IT’S CHILLY at the start line of the marathon, and the start chutes are packed with runners bobbing up and down as the anthem plays. One of them, Gary Collina, stares straight ahead and reminds himself why he’s running today. He turns to a woman standing next to him, offers a fist bump, wishes her luck. Then turns to another runner, repeats the gesture.
Earlier, he’d compared goal times and race strategies with an older man with tree-trunk legs. The man, nearly three decades Gary’s senior, had said he hoped to run a 3:22. “Fast,” Gary had said. “You’ve got it, man.” They shook hands.
Gary is that runner – the one at every race who you don’t know, but who slaps your back and wishes you luck. The one who turns to you seconds before the gun goes off, looks you in the eyes, and says, “You’ve got this.”
Maybe you don’t think about that runner again for the rest of the race. Or maybe you thank them around 15km, when you realise they were the last person to talk to you before you started running. The starting line can be lonely. Your mind wanders from one anxiety to the next. But no one can resist a brief moment of human interaction: a high five, a handshake, a head nod wishing you well.
This is Gary’s 11th marathon and his 101st race. He’s accustomed to lining up alone. Even when he does drag his wife and two kids along with him as spectators, he – like most of us – arrives in his start chute without a posse or a friend. “Waiting there sucks,” he says. “The tension, the anticipation. You just wan