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Things We Actually Like

Go Watch A Road Race Even If You Don’t Know Anyone In It

A man runs today’s Philadelphia Marathon in the Missing: Ben Simmons t-shirt, as a light from God himself shines down on him (or maybe it was just the sun).
Dan McQuade/Defector

I never want to run a marathon. I was a competitive, if not all that good, runner through my childhood and I continue to run, much more slowly, as an adult. I have made a deal with an old teammate to do a 5K with him next fall, but that’s about the extent of the type of racing I’d like to do now. Post-the age of 21 I have maxed out at around 11 or 12 miles for a run, and I haven’t hit those distances in a long time. Two summers ago, a spreadsheet tells me, I did a six-mile run. I have no memory of this. That seems so long. Too long.

But one thing I do really like doing is watching a marathon—any road race, really, but for some godforsaken reason the marathon is one of the more popular ones. I love it! For years I lived in Center City Philadelphia and I was able to walk a few blocks from my place to watch the marathon go by just before mile six. Now I live in a different part of Philadelphia, and I can watch the marathon go by just before mile 18. On my wedding day two years ago, I watched the marathon go by from the 20th floor of a hotel. Pretty neat!

It’s really fun to go up close and cheer people on. Usually I see a few friends pass by while doing the marathon. I didn’t see any this year. But who cares! I saw a guy in a really good homemade “Schuylkill” running top. I saw a woman running in what appeared to be a designer horizontal-striped shirt. I saw a man running in an authentic Pittsburgh Penguins jersey. I did not see anyone dressed as Forrest Gump this year, but it was sunny this year and it was a little hard to see. My wife Jan eventually joined me, and finally there was someone there to hear my quips.

The current course turnaround in the Philadelphia Marathon is at the “OVARIAN CANCER—BE VIGILANT” mural.

All of this was fun. It’s energizing to see runners go by. First it’s the push-rim wheelchair athletes, doing something that I would consider impossible. Then it’s the elites, the people who are going at nearly five-minute mile paces—another feat that is difficult to comprehend. (A 24-year-old Kenyan who lives in Minnesota, Mike Chesire, won this year’s marathon in 2:13:28, or a 5:05 pace-per-mile.) Seeing someone run this fast in a freaking marathon really makes me want to run! It makes me happy. It makes me think of my own races, of my own lifelong love of running. I’m not going at five-minute-mile pace when I pick things up toward the end of a run, but it’s that same feeling: You push through the tiredness and find an extra gear. These people just are way better at it than I am.

But you don’t have to be a runner yourself to enjoy this, I don’t think. Once the elites and the top hobbyist runners go by, the marathon is just a ton of people running their own races, for their own reasons. It’s fun to watch. Some people are happy and some are tired. Some are kids and some are old. Some are tall and some are short. I am always amazed; despite running my whole life, I am no match for any of these people in running at a long distance. I cheer for people wearing tops of local schools (yes, even Villanova) or for running club names I recognized. I even cheered for the guy in the Penguins jersey today. I mean, that’s quite a costume.

Plus, yeah, some people going by are hot. They do not necessarily look their best by mile 18, but that is also a factor.

It doesn’t have to be a marathon, though. It could be a 5K or a 10-miler or whatever is near your house. But get up early in the morning and go watch some runners. I guarantee you’ll have a good time. (Note: Not a guarantee.)