BOSTON — Every spring they run the Boston Marathon, and every spring, thousands of seemingly normal Americans sit by their TV sets and say, “You know, I should try that.”

One can only assume this is some mysterious disease and that we will soon have a vaccine for it. In the meantime, those afflicted should realize today’s marathon is not like the good old days back in ancient Greece, when contestants ran naked for 26 miles and then dropped dead behind a rock.

No. Things have changed. They are much more complex. So if you still want to run one of these things after watching today’s race, you will need to know what it takes to make it 26 miles. Which is why I have prepared the following 11-point guide on how to approach your first marathon: 1. CHOOSE THE RIGHT RUNNING SHOES — Once upon a time, people ran in sneakers. Once upon a time, you got free silverware at the gas station, too. Today, the educated marathoner realizes the value of Nike footwear, and will often drop out of law school in order to afford two pairs. But never fear. You, the first-time marathoner, should be able to purchase a good running shoe, which is computer-designed and made from the hide of a puma, by simply refinancing your mortgage or selling one of your children. 2. CHOOSE THE RIGHT CLOTHING — Once upon a time, people ran in sweatshirts. These were the same people who ate with silverware from gas stations. Today, you must dress the part of a serious marathoner if you are to fool even one person along the course. The right outfit consists of a sleeveless mesh singlet, which is made from a single spool of Korean thread and costs no more than $485, and running shorts, which should be made of a quick- dry material, in case it rains or someone throws his beer at you for a laugh. 3. EAT THE RIGHT PRE-RACE MEAL — Many lengthy books on marathoning that cost upward of $17.95 suggest loading up on pasta and cake the night before the race. You may be skeptical, since most fat people have been following that regimen for years, and they didn’t have to pay $17.95, either. As a first- time marathoner, I suggest you try Mexican food instead. It won’t help your carbohydrates, but it can provide a serious enough stomachache to make you forget the whole thing and stay in bed. 4. USE THE BATHROOM BEFORE LEAVING THE HOUSE — Self- explanatory. 5. IGNORE THE SERIOUS RUNNERS — At every big marathon, there are a dozen or so world-class runners who are favored to win. You will never see these people. They are of absolutely no concern to you. By the time you finish, these people will have celebrated a birthday and will be on a plane to someplace such as Finland. 6. IGNORE THE PRIZE MONEY — Even the Boston Marathon now offers big money to its top finishers. This, too, is of absolutely no concern to you. All the money will be given out by the time you reach the six-mile mark. The only financial gain you can hope to realize is if you bet the guys at the office you won’t suffer a coronary before 20 miles, and you live long enough to collect. 7. DO NOT EAT A HERO SANDWICH DURING THE RACE — Just a warning. 8. KNOW YOUR HAND SIGNALS — Communication during a marathon is essential, especially when 47 runners try to squeeze between two trees at the same time. This is why the international marathon hand signals were created. A quick review: Five fingers: “I’m waving at my kids. Ignore me.” Four fingers: “I am going down on all fours now, and will crawl the rest of the way. Go around me. ” Three fingers: “I will be dead shortly. Please call my wife, mother and stockbroker.” Two fingers: “Victory! Victory! Oh, my heart . . .” One finger can mean many things, none of which we will go into right now. 9. AVOID FOREIGNERS — Anyone who flies in from another country to run in a marathon is not going to have time for your problems. Thus, if you were hit by a truck, the foreign runner is likely to go right by you and say, “Pardon. My english, dog, your foot is, haven’t we?” It is much safer to run next to people whose marathon outfits cost $1,235 or more, as you will know they are Americans. 10. PRACTICE BOBBING AND WEAVING — In the early stages of a marathon, the happy spectators along the course offer oranges and cups of water to the big-name runners. However, after sitting in the same spot for 3 1/2 hours these same happy spectators can grow restless and bored. Soon they start whipping the oranges like major league fastballs. If you hear a voice scream,
“Ten bucks says I can hit No. 3,407 in the face!” it is a good idea to begin the bob and weave. Especially if you are No. 3,407. 11. CELEBRATE PROPERLY — Should you somehow finish all 26 miles before midnight, fall to your knees, scream “hallelujah!” and rip off your shoes, singlet and shorts right there in the middle of the street. You will then be arrested for indecent exposure and taken to jail, which is OK, since your ride home will have left hours ago.

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