This is not a Che-MLK-Gandhi kind of statement. This is an honest, selfish, greedy statement that lacks altruism entirely. I run to feel good, to be healthy, to eat indulgently, and to brag boorishly. But above all, I run for the people. If you want to meet cool people, run. Nice people? Run. Inspiring people? Run. If you want to have complete strangers cheer you, encourage you, hand you candy corn, gummy bears, and, yes, even Vaseline to smear in unmentionable places...run. If you want to like people again, instead of just grumble or cuss at them on the highway or in the grocery store, run. And Portland is a great place to do this.
Portland, Oregon is a great little city. I love the manageable scale and the temperate weather. We had great racing conditions. Moreover, the spirit and ethos of Portland is lovely. The transit system includes a sizable free zone, and functions well with an honor system for payment. Riders jump out of their seats to offer a chair to older riders, moms, etc. And the senior ticket is labeled “Honored Citizen.” Lovely. Not to mention that on race day the course was packed in downtown and in neighborhoods with loads of people, families, and volunteers (4,000 of them). For every 3 marathoners, there was a volunteer making things run smoothly. Thank you, people of Portland!
Then there are a few people who stand out. At mile 18, a guy stood in the drizzle to hold a sign that said, “Go, Complete Stranger, Go!” Sir, this complete stranger thanks you. And at mile 24, when I was holding on for dear life, a guy on the sidewalk locked eyes with me and saw the state I was in. He took a step forward, read my name on my bib, and said, “Amanda, you look like a train right now, passing these people. Keep going!” I nearly wept...seriously; this is not an overstatement.
And it gets better! Runners are amazing people, and I met some standouts this weekend. On the plane to Portland, my friend and I found ourselves next to a fellow marathoner. He was flying to Portland for his first marathon, and to propose to his girlfriend. She had started him training for the marathon, and believing he had this feat in him, and believing he had a happily-ever-after in him, too. But the ring wasn’t ready, and he was stewing in his own juices with disappointment and nervousness. My friend and I jumped in, intervening with a quick trip to a department store where we found a cheap stand-in ring that we left at the expo for our new friend and his unsuspecting bride-to-be. He proposed at the finish line, she said yes, and we got a text saying she was wearing that chintzy ring around like it was the most precious thing in the world. Yippee!
Then on the plane ride home, we sat next to another marathoner, all three of us a bit hobbly. He’s a doctor, so you’d think he’s a smart guy. Well...he ran the marathon because of an agreement made in a hot tub...real smart, Doc. Look what you got yourself into. So this Denver doctor, whose girlfriend is an avid marathoner and a doctor in Boston, flew out to be with other doctor friends who live in Portland. Their reunion, and uninhibited hot tub time, led to marathon finishes all around. Four friends marked their marathon milestone by planting a row of trees (gifts from the very eco-friendly Portland Marathon) in one of their front yards. That row of trees will memorialize their friendships, their achievements, and their balls-out insanity, all of which I hope will grow sky-high with the trees. Well done, Docs!
I’ll give the break down of my break down (yes, it was that kind of race for me) in the next few days, but the most important thing I can say about my marathon weekend is this. I run for the people. For the likes of Collin and Mike, and the guy with the sign saying, “Go, Complete Stranger, Go!” I run to have someone look me in the eye, see that I am spent, past-spent, drained and double-drained, and tell me I can when I think I can’t. Why should he care? He shouldn’t, but he did. We all care about each other, because the journey is shared. We understand each other and support each other because we know together is better than alone. That bears repeating. Together is better than alone.