Sorry, Disney, but you got it wrong. The finish line of a marathon is the happiest place on earth. No where else will you see people who look like the walking dead more joyous.
This weekend I volunteered with the 25th Annual NCR Trail Marathon and 8k, which also serves as the Maryland RRCA State Trail Marathon Championship. It’s a great little marathon and was voted one of the best alternative marathons by Runner’s World several years ago.
I woke up early and was delighted to see heavy flurries on the drive in – it was festive and gorgeous but cleared out in time for the race to begin. It was cold, but the wind cooperated and didn’t whip up too often.
This year was the inaugural year for the 8k and I spent about an hour outside at the 8k finish line before my fingertips turned grey. The first gentleman to finish was a guy who has certainly won his share of races throughout the years (he’s well known as a speed demon in these parts!), but it was so amazing to see him break down in tears of joy after winning this one. I don’t know what was going through his head, and I don’t know that that’s important, but that right there, the unadulterated emotion, is why I love running.
For most of the day I was stationed at the bag check area with a guy I trained with this summer. I truly do believe the bag check is a great way for a non-marathoner to get the full sense of what it’s like to be a marathoner. The invincible sense of “anything’s possible” and the anxious nerves when the runners drop their bags off (and come back five times for things they forgot!) in the morning is electrifying, but that pales in comparison to the atmosphere after the race. Regardless of whether someone PRed or had the worst run of their life, the sense of accomplishment and jubilation that they just completed a marathon is infectious. Some people come bounding in, while others shuffle and a few opt to send an emissary to pick up their bags because they just can’t muster the strength to take another step. Regardless of what you look or feel like, the bragging rights are all the same.
I met a father-son team that had just run the Philadelphia Marathon on Sunday and decided on a whim to run the NCR Marathon four days later (and looked annoyingly fresh afterwards!), countless people running their first marathon, and a gentleman who had run two 50 mile races just this month before heading out for an easy 13.1 mile jaunt in the two-person relay.
As I wrap up 2014 and look towards marathon training this upcoming year, these are the experiences that I want to remember when the runs are tough and 26.2 miles seems far too daunting. No matter how it ends, all runners come together to celebrate, commiserate, and trade war stories, because whether you finish in 2:30 or 7:30, a marathoner is a marathoner is a marathoner.