I love the act of running – floating through the miles while drenched in sweat, my heart beating strongly, my mind wandering through subjects for the next week’s blog. I love runners. The ones I meet on Daily Mile.Theones I see on our local trails. The running moms I meet at my children’s schools. But even more than the people and the act of running, I love the inclusivity of this sport. I love that on any given weekend I can run a marathon or a 5-k with the “best of the best of the best, sir.” And I love that those best of the best of the best are so approachable. I love that runners like Ryan Hall and Paula Radcliffe who bring me to tears with their performances can admire the perseverance it takes for the back of the packers to be out there competing in the same sport.
My husband’s friend tells a story that I think is so indicative of this inclusivity. A few years back when he was studying at Oxford, he was invited to a banquet honoring several past graduates of the university. He had only just arrived at Oxford so he found himself at a table full of people he didn’t know. Sitting to his right was a gentleman who struck up a conversation. He asked our friend, “So, do you participate in any sport?” And my friend proceeded to tell him how he jogged a little and participated in some local road races. After he finished regaling this gentleman with stories of his favorite races, he asked in return, “And you, do you participate in any sport?” The gentleman, replied, “I jog a bit.” Maybe he would have expounded on the subject, but just then someone approached the podium and began to speak, eventually introducing the guest of honor that evening – Sir Roger Bannister. Sir Roger Bannister, who happened to be seated, you guessed it, right next to my friend.
I love this story because it is just one of dozens of stories like it. John Bingham tells one of sitting beside an elite athlete who had recently set the world record for the marathon. This marathoner asked how he had done in the same marathon and after Mr. Bingham told him how long it had taken him to complete the marathon, this world record holder was shocked. Not mortified but shocked and amazed that anybody could stay on their feet that long.
Over the years I have had the pleasure of meeting so many great runners – Jeff Galloway, Joe Henderson, Mark Allen, Bart Yasso – and without exception they were all so gracious. Unlike the pro athletes we find in other sports, they didn’t act like their presence was a gift to me. They acted like any other runner I have ever met. They asked about my races and related stories about theirs as though we were two of a kind. And though they are faster and stronger than I, they are right about that we are all runners. John Bingham said it well, “If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter how fast or how far. It doesn’t matter if today is your first day or if you’ve been running for twenty years. There is no test to pass, no license to earn, no membership card to get. You just run.”
I enjoy our local races. They are a great place try to compete for an age group spot. At these smaller races, I actually have the chance of this happening. But I love the bigger races, the ones with 10, 20, or even 30 thousand participants. I love seeing the diversity of our sport. While every large race has a couple of handfuls of elite athletes, you will also find people of every shape and size, first time racers and veterans of hundreds of races, moms, dads, sisters, brothers, nuns, priests, tattooed biker types, young guys still smelling of booze from a late Saturday night out with friends. Each seemingly so different from the next but on race morning they are all the same. They are all runners, experiencing the same jitters and anticipation, the same excitement or dread and ultimately the same sense of accomplishment for a race well run.