The importance of being a spectator

Cheered on to the finish line Kathrine Switzer, the first official woman entrant in the Boston Marathon 50 years ago, completes the Boston Marathon in April2017   | Photo Credit: Elise Amendola

On the eve of my run in the 89 Km Comrades Marathon from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, I met an elderly gentleman, who had run the course more than 20 times. We talked and he eased my anxieties about the big event. He gave me one important piece of advice “All that you need to run is till the start of Durban town. The crowd will ensure that you finish the remaining 9 km before the cut-off time!” He was absolutely right. The following day as I ran into Durban town, the people cheered me on and ensured that I finished and got my medal.

Sports history is rarely made in empty arenas. Spectators and audiences have had the ability to turn the tide. Even in the age of television coverage, watching a sports action live has its own charm. For many, it provides them with a life-time worth experience. Nick Hornby writes in his memoir Fever Pitch, which was inspired by the title winning match between Arsenal football club and Liverpool football club in 1989, “So please, be tolerant of those who describe a sporting moment as their best ever. We do not lack imagination, nor have we had sad and barren lives; it is just that real life is paler, duller, and contains less potential for unexpected delirium.”

While it is easy to understand the rationale behind people spending exorbitant money to watch a game of cricket or football, it is often difficult to comprehend someone going to watch a marathon entirely free of cost. I remember inviting a friend to watch a running event I was a part of. He said he’d rather watch paint dry! Watching folks run for 42 long kilometres was unappealing. A marathon runner certainly lacks the artistic appeal of Zinedine Zidane or a Malcom Marshall. It is difficult to drum up enthusiasm for a runner unless you know him or her personally.

Having said that, there is a lot more to a Marathon than just the distance. It is quite something that a diverse set of people of all ages, gender, caste, creed, race, nationality and shapes unite to run. For the lead pack it may be the prize money that motivates, but a lot of other runners run their own race. For them, the race day is the crowning moment of all their training over many days and weeks. Every runner has a story and the marathon weaves their stories together. Watching the entire city move in one direction, towards one goal, instils the belief that anything is possible if we move together. Kathrine Switzer, often credited to be first women finisher of Boston Marathon, said, “If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”

Marathons have their share of fantstic crowds too. The “Wellesley Tunnel” created by students of Wellesley College in Boston by standing on either side of the Boston marathon route has become an integral part of the event. London marathoners were surprised to see celebrity sports persons managing their water station. The Comrades marathon in South Africa is often held up as a symbol of unity in a country torn apart by racial discrimination. Cheryl Winn, who won the race in 1982, says “It showed the country what it could and should be.”

In 2009, I participated in the Mumbai Marathon, which happened to be the first major event after the terrorist attacks in November 2008. For the city, it was the moment to stand as one and move forward.

This Sunday, the Coimbatore Marathon will see over 13,000 participants in a running event that promises to be biggest sporting event in Tamil Nadu outside Chennai. The marathon, started in 2013, is organised in aid of the Coimbatore Cancer Foundation. It is hoped the residents of Coimbatore who are not running in the event will come out and cheer those who are. These runners are none other than friends, neighbours, relatives, colleagues – ordinary people – collectively trying to achieve an extraordinary feat.

The author is a volunteer with the organising team of Coimbatore Marathon.

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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 7:24:56 PM |

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