"Races are the jam on the doughnut, not the doughnut" - unknown
When you've run for over three decades, been competitively active through SEVEN age groups, and are virtually a pack-rat, you accumulate things. For a runner, those things are most definitely shirts. You're almost guaranteed at least one at every race you enter, never mind finish. And it's gotten to the point that no self-respecting race director will give anything less than a technical shirt - I mean cotton? C'mon! We accumulate drawers full of shirts, some designated for running, but a precious few are given the special prestige of "wear-to-the-mall" shirts, or "Saturday" shirts. Although you have a drawer full of shirts, these treasured shirts are usually limited to a precious few.
Then, if they're attractive, you might also keep the race bibs that adorn you during the race itself. And we have hats and patches and cups and glasses. And occasionally, if few enough folks show up at a race and you're one of the top three in your age group, then you can scarf up a trophy. These are all things that don't usually mean much to anybody else, but have tremendous meaning to you. You worked, you sweated, and you have this piece of memorabilia that can bring on a wave of emotions.
The other day, I was thinking about this and trying to figure out how do we decide what is so important to us, that we cannot bear the thought of parting with them. Sitting in my tiny office at work, I can look around and on my bulletin board, and crowding out important Usernames and Passwords and telephone numbers to supposed superiors, are remembrances from days gone past, but definitely not forgotten. I have color reproductions of all 5 bib numbers from my Boston Marathons, two finisher's medals (Boston - my favorite, and Georgia - my last "competitive" marathon), a 5-year finisher award from the Oak Mt 50k, various training schedules and pace charts, a champion chip from the Marine Corps Marathon, and a plaque given to me by former co-workers when I finished my 100th marathon.
Why do I display these? Why do I pick out the shirts I do to wear here and there? Is it to (in my mind) impress others as to who I am, or was? Do I need it to periodically whisk myself back to those thrilling days of yesteryear? Am I afraid of losing that part of me if I don't have this materialistic blanket around me? The answers are yes, yes, and yes!
At home, I have a room that used to be our son's until he went away to college back in the early 90's. He then continued his education adventures away from home in San Diego and now is in Boston with his family, but his room will forever be "Michael's room". So, in a corner of Michael's room are displayed some of the trophies and medals I'm most proud of or because they are unique. I simply DO NOT want them to wind up in a drawer only to be found like photos in Grandma's attic years after I'm gone.They mean absolutely nothing to anybody but me. Occasionally we'll have a guest spend a night with us and they are put up in Michael's room. Man, they are going to be SOOOO impressed. Nope, never do they inquire about any of the trophies or the medals placed on or dangling from the bookcase. Well, maybe they might say how "cute" my Disney medal is....Good Grief! Don't they want to hear how I ran down my adversary, Charles Thompson, in the last 5 miles of Boardwalk and Epcot to get that medal? No, they don't!
One of my favorite trophies is from the Atlanta 24 Hour Run. It was the National Championships for that year and somehow I actually finished 13th with 109 miles. Not only does the trophy have meaning as being one of my proudest running moments, but I like it because the race was held at the Atlanta Water Works (you ran around a reservoir) and the trophy had an old time water faucet on top (like the Monopoly card). That was a big-deal trophy. A little-deal trophy was from the River Edge 10k. You see, I was brought up in River Edge, New Jersey and one year, some 40 years after leaving River Edge, I went up there to see my sisters and here was a race in my hometown. I finished 3rd in my age group and that trophy has a permanent place in the Al Hall of Fame. Again, it means nothing to anybody but me.
These days, many marathoners pick their races based on what the finisher's medal looks like. I'm not that picky, but I do have strong opinions about my medals, but most of them have found their way to an old shoebox - too hard to display - but I look at them once in a while and each one has it's story, but to me alone. I have all my Boston medals out on display because that race is in my blood. I love history, and the history and tradition of that race gets my blood a-boilin'. But, after the Boston medals, the one I would grab in a fire would be my Pikes Peak medal. It's a small, dinky medal - no overnight guests would EVER notice it - but when I see that medal I am transported back to the race I am most proud of. In a future blog, I'll go into more detail of the race itself, but even as I write this, I feel the emotions welling up. A major portion of the runner that resides in me was defined that day. Do I need that medal to be displayed to remind me of that day? It certainly means absolutely nothing to anybody else. However, to me, it is not that I necessarily "earned" that medal - heck, everybody got one - but that medal, these trophies, those dozens of shirts, represent a part of ME to me. We can look at these materialistic remembrances and it individually means something to each and every one of us and THAT is a big deal.
Have you noticed that this Wednesday is National Running Day? To most of us that's like National Breathing Day but I guess the exposure is good. I just think it's funny that next Friday is National Doughnut Day! Wonder which one will have more participants? Ok, this has gone on too long. Have safe Memorial Day and I'll see you all on the road - AL
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