Sometimes You Just Need a Cheerleader

This weekend I ran the longest race of my relatively short running career, a 25K (15.55 miles).  I’d never run 15 miles before, so I was feeling a bit nervous.  I could feel I Can’t sneaking around, so I gave myself a pep talk and a thumbs up before I walked to the starting line.018There was a wind chill of something like 19 degrees F when the race started; it was a 2 pairs of gloves race.  Seriously, I had 2 gloves on each hand for the entire race.  But the cold temperatures made for great running weather when my toes finally thawed out at about mile 3.

The surprising thing was that when I cross022ed the finish line 2 hours 31 minutes and 9 seconds later, I discovered that I was the third place finisher in my age division!  This nifty water bottle was my prize.  The finisher medals were pretty nifty too.023025

But the one thing that made this race the most memorable was the lack of spectators.

Tulsa has a great system of walking/running and biking trails that follow the Arkansas river, and the race was actually held on the running trails.  It’s a great place to run–beautiful scenery, mostly even terrain unlike some of the city streets, the river itself. But there were no people aside from the racers.  Other long races I’ve run were held in city streets with people standing along the way clapping for and cheering us on.

It seems strange to say that I missed spectators when for most of my life I’ve craved solitude and sought out isolation, but running has opened my eyes to how much I need people.  Running long distances is hard, especially during a race.  Racing is all about pushing yourself, covering the distance in the shortest amount of time.

But despite the fact that this was a new distance for me, the race was going well.  I felt strong.  The pace was good.  I reached the half way point, turned around and headed for the finish line.  But suddenly I found myself alone.  The crowd had separated itself and instead of running together, we were all running our individual paces, spread out along the trail.  Somewhere around mile 13 I found myself getting tired.  My quads were burning and my legs were starting to feel heavy.  I started listening to I Can’t:  I don’t know how much longer I can keep running.  I don’t think I can make it.  I just want to walk.

Enter the importance of spectators.  They stand on the side of the street clapping and calling out things like, “You can do it!  You’re almost there!  Looking good!  Way to go, runners!”  I don’t know them from Adam, but their encouragement is fuel.  Somehow, when my legs are gone and my will to finish is nearly tapped out, those calls to keep going, keep me going.  It’s like they see the potential in me to complete the race, and they won’t let me give up on myself.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how much the same holds true in life in general.  We all need people in our corner cheering for us when the going gets tough.  Races give me lots of time to think, and as I thought about how much I needed someone on the side lines encouraging me to keep going, to keep fighting, to not give up, I thought about me in life and how I interact with people around me.  Am I someone who stands in other people’s corners to cheer them on or am I so wrapped up in my own life that I can’t even see their struggles?

I’ll have to do some serious soul searching on that one.  I’m afraid of what I might find…

What about you?  How do you cheer people one?  Who are your cheerleaders in life?

Author: Juanita

Thanks for dropping in! I'm Juanita. People tell me I don't look like a Juanita since I'm red headed and freckled with super pale skin, but what's in a name, right? I'm a 40-something, single (as in no kids, never been married) gal from Oklahoma. I'm a nurse and most importantly, a follower of Jesus. I love chocolate, am scared of heights, and petrified of snakes. After my fortieth birthday and coming to grips with the fact that I was obese, I discovered I'm a runner and a CrossFitter, and that there's a whole lot of life left to live. I just had to get past the fat, stare down the fear, and realize that 40 is not too old for new beginnings. So this is the story of my struggles and adventures in the quest to live a healthy life in mind, body, and soul.

2 thoughts on “Sometimes You Just Need a Cheerleader”

  1. Another great read! I am really enjoying each installment. Growing up in the small town of Clinton, AR, every spring we had “Track and Field Day”. I believe this went on until about middle school. Every year, we were required to sign up for several activities including one foot race and through I was a scrawny kid at the time, due to a defect in my right ankle, I ran with an awkward limp that prevented me from ever being considered even sort of fast. I always chose the 50 yard dash. It was the shortest race and would be over the quickest even for someone of my sad speed.

    The day would come and we would file through the lunch room in the morning and grab our brown bag lunch and walk over to the football field and await our individual events to come up. Inevitably, the 50 yard dash for my grade would be called.

    The grade school principle, Mr Smith, would announce over the PA the starting marks and then finally shout “go”! Regardless of the number of participants in the race, I would quickly fall behind, further and further behind and I would cross the finish line about the time the other runners were catching their breath. Besides the pimento cheese sandwiches we ate from brown bags on the green grass, the most vivid memory I have of track and field day was during all of the races, regardless if it was the longer relays or my sad little 50 yard dash, Mr. Smith would cheer on all of the runners with the same enthusiasm and a constant refrain and he would do this without fail until all of the runners finished the race even if they were dead last.

    His words stick with me and often times find their way to my lips when I am closest to breaking or giving up, “Runners, you cannot win if you do not finish! You cannot win if you d not finish!” Each time he would say it, the emphasis on “cannot” sharpened. He wasn’t saying you had to be the fastest to win or beat all of the other runners. You only had to finish. You only had to keep going and not give up. To a scrawny, poor kid destined to be last no matter how hard he tried wildly swinging his right ankle wide as he tried in vain to keep up with the pack, the words stuck with me.

    Keep it up, Juanita. You cannot win if you do not finish!

    1. Thanks for taking the time to share your story! Those are the best kind of cheerleaders–the ones that are so consistent that their voices echo into the future. And especially voices that pass on such great wisdom. You cannot win if you do not finish–I love that. I’m glad you had a Mr. Smith. Here’s to all the other Mr. Smith’s and race spectators! You have no idea how important you are.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *