Jim Bradford — Looking at a long race from both sides

04/29/2013 9:22 AM

05/20/2014 10:43 AM

Some time ago, Joni Mitchell wrote a song about her perspective of life. It was more than a lifetime ago for many of us that she sang of seeing some of the most important things in life from a couple of different vantage points.

It’s a sort of ode to the bewilderment and beauty of life. I’m not a huge Joni Mitchell fan, but this song has always been a favorite of mine. So beautiful. So lifting, yet so sad at the same time.

The song is called “Both Sides, Now.” She sings of seeing clouds, love and life from both sides and in the end, not really knowing what any of them are truly about, a sort of sobering realization that nothing is ever as simple or as pure as it might seem.

For some reason, this song came to mind last weekend. Amid the constant stream of runners making their way through Aid Station G about midway through the Gamin Marathon, I couldn’t help but hear her voice. It wasn’t any sort of life-altering moment that washed her lilting voice over me, just my vantage point.

Two years ago, I was one of those runners. I was making my way through the streets of Olathe, running that very marathon. Last Saturday was different, though. I was manning an aid station, handing out water and Gatorade to runners — some weary, some not-so-weary — at the 12-mile mark of the marathon.

In my early years of running, I never thought much of aid stations. I rarely ran anything more than a 5 or 10K, so water stations were just a place where your stride was broken by a bunch of folks stopping for a drink, some lingering just a bit too long. Aid stations were just people spilling water and yelling at runners. Sometimes it was a group of Boy Scouts or an elementary school PTA.

A few years ago, as I started upping the ante and trying a few half marathons, the aid stations meant a bit more. They were needed. They were part of a successful run. It gave me a chance to hydrate, something that is paramount in longer runs. You need fuel when you are burning through so many calories.

Then, when I ran my first — and only — marathon two years ago, I came to appreciate the folks who took the time to help the runners much more.

Still, it wasn’t until Saturday that I finally realized what it’s like on the other side.

It’s a lot of hard work. It’s rewarding, but hard work.

You never think about how difficult and time consuming it is to fill those little cups with just the right amount of liquid. Too much and it’s all over the runner as they try to drink and run. Too little and it just isn’t worth it for them. And how do you hold the cup to best allow the runners to grab it as they pass? Lots of things to do and think about. There’s definitely an art to it.

The runners begin to trickle in slowly, but once the heart of the average runner groups start to roll your way, it gets a bit crazy. You just hope you’re ready. The runners have put in months of training for the marathon, the last thing you want to do it be responsible for something going wrong. There’s a bit of pressure there. Not as much as on the runners themselves, but you get the point.

It was quite an experience, that’s for sure.

Yep, I’ve looked at a marathon from both sides, now. I’ve felt the desire and now seen the desire. I’ve felt the fire and now seen the fire. I’ve felt the pride and now seen the pride. I’ve felt the fatigue and seen the fatigue. I’ve had that look on my face and seen that look on others’ faces. I felt the commitment and have seen the commitment.

And while I still really don’t know marathons at all, one thing is certain: I like the view from this side. When you’re handing out water and encouragement, you feel a lot better the next day.

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