11 March 2012

A little encouragement

'Most of the work is done, keep it going'

It was another early Sunday morning and instead of having a lie-in like most sensible people, 3000 people were descending on Midsummer Common in Cambridge. The mission: run 13 miles as fast as possible, collect medal and show-off to friends and/or family.

Everyday Eavesdropper, who prioritises the community above such languid pleasures as sleeping, also made his way there. It was a good excuse to get out of bed, do something useful and learn a little more about event management.

Although all the marshal's positions had been filled, he was told to turn up as 'We will have a job for you'.

There was indeed a job - looking after the 3.8 and 7.6 mile point on the course (they came round twice). And what's more, he was given a bag of free stuff too - including sandwiches, crisps, and chewing gum - like a mini packed lunch. Fantastic.

Ostensibly, the job involved stopping the public from walking or cycling in front of the runners at a crossroads in the path. However, it quickly became evident that this was really only a cover for the main responsibility, which was to encourage the participants as they came past. If you've been in a race or fun run you'll know exactly what I mean.

EE finds the Chariots of Fire race hard enough (1.7 miles but he runs it with great gusto) so he can only imagine just how terrible is the pain of 13 miles. There is a clue as to how bad it is in the faces of some of the runners. They look like they have just climbed one mountain ridge too many. On the other hand, there are some who run 5 minute miles for 13 miles who don't even look out of breath, bouncing along like brand new toys. What they all needed though were plenty of inspiring comments from the sideline. Well, that's what EE believed anyway.

There are some parallel's in EE's main sport, which is cricket. Pointless handclapping or shouts of 'okay let's have a good response' yelled at the bowler when he has just been belted to the boundary are obvious examples. Sometimes, this can extend to a little 'disencouragement' for the opposition - known as 'sledging'. Freddy Flintoff was the master of this, one of the greatest being his 'mind the windows Tino' in 2008.

Anyway, back to the Cambridge Half-Marathon with the sandwiches and crisps finshed off and EE able to concentrate on helping runners to attain new PBs. Cautious at first and then gradually bolder, within a short time, EE had somehow become a personal trainer and expert on long distance running: 'keep it going, coming up to 8 miles' and then more ambitious: 'the hard work's done now' or 'looking good, the finishing line's in sight'.

Other passers-by, encouraged by EE's good example, started pitching in their own contributions: 'well done Michelle' or 'good work Richard'.
At first, EE thought some passers-by seemed to know an extraordinary number of the runners on first-name terms. There was a simpler explanation, however. They have their names printed alongside the numbers on their shirts - done deliberately, so that people lining the route can provide the personal touch when cheering them along. Being a very shy sort of person, EE was reluctant to be so bold as to use this tactic early on. It was really only on the second lap that he could be more familiar.

You're probably wondering what the runners think about this sort of personal attention. It's difficult to know without them filling in feedback forms, but many did show the thumbs up, said 'thanks' and even laughed at EE's oft-repeated joke about it being time for the final sprint, which was kind. There was the difficult issue of people passing by who EE actually did know - and they had to be given a special 'hi' to show that they were being properly distinguished from the comments for everyone else.

Later, as EE lay on the grass recovering from the ordeal and listening to the sound of happy and proud partners, parents, brothers, sisters, friends, heaping congratulations on their loved ones, EE was thinking how great it would be if we gave people this sort of boost in everyday life. Imagine if we walked around with our names on our shirts and people felt it their duty to offer strangers random encouragement!

'Come on Jonny, keep it going, good choice of vegetables in that shop, only half an hour to go, you're looking good - final stretch, look how many things you've ticked off already, the finishing line is in sight.' Wouldn't that just be so great?!

Anyway, hats off to the runners and organisers. The winner did it in 1 hour 9 minutes and 41 seconds and no amount of encouragement would ever enable EE to run that fast.