Time for that ritual of pain

October 10, 2007|By KEVIN COWHERD

I covered the Baltimore Marathon for the first time more than 25 years ago, back when people running through the streets while police watched suspiciously from behind traffic barricades could still be a riot in progress.

That day, I watched an exhausted man with an ashen face stagger across the finish line. I went over to interview him. A TV reporter and cameraman from a local station were a few steps behind me.

When I reached the runner, he held up his hand, as if trying to catch his breath.

Then he slumped to his knees and threw up.

"What did he say?" the TV guy asked as we turned away.

"He said it was the greatest experience of his life," I said. "He said he wishes he could run another marathon right away."

I don't know whether they ran with that quote on the 6 o'clock news or not, but I always hoped they did.

Which brings us to this Saturday's Baltimore Marathon, when thousands of runners will again take to the streets in the annual ritual of pain that commences soon after that other annual ritual of pain known around here as baseball season.

For non-runners, of course, the eternal question is this: Why would anyone want to run 26.2 miles and subject their body to all that torture and then, if they haven't passed out from the pain or quit or whatever, puke their guts out when it's all over?

Which seems like a fair question.

Some do it because they love to run, some do it for the challenge, some do it as part of a cause, to support cancer research, say, or a police fund, or someone who's ill.

One thing's for sure: Race officials are hoping things go a little more smoothly here than they did in the Chicago Marathon last weekend.

Maybe you heard about that.

It was broiling hot that day, and at least a couple of officials considered calling off the race because of the conditions.

But they didn't, because they were afraid too many runners would be outraged.

So the race began on time, and pretty soon runners were dropping like flies -- one even died, although it was from a heart ailment, not the heat. And now you had outraged runners screaming at officials: "Why didn't you fools cancel the race? Someone's going to get hurt out here!"

Finally, so many runners were being overcome by the heat that officials did cancel the rest of the race.

Predictably, this outraged a whole other segment of runners who didn't want to leave the course.

"Why can't you just leave us alone and let us die of heat prostration if we want to?" they wailed, and just kept running.

Of course, these are the same type of people who are outraged anytime there's a new security precaution at the airports.

"Why can't you leave us alone," they whine. "What's the worst that can happen? A blast rips through the plane's fuselage and we plummet 30,000 feet and go SPLAT! into a cornfield? Big deal."

Yep, you just can't win if you're a race official.

Of course, not everyone is thrilled to have the marathon here, since it also involves road closures and traffic snarls that inconvenience motorists.

I have never run a marathon, but I ran plenty of 10K races where the roads were closed, and drivers stewed in their cars behind traffic barricades and shot us death stares as we ran past.

You see people watching you from their cars, and if you're new to running, you imagine they're thinking: Boy, isn't this great! All these people doing something healthy on a nice fall weekend! Maybe I should get in shape and join them!

But that's not what they're thinking at all.

No, what they're really thinking is this: I hope you all die. All you skinny people with your bony shoulders and pale legs and skimpy running shorts, I hope the Earth swallows you because you're making me late to get my coffee and doughnut at the 7-Eleven.

Anyway, the streets will be filled with runners this Saturday morning, and the rest of us should do our part and line the sidewalks and cheer them on.

I just hope they're not still at St. Paul Street by the time I get there, because that's where I go for coffee.

And I don't want to be sitting in my car with the street blocked off, muttering at all the runners like some crazy person.

They deserve better than that.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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