By Karen Embree - What happens when 10,000-plus runners venture out for 26.2 miles, laughing, crying, eating, running and even whining together? It doesn't really matter where we travel to, what language is spoken, the color of skin, the age, size or shape of the people. A marathon is a marathon is a marathon. We become a united community for hours at a time. What made Dublin a delight and so unforgettable were the people (spectators and runners alike), the weather (sunny, cool and clear), the combination of rural and urban scenery, as well as the unique events that only happen when we all gather to experience the magnificence of committing to, working toward and completing a goal together.
Yes, we eat together. A feast in runner's language consists of Gatorade, Mars Bars, an occasional Jolly Rancher, a bite of orange, banana or peanut butter and jelly sandwich at mile 20 and even a few shoestring potato sticks with vinegar. Spectators handed out homemade snacks and runners carry their provisions in their waist packs.
The weather surely cooperated and this encouraged a steady stream of spectators. Every cheer and sign becomes a personal generic supportive gesture! "You are heroes" by the Aids Foundation group, "Whey hey" (our version of whoo hoo), "I love Linn" with a four-leaf clover attached to the name, even the Adidas billboard announcing, "Impossible is Nothing" provided the much needed visual boost mile after mile. A caring wave, a "Brilliant!" and "Well done!" greeting lifted our spirits in powerful ways.
We thought we'd spread a little American cheer ourselves! Steve purchased various postcards at home (Disney characters being the favorite) and wrote a return address on the back. I couldn't wait to watch those beautiful little Irish eyes smile when they held their Mickey and Pluto card in their little gloved hands. We are hoping to make some new pen-pal friends!
Long distance runners are especially sensitive to sights and sounds that characterize the marathon course. Dublin's marathon scenery boasted a variety of picturesque sights to behold. Majestic trees forming an autumn canopy as we ran through a residential district, ancient monuments, cathedrals and even the ominous Kilmainham jail lined the course. Acres of Phoenix parkland with its own Dublin zoo (all I saw was a sign for guinea pigs...) was a welcome sight indeed. The round Parliamentary building that houses the local government business led the way to the infamous wax museum (did you see that monster hanging from the stone rafter?) as well as the National Art Museum. Certainly Dublin has many interesting intriguing historical points to explore and we got a ring side seat for it all.
A marathon is, however, for the most part, a fraternity of sorts, a group drawn together somewhere between the experience of the Titanic and a team of Nasa space explorers ready to land on the Moon yet again. My fellow runners share band aids, stories, a "God Bless You" when needed and even occasionally make fashion statements. We met an English lady with a stylish "New York City marathon" jacket who announced she was gearing up for the November race "a week Sunday next" as she put it. Even the volunteers' red jackets were impressive – I wanted one.
We all begin to recognize each other on the course as we settle into our perspective pace. I greeted several runners we had met yesterday on the bus and at the international run. Several times on the course I even had the privilege to hug Laura, my T-shirt swap buddy! As a group we are unique, resourceful and exceptional. A few noteworthy examples were as follows: Perry, a sight-impaired gentleman from Canada who got engaged at a previous "New York City marathon", a troop of young military gents formed a united front and several soldiers pulled a mock army buddy on a gurney to make their war statement.
And of course no marathon is complete without music and Dublin was no exception. A multi-talented runner with the T-shirt www.walkasong.org even carried a song list and took requests as he sang his way through 26.2 miles. It wasn't long before a gaggle of feisty teenage spectators begged to borrow his drum and his spoon instruments to join in the fun. Mr. Walkasong and I sang "Doe a Deer" from "Sound of Music" but he wouldn't sing Steve's request of "When Irish Eyes are Smiling". A few gracious spectators on the course selected a number of motivating radio tunes such as "Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen, "Walk 500 miles" by the Proclaimers. Though we were running by and couldn't enjoy the music for long, it certainly put a spring in our step for the moment! A pack of enthusiastic girls running behind us at mile 23 gave us their rendition of "We'll be Coming around the Mountain". I am sure the Guinness drinkers at the local pub we ran past would have gladly raised their glasses in song had we asked.
Note to self: One pot of Irish tea a day for a week tends to be dehydrating! Inbetween the numerous porta-loo stops (don't you just love some of the unique differences in the English language?), I did notice a few items I sure wish I could have carried home with me. I am not above picking up interesting discarded clothing along the course (this time it was bandanas, lovely pair of gloves, a shirt and a pair of socks). As strands of loose hair kept falling in my face, I was hoping to spot a headband or two. But what I really looked for is cold hard cash. Don't laugh, I found a 20 dollars bill on the course in Washington D.C. last fall! Alas, Dublin had coins scattered here and there but once I had the wherewithal to bend over and try to pick them up, I realized they were actually imbedded in the asphalt.
There does come a point in all marathon distance races when the joviality and fun wears thin. In fact, the last few miles begin to resemble a weekly episode of Comedy Central. You laugh, we don't. My lower lip began to protrude at mile 19 ("This isn't much fun anymore") and while Steve steadfastly assured me of his support, I knew he had long ago turned off the timer that was to assist us in our pacing. All around us, the herd began to grumble. One gal stopped to stretch every few yards, holding onto a brother and father who popped in for encouragement. A funny English gal kept teasing anyone who'd listen with "Are you complaining again?" Well yes, kinda. I did almost get blown off the road near Busby Park by an overeager bus. But to be honest, I'm not sure I was running in a straight line by then and I am sure I couldn't have picked myself up had I been knocked over!
Was I completely losing it? A block full of discarded water cups began to resemble horses clip clopping behind me! One blessed volunteer asked me if I wanted to sit down at mile 20 and I said "No thanks, I'm just feeling a little loopy". Sit down? No! I will not concede defeat!
The race directors had their sense of humor when they designed the last sector of the race in a square with the finish line in full view for most of the last half mile! Steve proclaimed several times he'd like to "take off but [he] didn't want to show off" and once the end was in sight he announced "I'm gonna sprint to the finish line" though his legs helped him to quickly reconsider.
I did cross the finish line with a smile on my face, our full names were called and we snapped a few final pictures with our bright shiny medals around our necks. Our finisher T-shirts would need to be mailed since they ran out of everything but small sizes. The wind began to pick up on our way back to the hotel as we watched more runners come into the finishing area. And a rather inebriated gentleman kept congratulating us by saying, "Fair play". At least I think he meant congratulations! We were hungry, cold, tired, our feet ached yet our spirits were happy and strong. "I'm getting too old for this" became "When can we start training for our next one?"