When you're running 26.2 miles for the first time, any and all encouragement from the sidelines is welcome— even when it comes from the mouths


Long-Distance Winner

When you're running 26.2 miles for the first time, any and all encouragement from the sidelines is welcome— even when it comes from the mouths of pedophiles and Holy Rollers.

As faithful readers may recall, last Thanksgiving in a moment of tryptophan-induced vulnerability, I allowed a friend to talk me into registering for the 31st annual Adidas Vancouver International Marathon. Stubborn fellow that I am, even after the aforementioned instigator dropped out, I continued to increase my weekly mileage through the holidays and on into spring, right up until a few days prior to the race on Sunday, May 5.

I never trained with a CD player, partially because it felt too cumbersome, but also because I tend to break stride and fall into sync with whatever I'm listening to. Instead, I developed a repertoire of motivational songs that would cycle through my head on runs: "Getting Faster" by Book of Love, Arthur Russell's "Keeping Up." Gradually the list swelled, encompassing just about any tangentially related tune, from the Aural Exciters' disco oddity "Marathon Runner" to "Long Distance Winner" from Stevie and Lindsey's 1973 pre-Fleetwood Mac masterpiece Buckingham-Nicks.

Friends who'd participated in marathons before advised me that I'd surprise myself on race day. How unexpected adrenaline surges might yield a faster finish than I'd trained for. And that despite my award-winning misanthropy, I'd enjoy an unexpected level of camaraderie with my fellow runners. It was all true. But what astonished me most was how I reacted every time I encountered music during the 4 hours, 11 minutes, and 33 seconds I was in motion that morning.

When I initially surveyed the course map and noted there were practically as many "DJ/Entertainment" points as water stations along the route, I blanched. Nothing sours my spirits like having my private reverie disrupted by bad Top-40 tunes and some yahoo yakking over a PA. But once those endorphins started flowing, my skepticism waned, even when I was confronted with some truly odd soundtrack options. Don't get me wrong: I was delighted to hear the Cure's "Close to Me" and Bob Marley's "Exodus" during my ordeal. It just seemed absurd to be gleaning inspiration to push my physical endurance from songs immortalized by an overweight goth and a world-renowned ganja smoker.

Unfavorable reactions proved helpful, too. God bless the amateur orchestra that gave up their Sunday to serenade a bunch of sweaty zealots dashing through Stanley Park, but I probably shaved 45 seconds off my total time trying to put some distance between me and that string section. Ditto for the lady behind me tunelessly bellowing "In a Big Country" along with her Walkman. My own decision not to train with a CD player was borne out when I crested a hill at Mile 13, heard Slade's 1984 hit "Run Run Away," and started jogging in time. The wisdom of letting a bunch of 50-something glam rockers set my pace quickly became apparent when a woman resembling Irene Ryan of The Beverly Hillbillies overtook me.

But the day's biggest surprise (not counting the unexpected hail storm) was the rush I felt upon hearing some of the most hackneyed selections imaginable. At Mile 20, as my knees were howling for mercy, "Rock 'n' Roll Part Two" was blaring from the loudspeakers. In my weakened condition, all subconscious efforts to belittle this most played-out of sports anthems—by a convicted collector of child pornography, no less—were fruitless. I heard that familiar, rumbling chord progression, and suddenly I was involuntarily pumping my fist in the air with each shouted "Hey!" And to the household at Mile 23 that decided to blast the Footloose soundtrack into the street, you have my undying gratitude. Being greeted unexpectedly with "Let's Hear It for the Boy" by R&B canary-turned-gospel-artist Deniece Williams did more for my flagging spirits than a million paper cups full of Gatorade.

Now that I'm home, and the use of my lower body has returned, I have but one suggestion for the organizers of next year's marathon: Play more music from your own damn country. Over the course of 26.2 miles, the only Canuck tune I heard was by a young roadside troubadour who'd adapted Bruce Cockburn's "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" to "Runners in a Dangerous Time." Who'd have guessed this was a nation with strict broadcasting laws requiring hefty percentages of Canadian content? Why play the Beach Boys at three points along the route, yet nary a note from the Guess Who, April Wine, Rush, or Martha and the Muffins? In 2003, I want y'all to stop pimping American oldies, show some national pride, and blast some Barenaked Ladies.

Wow. I just endorsed Barenaked Ladies. Maybe my knees aren't the only things I should have had examined after that marathon.


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