Running is an incredible sport.
As a runner, I’ve grown so much from the thousands of miles that I’ve run. Today, though, I had the opportunity to see the sport from a different side: as a spectator.
Many of my friends were running a local race today. Some were doing the half-marathon distance, while some others ran a full. Since I wasn’t running it, I went with some friends to cheer them on. Where we stood marked miles 4 and 9 for the half-marathoners, and for the fullers, it was about mile 16 and 22. Armed with cowbells, signs, tutus, a MacGyver-style Velcro cowbell belt, and our voices, we cheered on hundreds of runners as they passed us by.
Almost three hours we stood there, and I sit here now in awe of all the runners I saw today. They all accomplished the same end result, but to each of them, the journey to that finish line was for their own reasons and in their own way. I’ll never know most of their stories, but some of the runners stood out, and they inspire me more than they will ever know.
The woman who was running with a prosthetic leg.
The woman who wore a sweatshirt that said in handwritten letters, “Six weeks postpartum #noexcuses”.
Our friend who was trying to qualify for Boston. On the way out at mile 16, he looked strong and on pace. By the time he returned at mile 22, he was far past where he needed to be. Yet he ran on, with strong strides and focus in his eyes.
The man who wore a camouflage backpack that looked like it weighed 40 pounds and carried an American flag.
The two mother/child pairs that I saw. The kids were probably ten or twelve, and pushing through each mile without complaint or cares.
The older gentleman – probably around 65 – who was on pace to run a 3:40 marathon.
The woman wearing a shirt that read, “I run for those who can’t.”
Another friend who is such a strong supporter and encourager of everyone was out there today. I know he has his own personal goals and would love to PR, but he never talks about that, and instead, gives all his energy to help others reach their goals. I know he’ll never really talk about his time or how he did, but he’ll instead talk about how fun it was, and how the other runners are feeling.
The three or four teams of Ainsley’s Angels that were out there today. Folks from this group are at most local races, and they always inspire me. The runners push the “riders” in a “racing chariot.” The riders are usually kids with various disabilities who can’t run (and often, can’t walk, either). Runners are volunteers who choose to help these kids not only run, but fly by – at least for a few hours.
The marathon runner who laughed at our signs and then pointed at us like we were movie stars. His love for what he was doing was contagious.
A friend who has had her ups and downs with running over the past few years. She didn’t think today would be a particularly good race, but she went out there, gave it all she had, and had enough energy to laugh at the sign I made for her. She’s a constant reminder of determination, grit, and quiet persistence.
The couple in their seventies who walked the half-marathon together.
The half-marathoners who were near the back of the pack. For some of them, each step was a struggle, and yet, they pressed on.
The folks who just wanted to have fun out there – the older woman with a green tutu and a giant shamrock hat, the man with a huge lobster hat, the women wearing glittery tutus, and the two men wearing kilts (one of whom was a full marathoner!). These people were still running these long distances, but wanted to do it in their own way.
Cheering for all these folks today reminded me to never take running for granted. They reminded me that each step we take is a gift, and one that means something different to each of us. Crossing that finish line is great, but it’s while we are on the journey to it that we have the chance to push ourselves, to help others make it to the finish, and to discover our own strength. The runners today were beautiful examples of that – and it was well worth having only half a voice left now to see them on that journey.