Thoughts About Running
By Madeleine Cummings The Art of Spectating
It’s a question every runner faces often: “So, you’re a runner? Have you run a marathon?” I give the same answer every time: “No, but I’d like to someday.” Most of the reasons why I’m not ready to run 42.2 kilometres involve fear. There’s the fear my injury-prone body might break down, the fear of not running fast enough, fear of “the wall,” poor race conditions and pain. Until I face these fears, I know there’s a huge part of the sport I’m not experiencing. Attending a marathon as a spectator is a great way to get a taste of what it takes to run the distance, but in the past I have always done so with a few friends in mind. I stake out a spot on the course, cheer for a minute or two, and then bike to the finish line. It’s the laziest form of cheering – one step above watching a livestream and scrolling through Twitter in bed. If you go to any major marathon, you’ll find people who cheer for runners for six or seven hours. Some are volunteers at aid stations, but others have no affiliation with race organizers. They cheer because they love the energy at marathons and they care about everyone who crosses the line. Back in March, I read about a 70-year-old woman named Rosalie Ann Vigil, who has been encouraging runners at a 10k in Colorado from the same street corner since 1979. Vigil, who is known by locals as “Ms. Tutu,” waves signs, dances and cheers using a megaphone. She used to be a runner, but said she has never laced up for this particular race because she’s too busy entertaining.
Canadian races have their own hometown heroes who go out of their way to cheer everyone on.
Hamilton’s Around the Bay Road Race has “Tim the Grim,” a man in a Grim Reaper costume who haunts a spot near a cemetery towards the end of the race. Many runners stop to take photos with him and for some, seeing him on the course is a highlight of the race.
“I can honestly say that finding you there was even better than crossing the finish line,” wrote one runner on his Facebook page.
Toronto’s Mike Kolatschek, 44, started spectating seriously at Around the Bay in 2010, when he dressed up as Superman and stationed himself at the top of the Valley Inn Hill. “Mike the Sign Guy” is best known for cheering runners near the Princes’ Gates during the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. He once dressed as a beer bottle with a big sign that read, “Ready for me yet?” Though he used to have a passion for running road races, he prefers to be on the sidelines now and says he feeds off the energy of the runners who pass him. Kolatschek arrives 45 minutes before the gun time and stays until the very end of the race. He’ll stay even if it’s pouring rain and his signs have disintegrated. At 6'4", Kolatschek is hard to miss, and runners go out of their way to give him a high-five. Some runners have even thrown themselves into his arms. “There’s no magical recipe to being a good spectator,” he insists. “It’s just the will to share an experience and it’s showing your support for those who are running.” If a marathon isn’t in the cards for me this year, I’ve committed to work on my spectator game. We can all learn a lot from people on the sidelines.
Madeleine Cummings is an Edmonton-based journalist. This fall, she’ll put her writing skills to good use by coming up with some clever signs for local races.
LEFT Hydration followed by encouragement at the Ottawa Marathon