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.There 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 crossed 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.
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?