NYC Marathon Part 3: Of Signs and High-fives

One of the best features of the support during marathons is the cheer signs, some of which were very common (“Keep chafing the dream”, “Go, random stranger, go”, “You can do this!” etc.). Others were more topical, from the plausible “If Trump can run for President, you can run 26.2 miles!”, to the painfully misjudged “If the Mets can win the World Series, you can run 26.2 miles”. The drinking theme is a favourite, e.g. “Whine now, wine later”, with many signs referring to beer, and the regular “Touch here for power” is likewise a recurring invitation thanks to social media’s streamlining of the collective imagination.


The absolute worst thing however must be the Asics web-site which has a race-sign generator for all those people without a functioning brain who’d like to just hold up the same things as hundreds of other people. Then again, to be fair, co-ordinated sports cheering is quite the thing in Japan – birthplace of Asics. When I was at a baseball game there 23 years ago I tried to cheer our pitcher before he went into his wind-up, only to be irritatedly shushed by my host family brother who told me we were only supposed to cheer when we were batting. Sure enough a guy at the front of our section stood up to ‘conduct’ our cheering and clapping when our team was hitting. My bad.

So...I should sprint for my life and then duck into someone's driveway?
So…I should sprint for my life and then duck into someone’s driveway?

Some more oft-seen signs included:

  • ‘Welcome to Brooklyn. Run like you stole something’, which is terrible advice because if I stole something I’d be sprinting, not the 9 min/mile speed-gimping I was doing at the time.
  • ‘Never, never, never give up’ – can’t remember whether I saw this cliché more often on the backs of shirts or on signs.
  • ‘No time for Walken’, with pictures of the actor Christopher– great line, great face, but had obviously been doing the rounds on Pinterest that week because it was everywhere…
  • ‘What does the fox say? Run, run, run, run, run’…shut up, fox…
  • And the old least favourite: ‘Worst parade ever’

Only one sign on the whole course really bothered me though: “Your amazing” it read.

For the briefest of moments I contemplated veering over to the side to say something along the lines of “Thank you so much for your support, we really appreciate it but I just had a spontaneous hernia when I saw your sign. You’re missing an apostrophe after the ‘u’ and an ‘e’ after the ‘r’. PLEASE don’t hold signs until they’ve been checked for errors as it can be REALLY off-putting”. But even at my pace that would take a little too long and hollering “APOSTROPHE…R…E!” as I passed probably wouldn’t have meant much to them.

All was not lost though. The excellent “Don’t trust farts after 21 miles” came a couple of miles before the overly-pessimistic, “Don’t trust farts after 13.1 miles”. My shouted response to a sign about quads (something about wishing I had any) went down well. Instructions to not be so wussy about bleeding nipples (not an issue thanks to Vaseline and Elastoplast), missing toenails (buy bigger running shoes) and pain (yeah…well) all provided welcome distraction. Some people seem to have used a pencil for their sign, which meant until you were four feet away it looked blank to all of us over 40 years old. But from the cliché to the innovative, from the supportive to the abusive and from the punctuated sentence to the grammatically challenged, the signs were all great; I love them all.

The same goes for the people holding out their hands waiting for high fives, particularly in this first half of the race through Brooklyn where we were closest to the crowds. Some were clearly selective in who they wanted to high five as hands were withdrawn from some approaching runners, and other people were surprised to find that runners hands are sweaty, while some of the kids were quite reasonably more compliant than enthused at the whole notion of being hit by sweaty strangers.

Fun as it was I didn’t want to make my worrisome energy situation worse by high-fiving too many people or making more than a couple of trips to the crowd line. I couldn’t resist one particular row of forlorn-looking 3 year olds though, runners nowhere near them but with hands held out so I sacrificed some quad muscle energy to stoop down on my approach (by way of giving their excited Dad some warning), made sure my hand was reasonably dry and low-fived them all.

It wasn’t long before I regretted not having found a way to put my name on my running shirt without causing a tear or stain. It must have been about mile 10 when a supporter on my left screamed “GO PAUL!!!” Startled, I looked to my left to find a namesake of mine on the inside railing. I’m sticking with you I told him; he grinned…”Short name, big letters!” I heard his name for a few minutes more but he selfishly ran quicker than me and was gone in a few minutes.

Coming off 59th Street Bridge onto 1st Avenue at mile 15 the course turns back on itself, creating a

Looking down at 1st Avenue Manhattan as we neared the end of the 59th Street Bridge
Looking down at 1st Avenue Manhattan as we neared the end of the 59th Street Bridge

huge area for supporters and therefore noise. A guy with a stars and stripes armband took the opportunity, if that’s what you can call it, to break into a sprint on the crowd side of the turn (i.e. the long way round) with his arm held high and was roundly cheered for it.

“Dude,” I thought, “…WAYYY too ostentatious, have some self-respect”.

One mile later and confident that a group of orange-clad supporters were from the Netherlands and not Clemson or some other orangey college, I raised both arms and shouted “HUP HOLLAND!!” and received a massive cheer in response.

“Dude,” I thought to myself, “…you’re WAYYY cool”.



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