A word for the fans

October 16, 2007

While the medals are fresh and the muscles still sore, a round of applause is due not only to the thousands of participants in Saturday's glorious marathon festival but also to the thousands more friends, family members and Baltimore neighbors who cheered the runners on.

Spectators contribute mightily to the success and enjoyment of long-distance races in ways even they may not understand. Their critical role cannot be overestimated.

At base, of course, they bear witness to the achievement. Running a marathon can be quite lonely; groups that start together typically scatter along the way as some members speed up and others falter. Near the end of a race, cheering fans - even strangers - allow the runner to share the experience.

The diversionary effect is invaluable - signs, music, costumes (see elsewhere on this page a shout-out to the Baltimore Hons cheering squad and the Swedish Fish High-Five Gang) - anything to offer a respite from the internal pain inventory and distance analysis. Can I make it? Am I there yet?

In Baltimore, as in other communities where the race course laces through residential neighborhoods, some generous souls set up their own goodie tables with fruit and sweets, or offer runners a cooling spray from the hose on their way past - a mental as well as physical boost.

Marathon spectators were put to the ultimate test during Chicago's sweltering fiasco earlier this month, and they passed brilliantly - nursing heat-challenged runners and even buying extra water for them when official supplies ran out.

On the downside, it must be observed that marathons don't always repay community support with kindness. More than a few Marylanders were grumbling yesterday about the inconvenience of blocking off Baltimore thoroughfares for much of a busy fall Saturday. Thus, as the Baltimore Marathon, now headed toward its eighth running, grows in popularity, organizers must take great care to minimize the disruption and publicize the road-closing schedule well in advance.

Runners have a huge stake in making sure the local community is not antagonized. It's probably possible to run 26.2 miles with no friendly faces along the way, but it wouldn't be any fun without the Hons.

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