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Perspectives from the Footrace

08/09/04 12:00AM By John Morton
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(Host) Commentator John Morton has competed in many running events, but recently he was reminded that being a spectator has its own challenges and rewards.

(Morton) Last May 30, my wife, Kay and I were in Burlington for the Vermont City Marathon. Kay anchored a relay team, while I enjoyed the first 23 miles of the marathon, and endured the final three. A week later, we were in Quechee, VT to support friends in the Covered Bridges Half Marathon. Attending two of Vermont's premier running events, first as participants, then as spectators, provided an insight into how different these races appear from back in the pack or on the sidelines.

Even as a seasoned competitor, I often feel intimidated at the start. I see hundreds of eager runners; fit, well trained athletes who exude confidence. Then the gun goes off, the throng surges forward and the first few miles are consumed by searching for running room.

Since the Vermont City Marathon begins early on Sunday morning, some Burlington residents view the action from the comfort of their porches, still wearing their bathrobes and cradling a cup of coffee.

Participants also experience an assortment of smells. At the start, the air is thick with muscle liniments, sun screens and tanning lotions. Restaurants have begun preparations for a busy lunch. In residential neighborhoods, hot dogs and burgers sizzle on barbecue grills. And depending upon the wind direction, runners will be treated to a fresh breeze off the lake or a whiff of the waste water treatment facility.

Frequently, participants settle into a pace with a stranger. Often an encouraging word from a fellow runner can restore motivation and dispel discouragement.

On the other hand, some coincidental running partners can become irritating. Years ago, in the Boston Marathon, I found myself next to a runner wearing a tee shirt which read: I'M RICH, I'M AVAILABLE followed by his phone number.

At first, I smiled at the fellow's ingenuity, but after several miles of the crowd screaming in my ear, Hey look, he's rich and available, I forced
myself to pick up the pace, just to get away from the guy.

For a fan on the sidelines, it's an entirely different picture. At the recent Covered Bridges race, Kay and I watched runners of all sizes and
physiques. Some clearly had an aptitude for running, while others looked more like football players or boxers. And a surprising number didn't look athletic at all. There was also an amazing variety of styles, from the bouncy gait of an athletic young woman, to the efficient shuffle of an elderly man.

Finally, we were impressed by the dedication and energy displayed by many of the spectators, cheering all the competitors, not just for a few minutes, but for hours.

I'm more of a participant than a spectator, but the opportunity to watch the recent Covered Bridges Half Marathon gave me a new perspective on the sport.

This is John Morton in Thetford.

John Morton designs trails and writes about sports. He spoke to us from our studio in Norwich.
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