Yesterday was the Air Force Marathon at Wright-Pat AFB in Dayton, Ohio. All 13,000 spots sold out. People from all 50 states came to run the full marathon, half-marathon, or 10K, including my husband, Mike. This was Mike’s second marathon and my 4th time to be an Air Force Marathon spectator, having watched my son run it twice before Mike. After four times, I am still ill-prepared for the spectacle before me.
It begins with an exhilirating start. Usually, it starts with the color guard and someone singing The Star-Spangled Banner. Then a military bomber flies low overhead and the race begins. There’s nothing like a Stealth Bomber to kick off a race. My husband’s pace group doesn’t get to the start line until 4 minutes later — there are that many people, and that much excitement.
After that, my daughter and I have five hours to kill. Luckily, we’ve been to this marathon enough times to know what to do.
First, we board the buses that wait just past the start line and are carried into the little town of Fairborn. Fairborn, Ohio is built around two things: the Air Force base and Wright State University. The businesses refelct that. It’s a strange hodge-podge of bookstores, Halloween costume shops, and dozens of Korean restaurants. Not Chinese, or Thai, or Japanaese — Korean. Perhaps because so many Airmen get stationed in Korea?
My daughther and I grab breakfast at one of the little diners and wait for the racers to run by. They’ll pass mile 9 here, then double back and hit mile 10. A band is playing. People line the streets cheering, and we get to wave and cheer to our loved ones before boarding the buses back to the base.
The nice thing about the Air Force Marathon is that it takes place next to the National Air Force Museum. I’ve been there dozens of times, but it’s such an awesome museum that I always look forward to roaming through it again.
Then, as my husband’s pace group time approaches, we head back out to the Finish Line. This is the hardest part of the day for me. I am not a runner, so the desire to run a marathon mystifies me. It is not for the feint of heart. And I’m not talking about the runners; I’m talking about the spectators.
First, you have to fight your way to the fence. People are crammed all along the fence, waiting to spot their loved ones. We cheer everyone on as they pass, but it’s hard to even look at some of these people. There are men with bleeding nipples and muscle-shirted men with chafed underarms that have bled onto their shirts. There are people staggering, with medical personnel grouped around them. A few people have made it the 26.2 miles and then start vomiting as they get in sight of the finish line. Some people cramp up so bad that their muscles look like they’re going to cut right through their skin. A few people are carried across the finish line by medics.
The dee jay boisters the crowd with little tidbits of information about the people approaching the finish line. Some run in memory of loved ones. Some were overcoming physical limitations and pushing themselves to see whether they could do it. They did. But I often wondered about the ones whose doctors had recommended against it. Was it work the health risk?
My husband decided to train to run marathons after he quit smoking. He’s the one who reminded me that every runner there has a story; every one has a motivating factor that has brought them to running.
I always thought of running as simply a form of exercise. And couldn’t understand why people would push themselves so hard that they could cause injury. When my son finished his first marathon, he had stress fractures in both feet. And yet, he signed up again the following year. It made no sense to me. But now I can appreciate a little better that marathons aren’t just about the running. It’s about the accomplishment and pushing yourself to see what you can do.
At the end, my husband immediately began talking about doing the marathon again next year. It will be my fifth time. I’m starting to consider myself a marathon marathon-watcher. As long as I don’t have to run it, I can live with that. It makes him happy.
Have you participated in a marathon as runner or spectator?