I’m not a rookie. I’ve run 45 marathons. I’m familiar with most of the marathon training programs and I’ve read dozens of articles on workouts, building mileage, tapering and race strategy. But no one has EVER mentioned what to do if you’re stopped by a train during a marathon.

It was as pretty a day for a marathon as you can imagine in Portland, Oregon—crisp air, blue skies, plenty of sunshine. I was leading a group of runners who wanted to finish the race between 5 hours and anytime on Sunday. We were having more fun than anyone should have on a marathon course, when suddenly….

Lights flashed and crossing gates came down! A volunteer placed himself between us and the tracks.  It was early in the race and we were so focused that we’d  overlooked the fact that a train was approaching. 

I stared. I heard it and saw flashing lights, but my mind didn’t process the reality of standing dead still with a group of 100 runners, pressed up against a train crossing at mile six of a marathon.

Most of us just stood there, but some, who had more trouble grasping reality, ran in place. I was puzzled. I might run in place waiting for a traffic signal, but this was a train—a SLOW train.

When it finally occurred to me to stop my watch, none of us were sure how long we’d already been waiting. That’s when my own lights started flashing. The train wasn’t an obstacle; it was a gift!

So the amount of time each of us subtracted from our official time admittedly was somewhere between a good guess and pure fiction. Some say we waited about 5 minutes. I say it was more like an hour and 20 minutes. Yeah, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’m subtracting an hour and 20 minutes. (There’s no other way I’ll ever run a marathon in under 4 hours, after all!)

When the train finally passed, it was as if we were in the lead pack! What an amazing sight—an EMPTY marathon course stretching ahead of us! No wonder fast runners like to be up there. Marathons look very different when you don’t have thousands of bodies in front of you.

It was worth the wait not to have to elbow past the crowd to get a cup at the next water table. Amazingly, you can actually choose which cup you want to take instead of grabbing the first one you see as if it’s the last one you’ll see.

The joy of leading didn’t last long, though. Those who’d been stopped behind me soon passed me. I wondered if that’s how it feels to the leaders when they are run down by the second pack. I thought about responding to the challenge of those pushing the pace, but chose instead to settle into a comfortable waddle.

We eventually closed the gap on those ahead of us whodd escaped the train. It wasn’t that we were going that much faster, it was just that they began to fade, while we’d  had a chance to catch our breath. I went on to have one of the best marathons of my life, even without the exaggerated time subtracted.

Marathon train-ing has now taken on a very different meaning for me. I don’t think that I’d want to stop 10K into every marathon, but it sure made this one more memorable. I’ve never before had the chance to turn around and see the faces of those running behind me. I’ve never had the chance to talk earnestly with a group of runners during the race, either.

Best of all, it was fun to see the smiles on the  aces of the runners with me as they realized they were part of a column being written right before their eyes.

Waddle on, friends.

Leave a Reply