The Best Way to Run a Marathon Without Actually Running One

I love marathon weekend in my adopted hometown of Eugene, Oregon. As you all know, Eugene is America’s running town, affectionately called Tracktown, USA. It’s the home of the late great Prefontaine, Hayward Field, and more elite runners that you can count.

But what I don’t love is long distance. I’m not a marathoner. I’m not even a long-runner. Ten miles is long to me. Yet, even as a non-marathoner or even a non-half-marathoner, I love the marathon. 

The 11th annual Eugene Marathon took place on the first weekend in May. In the week leading up to the race, I attended a professional retreat on Orcas Island and I saw no chance of being in town for marathon weekend. I was bummed because I’ve run the Eugene Marathon 5k for the past four consecutive years. It’s my favorite course. It’s beautiful, it’s hilly, and it finishes on the track at historic Hayward Field! Well, as luck would have it, I got out of my retreat early. Yes! The stars aligned, and before I knew it, I was toeing the line for the 2017 Eugene Marathon 5k!

When I first caught glimpse of the remote possibility of returning to my adoptive hometown in time for marathon weekend, I became childishly giddy with excitement. So, when it started to look probable, I enlisted my poor husband to drive me home very late at night. I’ll spare you the gritty details of the ride home. Let’s just say that it involved a lengthy, heated discussion on consciousness and quantum mechanics and the two of us coming too close for comfort to running out of gas on the freeway — and smashing any hopes of my running the next morning. But, I digress.

This is not about that 5k race. This is about enjoying a hometown marathon without actually running 26.2.

Hey, check out my personal course record!

Two years ago, a friend of mine ran the Eugene Marathon. At the last minute, her pacing buddy for the final five miles of the race dropped out and she was left with nobody to assist. Given that my friend had planned for, and expected, company in those last grueling miles, I was happy to volunteer my services.

Sure, I’m the consummate “sprinter” but if she can run 26.2 miles, I can certainly run five, right? Given that my friend was desperate, she took me up on my offer, and within a few days I was awaiting her hopefully-smiling face near the 21 mile marker.

Accompanying a marathon runner in the last miles of the run is an experience every shorter-distance runner should have. In other words, if you are on the fence as to whether or not to run a marathon, the last five miles of running one gives you a good feel for what it is like. It’s basically my definition of carnage.

Truth be told, my friend did miraculously. While others around her experienced apparent delusions and hallucinations, muscle cramps, dehydration and pure misery, she held her own: good form, a sense of humor and an amazing ability to be coherent after such a long time running.

But, from my viewpoint, the general environment was nothing short of pure suffering. This experience provided me a sense of awe that I continue to have for anyone who takes on this distance. And it also sealed the deal for me: I will NEVER run a marathon!

That said, ever since then, I’ve longed for more of the marathon experience. A year later, my step-daughter and I accompanied a friend from San Francisco in the half marathon distance and we had so much fun being his support team and getting so much attention from all of the bystanders. It was a hoot!

This year, although I had nobody specifically lined up to run with, I hopped in with friends at various parts of the course. Sometimes I provided company, sometimes just a distracting conversation or a positive voice in the often negative landscape of the last few miles.

One could say that I caught a bug, of sorts, for joining in and accompanying friends in their marathon efforts. I hope to provide company, support and maybe a little comic relief. Maybe I can even ease some of the suffering, kind of  like a good sports drink that you swish in your mouth and spit out. I’d like to believe that my presence can provide a little ease from the sometimes monotonous burden of the mile after mile … after mile.

You see, some of us are made to run long distances and some of us are not. But this shouldn’t keep you from joining in the fun of the marathon experience! Be creative, be a cheer squad, or help your (masochistic) friends! Make someone’s day and spread the joy of this awesome event we call the marathon!

How do you celebrate your hometown marathon without actually running long? 

Hello! This is Chili. I'm originally from Newfoundland and I currently reside in Eugene, Oregon (otherwise known as "TrackTown USA"). I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice with a specialty in Eating Disorders and Body Image issues. I like to write about the psychological components of racing, the joys of running with others, injury prevention, runners and body image, risk-taking in racing and the experience of being a Masters runner who is relatively new to the sport.

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  1. Chili, I can definitely relate to your experience! First off, my daughter had lived 5 minutes from Hayward Field for many years, and recently moved to Oakridge. For me, running on Hayward Field – or anywhere in Eugene – is Nirvana!! I helped my friend ( age 60+) qualify for the Boston Marathon by running the last 5 miles with her in the Cleveland Rite-Aid Marathon. It was so much fun!! When she got to the finish line I was already waiting for her and cheering her, “You did it- you’re going to Boston!!!”

    1. What an awesome story! I love your thoughts on the blog. Isn’t it something to be a part of it all right here in Eugene?!

  2. Running with friends and strangers in the last five or six miles at Eugene is a blast- it’s interesting to be the “sober” one among all the zombies and I’ve often gotten someone who is walking to start jogging again just by saying “Run– you got this!” I’ve raced Eugene twice, haven’t since 2010, but I love going down and being a part of the event, just like you!

  3. Not to stir up controversy, but what are your thoughts on the “ethics” of jumping in to run with a friend in a marathon? Especially topical given the latest banditting controversy happening over on the Marathon Investigations site re Run Selfie Repeat. Even if a “support runner” doesn’t take aid from stations or finish line goodies, they’re still on course taking up space and potentially having impacts for emergency personnel should something happen.

    1. Absolutely. A very thoughtful and important fact, and one worth considering. I completely see the possible concerns when you “jump in” a race that you are not registered for. That said, the intention is pure and it is demonstrative of the supportive running communities that we live in. So many runners benefit from having running comrades at their side, if even for a few miles. So, weighing out the pros and cons with full awareness of the possible consequences is very important. Then, make a determination based on this. A good topic of conversation, indeed!

      1. It’s ok! I think it’s a great topic to discuss, Jesse! I think Chili brings up a great point. What happens if these kinds of hometown marathons crack down on pacers like this? What would it do to the vibe? The atmosphere? The feeling of celebration of the local running community? That might not be enough to justify allowing it, looking the other way, or even to taking steps to work with people who want to pace to incorporate them into the race officially (through pacer bibs, pacer zones, or something along those lines). Maybe the vibe enhancement does not justify any of it. But it’s something to consider. This is such an interesting topic because for so long it seems it was very common to jump in and help friends and it was not a big deal. It’s only recently, that it seems like this kind of thing has been viewed as cheating, at least for people not competing for the win, $$, place, etc.

        1. I am late coming back to this thread, but your comment reminded me of the “Extra Mile” crew our local marathon has – volunteers who station themselves along the final 5-10K to help runners who might be struggling at the end. They often leap frog back and forth, helping people for a mile or two, or taking them all the way in and doubling back to help someone else. It’s a great initiative!

    2. I’ve paced some friends in smaller local races before, and I’ve reached out to the race director beforehand and asked if it was okay with him/her. They’ve always said yes, and then I’m not banditing!

    3. I’ve been considering this question myself ever since I saw the issue with Kelly Roberts. Granted, I’m also not sure how to feel about the Marathon Investigations site.

      I see the main issues that surround jumping into a race as crowding, aid stations, and medical care. I don’t think that unregistered pacers should take advantage of either of those services, but obviously there’s not much that can be done re: crowding other than just not do it. It’s sticky and I’m just not sure how I feel yet…

      1. One more thing: I’m fully against complete banditing, where one runs the entire race without registering.

        There’s a 5k in my city that kicks off a pretty large weekend festival and lots of people bandit it. I’ve had friends brag about it and try to get me to join them. That rubs me the wrong way and I won’t ever do it. This race is large enough as it is and the crowding makes for irritating bottlenecks.

        IMO if you think the entry fee is too high or you don’t want the shirt, then you shouldn’t run the race. You’re paying for the time and energy of organizers, as well as the resources needed to block off the streets, pick up after racers, and other things I’m sure I’m not thinking of.