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The more and the merrier

Learn why today's marathoners revel in participation.

While I travel to about 15 marathons per year, I don't run all of them (some faster folks would argue I don't run any of them). Sometimes I like to hang out near the finish line and watch all the racers bring it on home. And that's just what I did last January at P.F. Chang's Rock 'N' Roll Arizona Marathon in Scottsdale.

Early on I saw pretty much what you'd expect: lots of serious-looking men and women in racing flats and singlets. There wasn't a lot of smiling going on. But what these runners lacked in joviality they made up for in determination, commitment, and fast times.

Eventually, more and more grins could be spotted in the pack. For these marathoners, the joy of running transcended finishing times. They were running at their limit, and they were proud of their accomplishment.

Soon almost all the singlets turned to purple and red and orange and black. From Team in Training to AIDS marathoners, the charity runners filled the road. Most had trained as a group to get to this point, and so most wanted to finish as a group. For them, completing the race together was as important as covering the 26.2 miles.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a man ran by in a pink tutu followed closely by a guy juggling. I had now witnessed the clear line of demarcation where a road race becomes an event: The point where participants start coming by in pink tutus.

I have no idea why someone would run a marathon in a pink tutu. I also don't know why anyone would run dressed as a banana or a Viking or while jumping rope. And I definitely don't know why some London marathoners run in nothing but a thong.

But once you get to a certain point in a marathon pack, there's no telling what you're going to see. This certainly wasn't the case 40 years ago when "Runner's World" first got out of the blocks. Heck, it wasn't even the case 20 years ago when the average marathon finishing time was about 3:40. Back then, the only goal was to cover the 26.2 miles as fast as possible - and certainly not while also balancing an egg on the end of a spoon.

Now anyone can enter a race, and rest assured there will be others running with the same level of talent or lack thereof. Some will run it. Some will run and walk it. And some will run it in pink tutus. The new running community embraces effort as well as excellence.

And if you're ever out watching a large marathon, I encourage you to stay until the real back of the pack goes by. If you wait until well after the pink tutus, you're likely to see a short man in long shorts with a stilted stride and a giant smile on his face. That will be me.

I'll be back there with a handful of people. We've grown accustomed to finishing as the banners are being taken down. We may be last, but we're happy and proud. And we gladly take those final steps, because we can.

Waddle on, friends.

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