Tuesday, October 16, 2012

It Takes a (Running) Village

My house is on the full marathon course for the Prairie Fire Marathon and for the first time ever, I got to host a big marathon watch party.  I created a silly and fun playlist; my husband hooked up a giant stereo system; my neighbors made pancakes and bacon and we had a killer block party.

The runners came through our neighborhood at mile 9 and we greeted them with signs, cowbells, bloody mary's and cheer. I sometimes struggle with spectating as opposed to participating...but today I just LOVED it. I sang and danced and high fived a bunch of strangers, all pushing themselves to achieve more, be more. And the smiles and love and thankfulness I got in return were simply amazing. It's hard to describe the positivity you experience in being a part of a marathon, whether as a spectator, runner or volunteer. But it is tangible and magical. It's why people spend months preparing for something that only last a few hours.

As I watched everyone today smile and embrace their challenge, I felt such motivation and inspiration and as always...community. While some runners are crazy and some competitive and some cuthroat...they are the vast minority. Almost every runner you meet is just excited to share that part of themselves with another runner.  Our little group of running friends we refer to as our "running family". We all just love and support each other and go to each other's events and help each other plan our next adventures...all the while solving each other's life problems at 5am and often times wearing matching shirts.  Today, many of my friends ran the full or the half marathon.  My only regret was I couldn't be at the finish line to watch all of them revel in the sweet victory of completing their events!

On Saturday, I worked a booth at the marathon expo for our local running club, Run Wichita. In that time, I met four specific runners that touched me and whose stories I don't want to forget.

Paul Shimon: This guy is the only person who has run every single Wichita marathon since the race's inception. A kind personality, a quiet guy in his 60's, Paul came over and caught up with a couple old friends while he picked up his race packet. I had heard of him but never met him and enjoyed speaking with him.  In his 33rd Wichita marathon, he was as excited as ever to take on the 26.2 miles. He laughed at himself and his "old man" aches and pains but was very excited for the projected beautiful weather. I told him to look for me at mile 9 and he did! During the race, I got a big high five and smile.  He then proceeded to crank out a 4:19.  Now, in his heyday (and because I stalked him), Paul's marathon PR was right around 2:30 so he clearly is a gifted runner with amazing credentials. You'd never know it passing him on the street or even at the race expo. Paul exhibited one of the things I love the most about runners. Humility. It often seems like the more a runner has accomplished, the more understated the runner's acknowledgement of their own achievements.

Inspirational weight loss half-marathon lady: A lady's whose name I don't know came over and asked me what Run Wichita was. We started talking and I of course, asked her what race she was running the next day. She shyly looked up and said "just the half marathon." I told her that was wonderful and was excited for her, as it was obviously her first foray into running. She then told me about how she signed up because October 14 was the anniversary of her new life.  On October 14, 2010, she started walking. Her goal had been to walk an hour a day and there were many times she said she had to sit on the curb and just wait to catch her breath. After being told by her doctor to "start walking or prepare for the worst" (she had a heart attack at a young age), she started walking. She said she eventually ran a little to help the monotony of the walks.

In the last two years, she lost over 100 pounds. She looked trim and like any other 50 something. But then I looked closer. She had on jeans that were a way too big, belted tightly to not fall off. Her face had extra skin. And in her misty eyes, she clearly had some history. I was sort of overcome. She started asking me questions and as we talked she seemed to gain a little confidence. She had ran/walked 12 miles and wanted to know if I thought she'd finish the next day. I couldn't help myself. I came across the table, gave her a big hug and said she would absolutely finish. She said she didn't care about her time and that the race had been very expensive and a bit of a hardship for her to pay for but it was an important gift for herself. By this point, I am tearing up and telling her, it was worth every penny and it was really a good deal because she's going to get two shirts and a big necklace out of her race registration. Warm fuzzy quota for the day was met, in about 5 minutes of speaking with this stranger whose name I will never know.

Montana man: Another runner whose name I cannot be sure of came up to our booth and just talked to me for a bit. He was nice guy with long grey hair and a full beard, one might venture to say...a hippy. As we chatted, he told me he was from Montana and it was his first time in Kansas. He was excited to see the town and run the race tomorrow.

When I saw him during mile 9 at my house, he was running with the 3:45 pace group. His long grey hair was flowing freely and he was wearing some old school short shorts and a beat up tshirt. He had a truly beautiful running stride and I imagine in his hey day was probably a very fast runner. He was very excited to see me and yelled "Kansas is so beautiful. I love your trees and your parks and your sky is just so huge!!!" For someone from a state known for its scenery, I was proud and a little tingly that he loved his trip and his run through our town.

Really fast guy from Boulder: Finally, during the expo, a younger runner approached our booth and started asking questions. He was very clearly, a fast guy. He was thin, wiry, all muscle. A little sunburnt wrinkled face but he just had that body. You know, the one that just posts ridiculously fast times. His girlfriend was very cute and soft spoken. He asked first for hotel recommendations and then restaurant recommendations. And then, some frank advice.

When we asked what race he planned to run, he said he hadn't decided between the full or half. And that...get this....he was there because he wanted to win prize money. (Can you even imagine??? Running for some easy cash?) Again, almost embarassed and very humble, this very elite runner was asking our thoughts on what a winning time would be for either race the next day. He told us his anticipated finish times and we said he had a very solid chance of winning either race. In fact, we said "unless someone else like you shows up tomorrow, someone from out of state who is here for prize money, your time should win the marathon." He decided, just like that, he would run the full.

And to my best estimation, in checking the results, he took second. He finished 6 minutes after another guy, also from Colorado. The local newspaper quoted the 2nd place marathon finisher as saying "He [the winner] shows up to any race, he wins." In a blazing fast time of 2:23:26, the winner was probably only using our marathon as a "training run". And sadly, the guy looking to score some "easy cash" finished exactly where he thought he would 2:29:40, a finishing time that any other year would have easily won the event for him. I felt a twinge of guilt for giving him shaky advice...but who knew? Our little marathon is now attracting some pretty elite runners. Again though, perhaps the funniest part of all of this was this guy's humility and flat out embarassment at discussing whether he could win with a couple local strangers.

So why is it that running creates such humility within most? Why is it that instead of beating your chest like a preening peacock on Jersey Shore, these runners look down, smile shyly and discuss their goals and times and best case scenario's? No one needs to tell me Mr. Sub 2:30 marathon is something special and works very hard. I know this. His humility was evident and I truly wanted him to win so he could get a little money for his efforts.  Why is it that the woman who lost 100 pounds over the last two years wasn't wearing tight clothes to show off that new body? I think it's because in sweating and suffering and fending off injuries and earning your stripes, you recognize the power of your body to conquer but also the fragility of your body to falter at any time.  The happy hippy from Montana ran for the joy of it--it was so clear in his huge smile. Everyone runs for a reason but most runners know it can't last forever. Cherish it while you can. And in recognizing the fleeting time you have to run, you gotta make it count.

And it all brought it back to my own goals for my body and for running. I may not be elite but I am part of the running community. And next year, I am running the Chicago marathon. It will be my return to the 26.2 distance and probably the first time I leave my new baby behind. I am planning to go with a giant group of friends. This weekend made me want to start a Chicago calendar countdown!!! Days til my next marathon finish line: 353.


  1. You are an inspiration.

  2. i love this article!!! i remember hearing the "bee gees" from a half mile away and i know my pace quickened. Thank you my friend, for making my FIRST, but certainly not my last, MARATHON the best ever! CHICAGO...HERE WE COME! :) angie