Why I Run, Reprise

A year ago today, after the Run of the Mill 5k, I wrote a post called “Why I Run“.  One day after this year’s Run of the Mill, my sentiments are the same: runners are incredible people.  I don’t say that as self-flattery; I mean it in an admiring way.

If you read last year’s post, I mentioned a runner I vaguely know named Katie.  It turns out that we’ve kept in touch off-and-on for the past year–yay Facebook–and that she’s going to college to run with one of my high school friend’s cousins.  The running community is strange like that.  (For example, a lot of post-collegiate runners end up marrying each other–that sounded…not quite right–so then you get an interesting web of athletes with the same last names.  The genes for being a good runner also tends to run in families, which complicates matters further when siblings marry other siblings.  Let’s just say that the predominance of speed in the Pacific Northwest is probably not going to go away any time soon.  But enough of this aside.)  She was in the senior all-star race (the division I ran last year) yesterday, and I didn’t have a chance to talk to her, but randomly enough, her mother walked up to me and said hello and then offered to let me leave my bag in their car while I ran.  I happened to have a parking spot about fifty meters away from the start/finish line (despite arriving 45 minutes before the race started; I got the last of two spots in the entire lot), so I politely declined, but the fact that someone who’s effectively a stranger (she was one of my dorm’s chaperone’s at cross country camp two summers ago, and I have spoken to her at a couple of races since then, but otherwise I don’t know her) offered to let me use their car for storage struck me as a very runner-ish thing to do.  It’s saying, “I’ve been where you’ve been; I understand.  Implicitly, I trust you, and I know you trust me, even though we don’t actually know each other.”  The running community is strange–in a good way–like that.

The second, probably more poignant story, from yesterday is that of the final finisher.  He was a big fellow–probably six feet tall and 400 pounds.  (As a slightly creeper-ish aside, after some Facebook stalking, it turns out that he appears to be the uncle of one of the leaders of another cross country camp I went to.  This may contradict my observation about running running in families, but who cares?)  While I was cooling down, I saw him walking, accompanied by the trailing cyclist, either a paramedic or a police officer, I’m not sure which.  One thing that struck me was the the paramedic/officer acted as though he was in no hurry: it was no burden to him that he had to snake back and forth on the trail as he peddled slowly along; it was no irritation that it took him a half an hour longer to finish his duty than it otherwise would have; it seemed to be more of a joy than a bother to spend time talking with this final finisher.  After I’d finished cooling down and was going back to my car, suddenly I heard shouting from the finish line, “Everybody, he’s coming!”  In my head, I suddenly understood why the finish line, clock, and timing mats were still up, half an hour past the posted time for the course to be reopened to vehicular traffic: the race management and the city permitted it to stay up so the last finisher could cross the finish line.  (The city of Mill Creek just won big bonus points in my head.  I understand that this obviously isn’t practical/possible in many circumstances, but kudos to the Mill Creek police/city officials as well as the race directors, the timing company, the volunteers, and whoever else for making it possible.)  Apparently, someone had asked race volunteers stay around, if possible, to cheer the last participant through the finish line, since it was his first event and he just came with his brother.  What turned out was probably close to a hundred volunteers, racers, and patrons of nearby restaurants and businesses lining up along the finish line, cheering and clapping as though he were the first one, not the last one, through the chute.

“Dav-id!  Dav-id!  Dav-id!”

I think he was honestly a little bit surprised.  If it were me, I would have been dreadfully embarrassed.  (In cross country and track, and to be honest, at RotM last year, my main motivation not to be last was my fear of the “consolation clap”.)  I think, though, he could tell that people–myself included–were genuinely excited for him.  Despite what the world would tell him, he finished, in a few seconds more than two hours.  Afterwards, I found him sitting, exhausted, on a bench.  I told him, “I don’t know how to say this, but, you inspire me.”  He just said, “Thank you.”  I hope he didn’t think I was just being polite, because I mean it.  I hope he wasn’t offended, because I wasn’t inspired because of where he is–I’m inspired because of where he’s going.  On the days that I feel challenged, I’ll remember the people who face such bigger challenges.

This is why I run.