Last Sunday, I joined 25,000 other runners in the Go! St Louis running events. There were a fair number of spectators and many of them had witty and encouraging signs. The majority, it seems, were not targeted to any specific runner. The signs encouraged runners and reminded them to put things into perspective. There were the usual signs – “Remember, you paid to run this!” and “It is suppose to hurt!” There also were uniquely creative ones like the giant photo of Christopher Walken that simply said “No Walken.”
I chuckled at these signs and they, along with the cheers, did actually bolster my spirits along the way. After all, who doesn’t like to be cheered by complete strangers and read hopeful words? People shout positive praise and I wonder, “are they being really nice or do I just look that bad?!?” About mile 9, I thought how neat it would be if people randomly and unexpectedly encouraged each other on a daily basis. Could you imagine a weary mother of two restless toddlers getting acknowledged in a store, “Keep it up! You’re doing a great job! The pay-off from your hard work will be worth it.” To a student, a sign in school would read “You have worked hard to get to this level. Maintain your momentum.” Some days we all could use a boost.
In my first miles of marathons, the spectators make a huge difference to me. People cheer and I perk up a bit. At a certain point (usually mile 20) though, their words are ineffective and I have to find the strength within myself. Recalling the training runs, the discipline in diet, the sacrifice of time for running, and the past mileage completed, help me stagger on. Runners may train together but each person runs the race alone. That is why a marathon is a true test of one’s spirit; the strength has to be found within oneself.