Wednesday, April 17, 2013

the beauty of the race

A story --

Once upon a time, when my body was friendlier than it is these days, I ran a race on a whim.  I'd called myself a "gym rat" -- I didn't quite feel worthy of the term "runner" since I was a pure treadmill gal.  But I'd acquired some decent mileage and, without telling anyone other than the X since he was driving me, I signed up for a half-marathon.  It was a smaller race, so there weren't really any spectators and towards the end we were spread out enough that I couldn't always see another runner.  It was in September but turned out to be a freak 90 degree day with high humidity and there were constant "rolling hills," making it clear why one should run outside at least once before embarking on 13.1 miles. 

A key lesson I learned that day was that running any sort of distance requires both physical and mental stamina.  I didn't wear a watch and they only marked the distance at the mile points.  I did eventually take some walk breaks, but it took a lot of will not to stop entirely.  I'm fairly certain they didn't bother marking mile 13, either that or I simply missed it, and few curves meant I couldn't see the person ahead of me nor could I see the finish.  I was tired and hot. 

And then, I spotted her.  She was sitting on the curb, with her own number still attached (there was also a 5K and 10K, but I'm pretty certain she'd done the half).  She met my gaze, smiled, and shouted "You got it!"  And I welled up with tears...and I still do when I recall the I ran by her and spotted the finish line and the small crowd, as well as more than a dozen other folks who cheered and shouted final-step-encouragements...I'd have guessed it was for someone else if I hadn't been the only one passing by (I finished smack dab in the middle of the pack, 2h1m55s...I'd have shaved off those pesky 2m if they had course clocks).

The point --

There's a quote that circulates after tragic events from Fred Rogers (whom I've sometimes found a bit creepy but have had to admit is simply a truly good man): 

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Often in the wake of tragedies we remark upon how bad times bring out the best in people.  We saw people helping strangers after Hurricane Sandy, even opening their homes to those who'd lost their own.  And we've heard stories again in the wake of the bombings in Boston, people giving food and clothing to runners, even a story of a man giving a stranger his finisher's medal because the woman was diverted just a short distance away from the end. 

Like many others, I've often remarked on how it is a bit sad that it takes tragedy for us to come together.  But, this isn't always true.  One of the beautiful things about the Boston marathon, and many other distance races, is the role of the spectators, strangers who cheer on the runners.  And not just the elites, but the "average" (to the degree that anyone who can finish 26.2 is average) folks...the ones approaching the finish after 4 plus hours on the course.  Spectators are known to even call out runner's numbers, just to make one specific stranger feel encouraged. 

There's such beauty in that.  It is a reminder of good, the good that's quietly in most people.  I can't fathom targeting that good, that beauty.  My heart goes out to those hurt and the families of those killed and even to the runners who were robbed of what should have been a beautiful day (and I wonder how many feel guilty secretly being angry they couldn't finish...they were robbed too and should feel justified in their own hurt).  May it bring them some small comfort to know that the good will continue, that the good outnumber the wicked, and that the spectators will continue to cheer and the runners will continue to run (or walk while running in their heart). 

An added note  -- For those unfamiliar with the details of the Boston Marathon, an added note.  Boston is not a general entry event.  There are two ways one can take part.  The first is to "qualify" which means completing a prior marathon in a set time, a standard that varies based on age and gender, but one that requires a pretty strong finish (for me, a 35yo female, the 2013 time was 3h40min...I'd get an extra 5min at age 36).  The other way people are able to participate is running for charity.  Many of those, and their supporters and the other spectators cheering them on, were likely the ones in the vicinity at the time of the explosions. 


Lee said...

Great post, Cheryl.

Lauren Starks said...

Very nice and poignant, as usual.