Monday, September 13, 2004

Phantom Runners

I took up running thirty years ago in the summer of 1974 in that romantic hub of running, Boston on the Charles, the Athens of America. It was a great time and place to be alive, young, studying philosophy, and running down the road. ‘Boston Billy’ Rodgers was in his prime; I lived a couple of blocks from the Boston Marathon course, and my training runs took me around the Chestnut Hill reservoir and past Rodger’s running center at Cleveland Circle. I actually ran abreast of Rodgers once on Commonwealth Avenue. He was headed for the Boston College track, racing flats in his hands, to run intervals. (I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out how I could possibly have been abreast of a marathoner who won Boston one year running at a blistering 4:54 min/mile pace. No, he didn't overtake me, and of course I didn't overtake him.) Nowadays I confine my running to two-hour LSD work-outs on Sunday mornings. I ‘compete’ in a couple or three 10 K or half-marathon races per year. I no longer insist on being called a runner; you can call me a jogger or worse and get away with it.

I received a race entry form in the mail the other day. There was a category for phantom runners: people who send in $18.00 receive a T-shirt, but don’t run. It disgusted me. To me, the T-shirt is a badge; you earn it by completing the race as best you can. It doesn’t matter what sort of miserable plodder you are; if you do your best and complete the course, then you earn the right to wear the shirt. Thus for me it is a point of honor never to wear the shirt of a race which I have yet to complete.