My recent hiatus from racing has gotten me all reflective.
When you spend any length of time removed from the starting line, not bouncing and jittery, but instead placidly detached, you start to look around, at least mentally, at other people in the same position.
You have people who would dearly love to be out there, turning their legs into screaming demons. These are the ones that go through the necessary motions, drills, and miles of training just for the opportunity to prove themselves at their race/test of choice. They don’t relish the preparation, they relish the result. But for whatever reason – injury, or illness, or maybe inability to gain entrance into the darned event – they don’t toe that starting line. They’re the most sensitive cases, and they help all of us, whether we race or not, to be thankful that at least we can race.
Then you have the people who I believe are the hardest to understand. They aren’t bad people; I’m friends with some of them. These people are physically fit. They frequent the gym, or regularly partake in some other physical activity. Heck, some are downright stellar athletes. When I suggest they enter a race, they say, “Oh no, I’m too competitive.”
They go on to explain, “If I know I won’t win, I don’t want to do it.” I want to say, “What about just testing yourself?” Do they fear taking off from that starting line and discovering that they’re not the stud or stud-ette athlete they think they are? What if they take off from that starting line and discover they’re an even better athlete than they ever imagined? What if they find a great new community for themselves?
The things I wish I had the guts to say.
There is also a group of non-racers who without a doubt hold the title of “least appreciated.” I refer to those on the sidelines, and they fall under two categories: volunteers, and the cheering section.
The volunteers usually arrive well before the start of a race. They set up tables, tents, and tarps; they register nervous, sometimes cranky runners pre-race; they bravely man aid stations that are alternately yawn-fests and sloshing maelstroms of panicked chaos. In return, they get the rare grunted “Thanks” and sometimes a glamorous up-close viewing of electrolyte-enhanced vomit.
If you race regularly and have never volunteered at one, do it! Not only will you get an eye-opening education, you gain sprightly agility when you deal with a line of runners who are all headed directly. For. You. Agility’s always good for runners to learn, no?
The other sideline warriors are of course the fans. Friends, family members, dogs – let’s not let them go unappreciated. These are the ones who get up at uncivilized hours on weekend mornings, who drive sleepily navigating road closures and limited parking, who witness us applying Vaseline to shall we say “various” parts of our bodies. They lug our gear, and in some cases have developed superhuman instincts for quickly locating and getting to prime spectating spots along race courses. They do all this without blinking an eye. And they don’t even have to! They could just as easily roll over when our alarm clocks go off, mumble “Have fun” and go back to sweet slumber.
So the next time you have a personal cheering section in a race, give them a big sweaty, salty-faced hug afterwards. And all you friends and loved ones, cheer for your runner – or even volunteer at the race! You can use your newly-acquired agility to dodge that sweaty, salty-faced hug coming your way.