Saturday, October 15, 2011

The (non)Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner

"In 10 year's time, we probably won't remember the races, but we still might have the friends we made while we were training for them" - Mike Rice, Irish friend and blogger (Running Through Fog)

One of the many joys of being a long distance runner is that no matter what the title of that movie says, you never are really alone. Oh sure, probably in another week or so, I'll write a blog post about how happy I am to be a runner so I can escape from everything and everybody while I glide down some trail, or have the darkened early morning roads to myself. But, even when traveling solo, the many years I have been running, I have met thousands of folks I never would have bumped into had we not had the common thread of running. And it is the showing up at the start line that is the secret handshake to this club.

In my 30+ years of long distance running, I have been to so many places where I didn't know a soul when I approached the starting line, and yet I am not in the company of strangers. Even the race itself is a friend. When I line up in races, I know I have friends that I don't know I have and I am a friend to runners in marathons that they don't know they have. It is the beauty of the sport especially for those of us that run marathons regularly.

Most of us turn out to be crazy to some degree - running marathons or ultras on consecutive days, consecutive weeks, a few times a month...whatever, interspersed with a 50k or 50 miler here and there. Years ago, I used to take great pride in saying if you call me up on Saturday night and asked if I wanted to run a marathon on Sunday, I'd be ready. We'll run any marathon, not just the check-it-off-life's-list Rock 'n' Roller. We run marathons that are small, hardly heard of runs, without pacers, without bands, without cookies, without fans. We have each other. We pace together, we chat, learn a few things about one another and move on. But, show up at the start line, and the first time marathoner is as cherished as a freind as the old codger that's been around longer than Phidippides himself.

We always have fun - what wind? What rain? It's just water. I don't care. Water doesn't care. There is always sun on marathon day - a day of brilliant rays of hope and friendship. Doesn't matter what the course is - we are doing this together. Sometimes, they take us out 26 miles and drop us off - "run back to Boston", they say. Other times, we run in a circle - 26.2 miles around Birmingham, resulting in net 0 miles gained. Other times they tease us. They take us close to the finish line in Nashville at mile 20 and then torture us with, "you're almost there!" Hills are strategically placed for all of us...could be Atlanta, could be the trails of San Diego County. All along, your friends are there. For those brief few hours, we are with those who pull us along, encourage us, laugh with us. Heck, we'll even slow down our own races for each other. During the race, the faces next to you may change many times, but running is the tie that binds us. The, the many hours of preparing for the the DNA that will never separate us. The race may kick my butt when I didn't expect it to or give me exuberant joy when I least expect it. But I know those surrounding me, whether on a training run, or during the race itself, truly feel the same emotions that come from such a simple act as running.

Those that I feel are as close to me as family during a race, I may never see again after race day. And I may not remember their name or what they looked like, but I know in my next race "they" will be there for me and I, most certainly, will be there for them.

Yes, without a doubt, I will see you all on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"

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