you. :-)


  2. that was really funny. I am not a lover of the Whoo Whoo, but this blog made me want to get up and tell a whoo whoo for you. Which means you are a good writer or you will force my wife to divorce me since she is more anti-Whoo then me or you. I think this could make a Dr. Seuss book. “Who Hates More the Whoo Whoo, Me or You.

    OK, I’m going to stop now.


  3. I wish I’d been there instead of at the Fitzgerald Wild Chicken Festival. Sounds like you saw more chickens than I did!

    Way to go, Katy! When your Mom finally does go totally whoo-whoo, you’ll be there to defend her in court. Brush up on your insanity defense and wear your sneaks. :-)


  4. You were my first supporter on the course, and it was SO exciting to see you! Seeing you at the finish line helped keep me running the last few steps. As Steve and I approached (walking :( ), he said, “Your parents are up there waiting to cheer for you and the straggler bus is coming right behind you, so you’re going to have to run now.” I loved the sign, and thanks for the beer hat; it was a great post-race accessory to hide my disgusting hair and became a useful ice pack holder later in the day.


    • I will remember to bring a beer hat to every marathon you run. You made it look easy and fun. I know it was neither of those, but isn’t it great that you did it? Yes, yes it is!

      [Just to clarify, by "Steve," she is not referring to my stinkbug mascot (http://wp.me/p1wS2d-5b). She is talking about her sweetheart, who is . . .well, a sweetheart.]


  5. There’s an automated runner-tracker service that you can sign up for before the race. They implant a microchip in each runner put an ankle bracelet on each runner and when they pass certain milestones, it sends a text alert telling you where they are along the route and what their pace time is. Pretty nifty.

    You might have coined a new term there, or is that already out there on celeblogs?



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