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Article: Marathon runners, ordinary heroes

Les marathoniens, ces héros ordinaires
Marathons & Semi

Marathon runners, ordinary heroes

A few days before the Paris Marathon, I was able to chat with a good number of runners and then on the day of the race itself, I was able to cheer on the runners towards the end of the course in the Bois de Boulogne at a difficult moment in the race.

Throughout these exchanges and moments of encouragement, what stands out is a feeling of admiration for the motivation and courage of the marathon runners. When you see the race from the outside, you appreciate even more the effort that each marathon runner puts in.

Before the race, you can sense that the runners are highly motivated, a little apprehensive and impatient for the race to start. There's a great deal of humility, whatever the time objective, because everyone knows that this race is very demanding and that there are no easy marathons, and that becoming a marathon runner has to be earned.

It's earned not just on race day, but throughout the weeks of training, with repeated efforts in training, between demanding interval training sessions and long sessions that test your endurance. And to train over the long term, you need discipline, resilience and the ability to push yourself, to do sessions that aren't easy, that hurt. All this while continuing with your daily life, your professional life and your family life.

That's what commands respect, that mix of humility, discipline, the ability to surpass oneself, to endure and not give up even when it's difficult.

That's why marathon runners are ordinary heroes.

They're heroes because they display the values you'd expect of a hero: courage, resilience, a positive attitude and a willingness to go the extra mile. And ordinary because during a marathon, you meet men and women of all ages, from all sorts of professions, from all sorts of different backgrounds, cultures and nationalities.

In short, marathon runners represent the full range of human diversity, but they have one thing in common that sets them apart: they have decided to take up the physical and mental challenge of running a marathon, running 42 kilometres and 195 metres in one go.

And when you see them go by on race day, from the first to the last, their willpower and tenacity, at a time when all the hardship and difficulty of a marathon is revealed to them, command respect and make you want to encourage them, to help them go all the way and achieve their goal and, for those who are first-time marathon runners, to realise their dream of becoming a marathon runner.

From the very first to the heart of the pack and then to the last in the race, the expressions, attitudes and grins towards the end of the course are actually quite similar, even if the running speeds are very different. I saw one of the very first runners in the top 10 crouch down in the middle of the road where I was standing. This road was going up and this sudden change had taken its toll on his legs. He stayed still for a few seconds, then got back up and eventually set off again. So it can be tough even for champions who for us are super-humans in terms of race speed.

Later, when the main pack arrives, the attitudes are similar. There was determination, courage, and sometimes a grin that showed how hard it was. One of the handisport runners I was cheering on said to me: "It's all in the head now", even though she was making a real effort to get over that hilly road. She was right: yes, at that moment, it was in the head as much as in the body. And you can see it in the faces, in the glances, in the furtive but grateful thanks when you encourage the runners by quoting their first names : bravo Thomas, bravo Stéphanie...

So, yes, well done to all the marathon runners for showing such courage and such a fine state of mind. Well done for going all the way through this effort of several hours and managing to finish a marathon, this race that is both beautiful and emblematic and tough and demanding. For many people, this might have seemed an unrealistic goal, or at least one that was very difficult to achieve, perhaps a few years or even a few months ago. Every runner, from the moment they cross the finish line, has become a marathon runner. It doesn't matter how many marathons they run in their athletic life, just one or dozens.

Becoming a marathon runner is like a badge of honour, first and foremost for yourself, to show that you can surpass yourself and achieve something difficult and demanding. It's also a great lesson in life. You may come out of it tired and terribly sore for a few days, but above all you can be proud of having accomplished a personal feat, whatever the time taken to finish the marathon.

That's the beauty and symbolism of sport, and the marathon in particular. Running a marathon reminds us of our ability to achieve something that may at first seem impossible, or at least extremely difficult. With a lot of training, a good dose of courage on the day and the support of the spectators and their encouragement along the route, you manage to go all the way, to finally see the finish line in the distance, then to tread the red carpet for the last few metres before passing under the arch of the finish line, with that delicious physical and mental release of having finished while realising that you've just achieved something very difficult.

So well done to all of you marathon runners!

On race day, in our eyes as spectators, you were the heroes of the day.

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