This morning, all of Chicago paused for the determination of 45,000 disciplined runners. Thousands of people trotted along in the rain, and I spectated from our apartment, warm and comfortable and eating breakfast. A perk of watched the marathon from bird’s eye view is observing the cheerers (I may have sat at the window with binoculars in hand all morning. Nah, not weird at all).
I learned that there are actually quite a few categories of marathon-watchers:
The Hard-cores: For the past 7 years of living in Chicago, I’ve always had two signs it’s marathon Sunday. First, there’s no traffic noise starting at around 5:00 a.m. Second, at 7:00 a.m. (the race starts at 7:30, two or three miles away from us), there are a few dozen people scattered over a thousand yards all talking, clapping, and ringing bells. You know, practicing for when the runners arrive 45 minutes later.
The Emotionals: An elderly couple peered into the hundreds, wearing shirts that read, “roBquick” (“Rob be quick”, for those of you who, like me, might fixate on lack of consistency rather than the meaning). After fifteen fruitless minutes, a young-ish (it’s hard to tell exact ages from eight stories up) guy ran up to them. The woman reached out to pat his arm as the white-haired man gave him a high five. When Rob ran off, the woman leaned into the man and started crying.
The Political Statement-ers: I’m no expert on spreading political opinions, but I guess an audience of 45,000 sweaty people is a good place to start. Two particularly dedicated individuals had pressing messages: THE MOON LANDING WAS FAKE and YOU’RE RUNNING BETTER THAN THE GOVERNMENT.
The General Encouragers: Many wonderful people stand on one street corner out of 26.2 miles and cheer for an hour. They don’t know every person who passes, but they’re showing support for the struggling masses of humanity grinding out 26.1 miles more than anyone ever really wants to run.
The I’m-ONLY-here-for-my-friend-s: Exact opposites of The Encouragers, these folks stand with hands shoved in their pockets until they see their special someone. After cheering like crazy for roughly 45 seconds, they push fists back into coats and set off for the next marathon-watching stop.
The Police Man: Twenty-six miles equals a) a lot of street closures, and b) a police officer at many of them to make sure all the half-asleep drivers notice the barricades. The police man at our particular corner stood for four hours, three of them drizzle and mist, one of them pouring rain, and didn’t look completely miserable. Although he also only really smiled at the people with dogs (it’s a sign, people would like me more if I had a dog).
The Extravagants: One couple had a stroller, maybe a dog (another sign), and two gigantic (probably 5 feet tall) shiny blue helium balloons—one was an ‘M’ and the other a ‘G’, presumably a runner’s initials? Or maybe they just picked them up from Party City for a birthday party in the afternoon.
The Husbands and Wives: It takes serious grit to run a marathon—but not all the participants are serious-grit, 25-marathons-later runners. There are a lot of normal people too, such as the regular-looking guy holding signs drawn on free papers from Bank of America. The one he held up said, Go Babe, Goooooo! When (presumably) his wife ran past, she stopped and gave him a huge hug and kiss, and stood with him for a moment. She ran off and he accidentally dropped his signs on the ground. He picked them up and stuffed them in his backpack, proud and happy.