Another Paris Marathon

Another Paris Marathon

Paris, France

Marathon season is upon us, and that means celebrating marathon runners: elite runners and their 20-kilometer (12.43-mile)-per-hour walks in the park, beginner runners and their good fortune at not knowing what they’ve gotten themselves into, self-motivating runners and all their inventive techniques for keeping the rubber on the macadam, crying runners (“I DID IT!!”), laughing runners (“Hah! And you said I couldn’t!”). But where would these marathon runners be without the vast support afforded them along their 42.195-km (26.2-mile) slog? Here are just a few categories of helpers who make this great, frustrating, challenging, daunting, exhilarating, fun, terrifying, gratifying achievement possible (and one category of decidedly non--helpers, in spite of whom we get home anywayread on).

  • The Volunteers: At major marathons (like Paris, with 57,000 runners), there are 3,000+ volunteers, awake at pre-pre-dawn on race day, spread over the length of the course and responsible for, among many, many other crucial tasks, giving access to the start line (no negligible duty in these times of heightened security), preparing and handing out refreshments (including uncapping half a million bottles of water, cutting up a combined 40 tons of bananas and oranges, laying out over two tons of dried fruit), standing guard along the route (to protect runners not from danger as much as from themselves, as when effort-dazed competitors veer onto the wrong path), rewarding finishers with t-shirts and medals (draping the latter over proud chests no matter how sweat-soaked they are). Not to mention those whose missions precede race-day (validating medical certificates, giving out number-bibs, readying the route) and follow it (providing valuable feedback to organizers as to what worked, what should have and didn’t, what might be better next time). Ohand the Red Cross is there, in great, reassuring number.

Marathon volunteers are among the most congenial, smiling beingsespecially those in Florida, home to legions of retirees just itching to wrap finishers in their warmest, most grandmotherly hugs (after handing them bagels to replace those depleted glycogen stores). When you run a race, no matter the distance, take a second after grabbing your diligently uncapped bottle of water and thank these fine folks, at the top of your breathless lungs!

Another Paris Marathon

Photo from Become a volunteer

  • The Musicians: Pie in marathonian sky is a musical group every kilometer/mile: You can momentarily forget your underperforming lungs and overextended muscles by grooving to the beat for as long as it’s within earshotjust before the next one melds into your space and takes over. In 1998, San Diego went this challenge one better: a rock n roll group every mile, now the key draw in the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, held in June. While the Paris Marathon seems to have answered annual complainers about the paucity of entertainment by increasing the number of performance points from year to year (still nowhere remotely near every km), it tends to go a bit heavy on the percussiongroups pounding away on African drums, banging on bongos, hammering hand drums, attacking kettle drums with huge, menacing malletsprobably on the theory that this thumping replicates and thus activates a high-performing heart. Sorry: Nothing makes your ticker work faster and better that the strains of Mick Jagger’s Honky Tonk Woman or Elvis’s All Shook Up.

But what Paris Marathon entertainment lacks in grooviness it makes up for in originality: stately gentlemen in fox-hunting garb blaring hunting horns (appropriately, in the part of the race that runs through the woods), manic transvestite cheerleaders, hyper-active clowns tooting toy trombones, and combinations of sound and style too unique to define. As all of this in its own way does get racers from the Champs-Elysée’s departure line to avenue Foch’s arrival zone, our gratitude is in order for these early-rising supporters as well. Ohand one year, as the pack crossed from the city’s 16th district into the Boulogne Woods, there he was: Mick Jagger on a boom-box!

  • The Spectators: It is said that running the New York Marathon is like running several separate, distinct events, as the vibe of each neighborhood through which it passes is reflected in who is at the side of the road: Harlem’s purple-robed choir members pumping you along with song, Brooklyn’s Hassidic Jews standing in stone-still silence but present nonetheless, Central Park’s aristocrats haughtily holding their afghan hounds’ leashes in their gem-graced hands, rabble-rousing youth, staid seniors, newly minted citizens screaming “You go, girl!” in their native tongues.

Today, after decades of great effort on the part of the Paris Marathon organizerswho have employed tactics such as giving away free noisemakers, creating elaborate fan zones, sending real-time here-I-am-at-the-20th-kilometer update textos to runners’ friends and families, and morespectators are beginning to be numerous enough and seem interested enough to merit that name, and are ending their practice of trying, baby stroller and dog in tow, to cross the road from the bakery to the park as if not in the midst of 50,000 supercharged over-achievers barreling toward, around, and sometimes into them. So: You go, spectators! Ohthere are now fewer people trying to back their cars out of their driveways into the race as well.

  • The Folks on the Bus Home: When you get on a bus in your number-bib after the London Marathon, passengers applaud you. Don’t bask in their admiration just yet. It gets better. Then they get up to offer you a seat. They all get up, applauding away, virtually fighting with each other to be the one to give you their little coveted spot of comfort. Old ladies get up. Ones with canes and sometimes bandages on their knees. You refuse. They insist. They almost push you into their place, making it a point of honor for you to accept their gesture.

Not wanting to be judgmental, Paris Marathon runners stick to a desperate belief that residents of the city just don’t know how long a marathon is. That they don’t realize that the bedraggled, sweaty, muddy, hobbling, blanched, parched, bleary-eyed, stinky beingswho were let on for free by the driver out of pity on those too wasted to even reach for their ticketsjust crossed the entire city twice to the tune of 42.195 kilometers (26.2 miles). If they knew that, at least one of them would get up. Ohthis is that other category.

Shari Leslie Segall, a writer who lives in Paris, has run and completed 29 marathons (including 22 in Paris).

8 April 2018 is the 42nd annual Schneider Electric Paris Marathon.