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Junque Miles:

By Mark Roberts

I Am NOT Looking Good! (...Am I?)

We've heard them all before; those incredibly annoying cheers from clueless spectators at marathons. People who think they're being clever or helpful or encouraging when all they really do is make you want to strangle them. We've heard "Only x miles to go!" somewhere between the 15 and 23 mile marks (usually shouted by someone who clearly couldn't have made it to the 5 mile mark without help from the Army Corps of Engineers). You usually get "It's all downhill from here!" in two situations: 1) It's not all downhill from here and there's an uphill just out of view of this particular spectator, 2) You're just past Heartbreak Hill at Boston and you're dreading the punishing downhills to come.

But by far the most common and most hated clueless spectator cheer is "You're looking good!"

Nothing makes us marathoners as angry as being told that we're looking good. Cats founder and leader Bill Kehoe once described watching a marathon at around the 20 mile mark and seeing a woman who clearly had a very tough 6.2 miles ahead of her. Then someone standing next to him shouted the inevitable "You're looking good!" As the marathoner trudged by she looked this guy square in the eye and scowled "Why don't you go (very naughty word) yourself?"

Not that being told you look terrible would be any better but somehow being told that you look good is particularly irksome. We don't look good in the last 6 miles of a marathon. We've just run a very long way and still have a painful distance left to cover. We feel bad and we know that we're going to feel much worse very soon. And we hate being lied to by people who haven't a clue what we're feeling. To put it succinctly: We know that we don't look good.


Except that the other day I happened to be looking through some of my marathon finisher's photos. There was the one from last fall's Mohawk-Hudson River Marathon at which I became so hypoglycemic that I hallucinated through much of the last 4 miles and didn't even have the strength to help pull the tag off my number bib at the end. In the photo I'm crossing the finish line as if I've just completed a brisk jog around the block! What the (very similar naughty word to the one used above) is going on here?! At the Niagara Marathon a couple of years ago I had to be held up by one of the volunteers as I walked through the finishing chute. In the photo I look like Chuck Norris finishing his daily 3 mile run before going to the target range to practice with his Uzi. Only in my Vermont City Marathon photo do I look remotely tired. A far cry from the Total Systemic Failure which my body told me was mere moments away.

Let's make something clear right now: Although I'd love to finish a marathon feeling good, I don't want my finishing photo to make me look that way! Remember after you ran your first marathon - that look of awe on your non-running friends' faces when you told them that you'd run 26.2 miles? Admit it: you loved it. Now imagine that look of respect evaporating when they see a photo of someone cruising easily across a finish line. "Well that doesn't look so tough", they think. Alarming, isn't it?

If I can't run as fast as German Silva, I'd at least like to look as if I'm working as hard! (Heck, maybe harder. I'm still running a long time after he finishes.)

At first I thought it was some kind of conspiracy amongst the photographers. They think we want to look good so whey whip up a little magic with Adobe Photoshop in the hopes of selling more pictures. But then I remembered that a friend of mine had his cousin videotape the finish of the Niagara marathon. A quick check of the tape revealed the same apparent absence of pain and suffering as the still photos. Damn, another promising hypothesis out the window!

Then I started watching my friends finishing.

I've got bad news for you: A lot of you look good too.

As a matter of fact, there aren't that many marathon finishers who actually do look as if they've just run 26 miles as fast as they can. Maybe the completion of a goal like running a marathon enables us to transcend the pain and suffering. Perhaps the effort of running a marathon is so incredibly internalized that none of it shows on the outside. Then again, it could be because we simply don't have the energy to get a good grimace going.

I don't know what causes this affliction we share but I've come up with a name for it: Apparent Suffering Deficiency Syndrome. Naming this affliction leads us to the inevitable next step: forming a Support Group. (No jokes about a 50,000 step program, please.) We could hold clinics at which professional actors coach us on how to evoke awe and sympathy and convey the effort and pain of the marathon. I mean it shouldn't be that hard to look as if you've run a marathon when you've just run a marathon!

In the meantime, you can't hope to overcome Apparent Suffering Deficiency Syndrome until you admit that you have it. So take that first step and refrain from contemplating acts of violence that you'd like to commit on clueless spectators who shout annoying cliches.

The ugly truth is that you might look good.

Copyright © 1998 Mark Roberts

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