Albuquerque’s Run for the Zoo was last Sunday. The Run for the Zoo is more like a festival — it has 5 races, plus vendors and plenty of free stuff. My kind of event!
I had signed up for the 10k. I never intended to actually race the thing, because I had run 18 miles on Saturday and even I’m not that crazy. But I knew several folks running the 5k, and wanted to cheer them on, so I figured, since I’m going to be out there anyway, why not do my Sunday run amidst some new scenery? I couldn’t remember the last time I ran a race without feeling pressure to, you know, race. So I registered.
And guess what? The run was nice. I know that’s a bland adjective, but it was. I had extra breath in my lungs! I could encourage other runners, and I could actually thank several volunteers along the way! That never happens! I had time to notice things around me. I saw a llama and two elephants. I saw a guy holding a sign that said “Why do all the cute ones run away?” I may have slowed down just a tad to get a better look at…uh…his sign. Yeah, that’s it. I saw a statue of a dancing pig, yes, a dancing pig, on someone’s front lawn.
I noticed something else, somewhere in the 4th mile. I noticed that, really, sincerely, I love running. I wasn’t in the character-building discomfort or mid-PR-pace-flight that usually accompanies such realizations. I just looked around me and the feeling meandered in.
When you’ve been running for a while, love and enjoyment of the sport can be really, really easy to put in a corner. Or forget entirely. I was thankful for my reminder, especially after the following post-race conversation:
I was slurping on a popsicle and shamelessly collecting free stuff, when a girl (early/mid-20s maybe?) approached and said she saw me out running “all the time,” and that I had motivated her to get out and run. She said this 10k had been her first race. She then asked me for…training tips. I was so startled I had to ask her to repeat the question. Me? Give tips? Looking back on that moment, I’m glad I didn’t run that race all-out, or the poor girl would have gotten God-knows-what-kind-of-incoherence for an answer. As it was, I thought for a second, popsicle in hand, and scrambled for a relatively B.S.-free answer. I managed this: Don’t overdo it, and have fun. If the girl thought I was nuts, she thankfully, graciously didn’t show it. Whew.
I scooted back to the starting line area, where some friends were preparing to run their very first 5k. I got to see them at both the start and the finish, and cheered like crazy. Again, if they thought I was nuts, they thankfully, graciously didn’t show it.
Witnessing someone’s first anything is cool. Witnessing a first race? Freaking awesome!! How often does that happen?
If/when it does happen to you, and you’re an experienced runner, ENJOY it. With any luck, the newcomer(s) will learn to love the sport, if they don’t already. In the meantime, smile. Cheer for them. Congratulate them. And then, with all the wisdom of your experience, direct them to the popsicle truck.