One of the reasons that runners feel such a deep sense of camaraderie is because sometimes, running just hurts.
None of us emerged from our mother’s womb, laced up sneakers and ran 26.2 miles. We all began with small steps. One mile became a 5k, and then a 10k became a half marathon and from there, the miles started really ramping up. I now run thousands and thousands of miles every year, and while running has gotten easier it hasn’t gotten that much easier.
When I look back at the roster of people who have been pivotal in shaping my desire to run, I realize that many of them are total strangers.
I woke up early last year on a cold November morning and heaved my body out the door, watching my breath make frosty circles in the air. It was so cold that my exposed skin burned with the lightest touch of wind. I felt like a crazy person. Then, not far in the distance, I saw the little bobbing light of a headlamp running around the lake behind my apartment. I watched the stranger as he moved along the banks and toward town, and I felt this deep connection to him.
Back in July, I lined up for my first cross country race in years. The second I heard the bang of the start gun, my legs sprang into action. I told myself not to push too hard, but went out as fast as I could, anyway. At the one mile mark my lungs were on fire and every cell in my body was screaming at me to slow down. I did. I slowed, and then I slowed a bit more, and I watched as the bodies of faster runners flew by me until, at last, I saw a man running on my right side. “What are you doing?” he cried. “You’re letting this race get away from you! You have more to give today.”
He was right. His words were like hands on my shoulders, pushing the flesh and bones of my body toward the finish. I searched for him in the crowd of runners as I crossed the line, embracing the stranger like I would my best friend.
And then there was an awful morning in May when both my children were sick at home with COVID, my bank account was overdrawn, and I had just finished meeting with my autistic son’s caseworker about transitioning him to adult disability services – a daunting and sometimes sad process.
I laced up my shoes and decided to run away from all of it for an hour or two. I needed to escape the pressure of being everything to everyone.
Ducks and geese scattered as I made my way through the park. I felt strong and fast and free. Then I heard it – clapping and cheering from behind. I turned to see two women walking their dogs, spiriting me onward. They yelled supportive messages of, “Keep it up!” and “You look strong!” They became the bright spot in a day that desperately needed a little light.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes it feels like the world has gotten meaner. People seem less patient and less kind. Social media is filled with criticisms of people just trying to be a little bit better today than they were yesterday. It’s like we have forgotten that there is room enough for all of us.
Running is a place where everyone can find community. My 2024 resolution is to take the feelings of hopefulness and camaraderie we have created in this sport and transfer it to all the spaces of my life. Encouragement means a lot to other people. It’s a custom-tailored gift that builds strength and forms relationships. Running has taught me to show up for those around me, including people I’ve only just met.
This year, I am going to rally alongside everyone daring enough to have big ambitions and think audacious thoughts. After all, you’ll never reach the goals you don’t set. I will make a point of being the extra support that helps others to keep going or feel better about themselves.
You know what I love about running? Well… one of many things. Running gives me the perfect reason to expand my boundaries. Of course, none of us want to fall short of our goals, yet, running gives us permission to explore those and yes, to fail fearlessly because we have tried!
I learned this lesson late last year when I embarked on a most challenging race called The Barkley Fall Classic 50K. #IYKYK, otherwise, I’ll spare you the gnarly details for you to Google. When I got the email that I was “in” I was simultaneously terrified and excited.
Two reasons gave me cause to fret. First up, no GPS of any kind is allowed during the race so I couldn’t rely on my iPhone, much less my Coros watch as a confidence cushion. The second reason was that the course map is historically presented to each runner at registration less than 24 hours before the race, on what I would describe as a handkerchief bandana. Thereafter, much fraught studying can be observed over this piece of material because, like many of my fellow runners, we did not have strong orienteering skills! These two reasons were enough for me to conscientiously examine my decisions but, I was there and ready to commit to the unknown and I wasn’t going to quit before I had even begun!
From the start of the race through the many hours spent running, hiking, climbing, slipping, sliding, and fighting to stay the course, I realized that I was capable, strong, determined, and joyful in those moments of struggle. Remember the two reasons that before the race, had struck me with trepidation? Well… I didn’t get lost, and I honestly didn’t care how far I’d run and in what time.
My race came to an unceremonious end halfway up a steep, mud-ridden climb as I slid back down again after my third attempt to get to the top. Yet, as I sat there, covered in mud, and smiling, I had already conquered my personal inner battle because I had pushed through the fear and those presupposed boundaries that I could have let hold me back.
My point is, don’t let those inner voices of “it’s too hard” and “I’m not good enough” etc., take over your mind. The accomplishment you will feel after you’ve committed to the unknown will far surpass those fears!
Don’t write your story before it’s finished! Live it first.