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rhapsodies about runners

Today I fell in love with the human race. Again. Thanks to the thrilling Paris Marathon.

I left the house early, knowing the bus service was interrupted because of the event – even so, got there by 9.30 a.m., at least half an hour before the front runners were due to arrive. I established my beachhead by the river across from the Conciergerie, and waited. Another stunning day – already, by 9.45, fierce sun, getting hot. Police boats on the Seine, helicopters overhead. There were bands playing, and people jogging along the marathon road as we all stared at them. What sort of exhibitionist, I thought, wants to jog up and down in front of people who are waiting for the best runners in the world?
The first wheelchair athletes whizzed past, their massive arms pumping, and the crowd roared. Heroes. A long pause, and now – more police cars and motorcycles, a big police van, the first of the pack on the horizon – and there they are, running easily, smooth, effortless, 25 k. and nearly an hour and 15 minutes into their run, a troupe of Africans, men made for running, bodies perfect, lean and graceful – and then they’d vanished, the crowd still shouting Bravo! I was transfixed – teary, of course, as I am on these monumental occasions. A second troupe of Africans, a minute or two behind. And now, I thought, we relax and wait for the white guys.
Now they started to arrive, the real human beings, as opposed to the gods who’d flown by before who were a different breed of human being entirely – as appeared again about ten minutes later, a troupe of African women, beyond beautiful, perfect, statuesque, unreal. And then the real human beings again. A blind Chilean, speeding past with his guide attached to his wrist. And now more and more, then hoards, crowds, massive quantities of human flesh charging past, as we clapped and hooted continuously. By the end, my hands hurt.
I started to read the names on their marathon tags.
Luciano Kate Stanislas Karim Quier Uwe Beverley Hidechi Rachud Moik Adel Lily Ludovic Nahum Zappulla Beth Moishe Adel Boazza Kung Chu Carlo Ramos Joerg Fabio Elie Olivier Eric Massimo Albertino Valente Mark Noel Teruhiko Aurelien Annie Boris Johann.
All of them my heroes, but especially the ones pulling or pushing handicapped children or friends on wheeled stretcher things or wheelchairs. All of us waving, cheering, and them waving back. Amazing, the ones who had energy to raise their arms for us, smile, crack jokes. Now people in costume – bunny ears, Santa Claus, one dressed as a cow with udders, one in a familiar hat. “Allez, Napoleon!” shouted the enthusiastic kid sitting on the wall. “Courage!”
An American woman nearby, she and her mother with t-shirts that said “Matt’s Marathon Support Team” on the front and “Born and bred in Texas” on the back, waiting anxiously, got a text message that she read out loud. “21 k,” she read. “Half way, and the legs are not happy.” When I left, Matt had still not appeared.
By now, it was 11 and I moved on, following the runners west along the river. Mourad Mutlu Shinya Vonetta Ende Heather Farchi Ludwig. One with the untruthful name Walker. Netsuko wrapped in the flag of Japan. Others waving flags, or waving to those in the crowd holding their national flags, to huge roars and cries. I was looking for Canadians, saw one too late to shout – his flag was on his back, and he had passed by. How Canadian, I thought, to place the flag so modestly. Finally, as I walked, saw a woman at a distance waving a Canadian flag.
Kevin Nir Wieslaw Said Reid Aymeric Jerry Zvi Sten Samuel Ruzard Mustaffe Aaron Dorothy. If only, I thought, the world’s nations could work alone and yet together, as these runners were.
Without stopping, a man kissed the woman and baby next to me as he ran past. “Mon amour!” the woman cried, waving. Another, wearing normal clothes and holding a big purse, left the watchers to begin to begin a short run beside her husband, breasts flopping. Wilfred, who was at least 80, Jocelyn Paul Yoko Hans. Sipping energy packs, throwing away water bottles, runners tight and loose, flailing and neat, light and heavy, pouring past. One in plus four golf clothes, with a golf club! Willa, running in a tiara. Rainbow wigs, grass skirts. Tired now, the much slower, messier ones, some in pain, stopping, rubbing legs. Real pain. Kaspar Filipe Marie-Christine. Some leaving the course early. Alice Laurent Lance Goda Byo. Just survival now. Keep going. Finish.
I left at 12.15 to go to the Grand Palais, as they all vanished into yet another tunnel along the Seine. I read later that 32,092 registered to run. The first and second place winners of both sexes were Kenyan: Benjamin Kiptoo in 2 hours, 6 minutes and 31 seconds, Priscah Jeptoo in 2 hours 22 minutes 55 seconds.
All, all winners to me.
And now for something completely different – an exhibition at the Grand Palais on Landscape Painting in Rome 1600-1650, finishing with the sublime Claude Lorrain and Nicholas Poussin. Mythical or religious stories in idealized landscapes. It was very beautiful and I enjoyed it. But I was perhaps a bit numb.
I left and went to the busstop nearby, where a bus would take me right home. A small notice taped up on the shelter, which I just happened to notice, said that there was a demonstration today and service would be disrupted. I had an image of my skeleton, still sitting there waiting for the bus, and decided to walk. Once more, along the river – no runners now, though I saw a few hobbing still, and one, later in St. Germain, an Englishman still in his run shorts walking with friends, his gold medal around his neck. I clapped and said, “Bravo!” and he beamed.
But I was exhausted and very hungry after watching so much athletic activity and just wanted to get home. On the way, bought a loaf of the most delicious bread yet – a warm pain levain, sourdough baguette, from which I ripped off and devoured chunks while walking. Home at 3. Fell face first into lunch.



4 Responses to “rhapsodies about runners”

  1. How sad that our own city – led by our endomorphic mayor – regards the marathon as just an interruption in the flow of traffic.

  2. clothing says:

    Great.thanks for taking the time to walk us through the process it was great to see this amazing post.

  3. beth says:

    Chris and Sam, my speedy endurance friends, this is the marathon to do – along the Seine, finish on the Champs Elysees, and then you can have croissants.

  4. kathyo says:

    Well done, Beth!

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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