I like to watch . . . the Vermont City Marathon. And since the running route fully encircles my little house in Burlington's Old North End, I embrace the annual event as a rite of summer. As per usual, on Sunday morning I awoke to the loudspeaker call of the marathon muezzin and, coffee in hand, ambled to the east end of my street to witness a sea of still-fresh runners coming the wrong way up Park Street. I was in the very same spot — the intersection of Manhattan Drive and 127 — when they returned 4 miles later, a little worse for wear but still smiling.
While they ran 8 more miles through the Burlington's South End, I walked a block west and joined my neighbors gathered on the greenbelt in front of 173 North Street. The draw? Disco music. Every year Doug and Jenifer Woods blast loud, danceable hits from the '80s for the benefit of the pavement-pounding passersby. Nothing speaks to a runner at mile 15.5 like the strains of The Village People's "YMCA."
By then I had started to recognize some of the non-relay runners: After a certain number of sightings, you develop attachments to suffering strangers identifiable either by their costumes — the joker, the bride-to-be, the banana, the woman with the "See Jane Run" T-shirt — or their gaits, like something out of Monty Python's "Weird Walks." Some people run like kids, all bouncy and bent-kneed. Others keep it crab-like, close to the road. There's no correlation, it seems, between the form and the finish line.
It's worth noting the proliferation of iPods. And, yes, I saw a guy take a cellphone call mid-race. But some things never change about the marathon, including, unfortunately, a small number of men who don't believe their nipples are going to bleed after three-plus hours of rubbing. Running is a passion for anyone who can hoof it 26.2 miles. Maybe, even, a Passion.
Less than a half-mile from the end, I watched one of the fastest runners in the race trip and fall on the asphalt. He picked himself up and raced on, but the spot where he'd lain, ever so briefly, was dark with the sweat from his body. On a lighter but no less determined note, I'll remember a dude trudging down North Avenue who found it in his very tired body to spell out Y - M - C - A.