I firmly believe that one of the very best things you can do to prepare for a race is to put yourself on the other side of one – especially after a setback like an injury or illness.
By “other side,” I mean the non-running side. In any capacity. Albuquerque hosted its annual World’s Toughest 10k last weekend, and I, having entertained the notion to run it this year for about six seconds, opted instead to don my volunteer hat and hopefully be of some use to my friend, Randy, who organized the event. I admit I had ulterior motives: I’ve volunteered at a few races, and I know that nothing motivates you for a run (be it a race or training jaunt) like not running, particularly at an event where you are the clear minority. And I am an unrepentant glutton for motivation these days.
I arrived at the finish area, knowing the rest of the course was already covered, volunteer-wise. Well, it turned out the finish area didn’t need much help either. What was a caffeinated volunteer to do?
The natural, clear solution: more cowbell.
What I couldn’t supply in tangible value I made up for in volume. It’s a hard fact that nearly every local race sorely lacks fans. I’m talking the people who set up lawn chairs in their neighborhoods, the moms who yell “You go girl!”, the people who create makeshift aid stations – all those boisterous folks who cheer for runners they’ll never know. Bless them.
This race proved no exception to the sparse crowd rule. The population of the finish area consisted primarily of volunteers, with a few scattered clusters of runners’ families and friends. Kinda bleak. I said to myself, “These runners will be finishing a 6.2-mile all-uphill race. Someone should be excited for them, make obnoxious amounts of noise, and look like a crazy person.”
That’s what staying up past my bedtime to watch “Titanic 3D” does to my brain.
I perched on a curb along the homestretch, hollering and ringing, yes, a borrowed cowbell. I really need to start keeping those things in my car. I did actually provide some legitimate help, such as shooing errant spectators off the course when runners were barreling towards us. Mainly, though, I played cheerleader.
And it felt great! I don’t know about you, but as a solo runner I keep catching myself getting caught up in my running. My training, my recovery, my rotten days, my interval splits, blah blah blah. Let me tell you something: there is a whole WORLD of runners out there!
Focusing completely on all those other people was pretty cool, for a couple reasons. One, encouraging others in the pursuit of something you’re familiar with gives you that good old “You’re not alone” assurance. Two, watching your peers accomplish that task reminds you of your own capabilities. You’re not just cheering them along, you’re cheering yourself along.
For all those people knew, I wasn’t even a runner. I was just some weird chick ringing a cowbell and shrieking stream-of-consciousness encouragement. It was a cathartic little experience. I highly recommend it.