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The ties that bind

Posted by Ty Velde  April 5, 2009 09:35 AM

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One thing I have always enjoyed about marathon running is the camaraderie and community associated with it.

Everyone who’s ever run a marathon has their own personal experience, and while those who’ve never ran a marathon often react to you with a sense of awe; your fellow marathoners will more often than not, react with a sense of empathy. The reason being is that it’s your fellow marathoners who really understand what running a marathon is all about and what it really takes to accomplish what is both a very challenging physical, as well as mental, feat.

Therefore, whether you are an elite runner or someone who’s running for the first time, the experience of a marathon really creates a sense of community that forms an unspoken bond that exists between us all.

I can’t begin to count the number people I’ve met and bonded with over the marathon experience. Whether it’s on a plane, at a party or even a business dinner, when you’re speaking with someone and suddenly the subject of a marathon comes up, it amazes me how suddenly you can go from being almost complete strangers to old friends. When sharing stories and experiences ranging from training to injuries to race day, the conversation between two marathoners can just take off and flow.

On the bus to Hopkinton, I personally love speaking with people about their qualifiers, as everyone always tends to have a great story and have qualified in different races from all over the country and the world. This is also a great way to find out about other races (or qualifiers) and what they’re really like. Sure when you’re at the Expo you’ll see a ton of booths promoting a lot of races, but nothing beats getting first hand information from someone who’s actually been on the course and crossed the finish line.

One thing about marathon running is that there really does seem to be a feeling of mutual respect that transcends the community. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a first-time runner, we all know that marathon running is an intense commitment, as well as experience. Running a marathon instills a tremendous sense of personal pride that’s not necessarily associated with the “time”, but more importantly the accomplishment. As a result, it’s something that everyone who’s run a marathon understands and contributes to it fostering such great community.

However, a fundamental reason that I personally believe that marathon running fosters such a great community is because at the core of it all it’s an intensely personal experience. Unless you are a true elite runner, when you’re out on the course the person you’re really competing against is yourself. Sure, there might be those few people around you that you mark as the ones to beat, but in reality, these people are not competitors, but rather subconscious motivators. Therefore, when on the course whether you’re goal is to set a PR of just cross the finish line, the person that you’re really competing against is yourself. As a result, when you cross the finish line the result is a sense of tremendous personal accomplishment that not many other “life experiences” can compete with.

It’s these personal experiences that help to create the larger community that we’re all a part of. It’s these personal experiences that make you want to say “Hey, I’ve been there too”. It’s these personal experiences that encourage you to lend a hand or to offer words of encouragement when you see someone struggling on the course.

In the end, it’s hard to pin down exactly the one thing that brings us all together, but maybe that’s exactly the reason why the community of marathon runners is so open, dynamic, accepting and vibrant.

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3 comments so far...
  1. Great post, you nailed it. The accessibility of the community is amazing. I've had great conversations with people who have been on the cover of Runners World and even better life changing dialogs with my bus mate to the staring line at the NYC marathon who was 76 and running her 38th marathon, and had just been diagnosed with cancer a month prior. To have a community that unites many generations and places them on one "playing field" is incredibly inspiring.

    Posted by MO April 5, 09 07:09 PM
  1. Ty, that was a well written article that conveys the feelings of most finishers. When I meet someone who has finished their first marathon I not care less what their finishing time was. They finished and that is all that mattered and they are now a part of the community.

    Posted by Jim Pemantell, Rhode Island April 8, 09 01:14 PM
  1. I loved this entry! I totally agree, it's one of the coolest feeling meeting another runner. I've only run one marathon and with the upcoming one it's so fun to talk to someone else I find out is running it too. I'm a newbie, but I still feel like I'm a part of an incredible community of respect, I love it! Thanks for the well put entry. See you there!

    Posted by Afton Parker April 10, 09 12:53 AM
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