I went to a track workout with my crew the other night. It was the first one that I’ve been able to get to, and I was a half hour late. I figured that would be fine, since track workouts are much more individually oriented than our usual group runs. Sure, we might do a mile warm up together, but once the speedwork starts, everyone breaks off into their own pace. With speedwork, I actually prefer to be by myself because it gives me the opportunity to dig down deep and find that inner strength to push. It’s important to be able to use those around us as a source of strength, but we also need to develop the ability to find that strength ourselves, for both personal use and so that we can be that strength to others in need. Because of this, I love speedwork, and so even though my schedule prevented me from doing it with the group, I’ve been doing it on my own.
This particular week, it worked out that I could actually make the group workout. By the time I arrived, the other four had already done their warm up and were halfway done with their workout (5 x 800s, for those of you who may be interested). I got started and just figured I’d wave at them when they had finished and were leaving. Eventually, I finished my warm up and moved into the 800s. Oftentimes when running, you can think about other things, but when I work on speed, I usually need to focus on each step. I think about where my energy is going, so that I can continue to push, and then push harder. As I was running my second 800, I realized something odd. The other four had finished their own speedwork by that point and should have been well on their way to finishing their cool down mile. But as I looked over, I saw one doing push ups, another working on some more speed, someone else running the stadium steps, and the last one was simply enjoying the beautiful evening.
“There’s no way they’re waiting for me…” I thought as I rounded the curve in the track. “That would keep them here another half hour or longer than they need to be. That would be absurd!” After I finished that set, I had a 60 second break between 800s to get to the heart of the matter. Two of them were nearby.
“Uh, guys?” I asked. “Did you already do your cool down?”
Sometimes, one of my favorite interviewing techniques is to begin with a question to which I already know the answer. It creates a common foundation and understanding to then tell the other person how crazy they are.
One of them answered me immediately. “Oh, no. We have a tradition that we wait until the last person is finished, and then we all do it together.” I looked at him in disbelief, my 60 seconds ticking away, and I immediately felt bad for coming so late. “You don’t have to do that!”
He looked at me in his matter-of-fact way and simply said, “We know. We want to.”
I was shaking my head as I began my next lap around the track. I was trying to focus on speed while simultaneously processing what was happening at the track, which was a bit difficult. I’ve known these folks almost a year now, and I can say with certainty that I’m a better person today than I was last year because of them. I grew so much last fall while training for a marathon, and though the intensity of my training has since slowed, the learning moments haven’t stopped.
For example, on this particular Tuesday night, four individuals delayed the rest of their night. For me. Dinner times, opportunities for relaxation, conversations with spouses, and bedtimes were voluntarily pushed back to wait for one person. Not because their training plan dictated it and not because they needed to, but because each of them wanted to.
Because they’ve recognized something important. Although the individual is indeed important, it is community that gives deeper meaning to our lives. Community exists, among other reasons, to support the individuals within it, to lift us up, and to encourage us. To show us that though we may often feel alone, we are always part of something bigger, and that something extends beyond and between us. In doing so, it reminds us that caring for another can be dependent on nothing beyond your own choice to do so; age, gender, occupation, and life situation aren’t needed to either facilitate or prevent connections.
So sure, I could have done the rest of my 800s and finished up my run that night by myself, and I would have gone home perfectly happy. But because four people sacrificed a bit of their own time to wait for me, I instead went home with a solid run – and a better understanding of what community means, and how I can try to be that for others. All in all, I’d consider that a success.