I suppose this harkens back to the speech I gave at my school’s athletics’ banquet, but I feel it’s worth repeating.
Today, I ran at a local race for the “top” graduating seniors in the state cross country field. I would footnote this by saying that there were only nine females, and most of the people who qualify probably don’t even know the race exists, much less participate. Regardless, for me, it was like a mini-Borderclash. I’ve never been fast enough for any of the big/prestigious time-qualification meets–Borderclash, Footlocker, Brooks PR, Nike Cross Nationals, etc. Heck, I could barely make it out of my district to state, and I was in a small-school league. As insignificant as today was (there were only nine girls), this race was sort of like a tangible culmination to one of the things to which I’ve dedicated four years of my life. State track and state cross country this year were that, too, but this was special. For once, I qualified for something “different”. I even got free clothing (and a free race entry!) out of it (don’t worry, it doesn’t impinge on my NCAA eligibility, not that it even matters). I was eighth out of nine, but it doesn’t matter. (I actually ran a pretty decent time for me, considering that I’ve pretty much been resting except for a sort-of-race three days ago). All that matters to me is that I did it: I’ve had my eye on this race since I first learned of its existence, three years ago.
What ended up being even more special, though, is the people I encountered. I saw a great deal of people I know to varying degrees from cross country camp or my district school or random other places, but three people in particular are outstanding.
First, I walked up to the registration tent, and the lady greeted me by name, which startled me; I realized it was Coach Karen, from a rival school our league. She’s always been supportive of me and all the other runners, regardless of colors. After the race, I spent a little bit of time talking with her, and was disappointed to learn that she would not be returning next year due to an internal snafu at her school which had left a goodly number of teachers and coaches as well as the principal “in the lurch”, so to speak. She, along with Coach Laurel from another school, cared about all the kids out there running, not just their athletes. Before we had a girls’ coach, and during track or at running camp, they took me under their metaphorical wings. Coach Karen also showed me what it means to be an Ironman (at least as far as I can judge from the tattoo on her ankle 🙂 ) –on top of being a coach and a mother and whatever other hats she may wear. I’ll miss people like Coach Karen (and Coach Laurel) next year–I’ll likely see my own (former) coaches over breaks and such, but for all I know, the coaches (and athletes) from other schools are now figments of the past. I wish it weren’t that way.
The next encounter occurred during the race. I met Katie last year at cross country camp, and I didn’t realize then, but she’s actually one of the fastest runners in the state. You wouldn’t know it from her demeanor, though: she’s not arrogant or annoying or any of the other things that sometimes afflict talented athletes. The special division in which I was running had a head start of about four or five minutes over the main race, so by the time I was twelve or fifteen minutes in, the lead males were catching me, and by the time I was twenty or 21 minutes in, the lead females were catching me. Katie was one of the lead females. As she came up on me, she said something to the effect of, “Way to go Joy, hang onto me.” Needless to say…I tried for about 200m and then shouted at her, “You’re the one who’s run sub-eighteen. GO!” Those 200m she pulled me were important, though–I was starting to zone out, and she refocused me for the last stretch. More important, though, was the fact that she took the time (and breath!) to say that to me, the mediocre runner who finished a good four minutes behind her. That’s why I love the running community, but especially cross country: we care about each other.
The last person is my own (former) coach. She’s…more than twice my age…and still ran two minutes faster than I did today, and about 1:20 faster than my PR. Good heavens. I cooled down with her after the race and we talked. Well, she talked and I listened, mostly. But I listen because I respect what she has to say and she’s almost always right (and maybe a little bit because I’m bad at talking). I suppose that’s the cool thing: she makes time to talk with people, despite her absurdly hectic schedule, which goes back to the caring about people thing.
But yeah, it’s days like today that remind me why I run.