They also serve who only stand and hydrate
An Irishman’s Diary about channeling one’s inner American when watching the Dublin City Marathon
‘It’s hard to clap when you’re handing out bottles. But I still kept cheering, because as a runner myself, I know this matters.’ Photograph: Eric Luke
Sean Hehir, winner of the Airtricity Dublin Marathon. Photograph: Eric Luke
I have a few sore muscles this morning, after Monday’s marathon. Still, it would be worse if I’d actually run the race. As it happens, I was only handing out water. It’s just that I’ve never done this before and, as I now realise, probably didn’t prepare well enough.
Hence my triceps and oblique abdominals were a bit stiff when I woke up Tuesday, and my hamstrings were tight too: probably from all the times I had to bend down and pick up bottles after fumbled handovers.
How my dispensing job came about is that I was watching the race in Chapelizod, partly to cheer on my fellow Donore Harriers (all 35 of them) as they passed the clubhouse. That’s also a good vantage point generally, however, being where the runners leave the Phoenix Park and re-enter the city proper.
And since the Donore water station was already well staffed when I arrived, my plan was just to be part of the welcoming committee: clapping all the 14,500 athletes past. Then the first of the big race-waves descended on Chapelizod and, suddenly, it was as if the village church had gone up in flames. Water couldn’t be dispensed quickly enough for a period, so all hands were called up to the fire brigade, including me.
But as I discovered, emergency humanitarian work becomes addictive. After that, even between waves, I kept handing out bottles, whether I was needed or not. It was probably the adrenaline. I think, looking back, I was experiencing a water-dispensing high.
Of course it’s hard to clap when you’re handing out bottles. But I still kept cheering, because as a runner myself, I know this matters. Whenever you feel like giving up in a race, which is a lot of the time, it’s extraordinary how helpful even the slightest encouragement can be.
This is where Americans come into their own, I find. Sure, they can be hard to take in real life, sometimes, with their relentless energy and optimism. But as race supporters, the ease with which they’re able to access enthusiasm is priceless.
That “good job!” or “great running!” doesn’t even have to be sincere, so long as it sounds like they put some effort into it. As male readers may appreciate, it’s like a faked orgasm. You might know it’s a faked orgasm. But if it’s done well enough, you still appreciate it.
There’s nothing worse, by contrast, than the desultory applause you get from some Irish race watchers. Silence would be preferable. When you’re struggling up a hill, against the wind, and there’s a bored bystander clapping on auto-pilot, sometimes in slow-motion, with an expression that says: “look at you, you feckin’ eejit!”, it drains your energy instead of adding to it.