The other day I was running with a friend and we were chatting about her progress in the past year. She has sped her pace up about a minute per mile on long runs, which is no small feat. I said that I was super proud of her and the transition she has made into a “runner.” She is currently training for her fourth half marathon and she is doing her second full this fall. Talk about impressive!
She told me that what really helped her, besides using a training plan and training with a group, was the fact that running is a sport that anyone of any ability can join and take up at any age. With other sports, unless you did it as a kid or in high school, you kind of missed the boat or are way behind the rest. But running is an activity we are all capable of starting at any age and hopefully continue to do as we get older. I love reading articles about ladies and men who pick up running in their sixties and continue to win their age groups well into their 80’s or sometimes even in their 90’s. As a figure skating coach I can certainly tell you I don’t ever see that happen on the ice.
The other great thing about this sport is we create our own barriers and we set our own bars. We are the only ones who can determine whether we can or cannot do a half or full marathon. No one (well, perhaps besides your doctor) can tell you that you are not capable of that. There are training plans created for every level of athlete and nothing short of an injury can keep you from achieving your goals.
I love the fact that races are created with every level in mind. Sure, the Boston Marathon and Olympic Marathon Trials are usually meant for elite runners. But go check out any other race of just about any distance and you will see runners and walkers of all levels welcomed with open arms. There is room in this sport for athletes of every level and pace.
My friend was telling me about her experience last summer when her family went to cheer on her dad at his Ironman. Long after her dad completed his race they went back around midnight to watch the final finishers. Here she said were the most inspirational finishers. People struggled and practically crawled in the early hours of the morning; after many hours in the water, on the bike and on their feet. This was where the crowds gathered and cheered the loudest because watching your peers push themselves to the limit is the ultimate inspiration.
A few weeks ago I helped pace a Team Momentum member for a 5k. It was a fun experience as she hit her new PR. After we gathered our things and headed out I went and grabbed our dog Louie and walked back over to check out the festivities. I just happened to walk back as the final finisher was completing her race an hour after the gun went off. It would be easy to think that you would just walk past and not give a second thought about that lone runner out there. But that was so far from the truth. Louie and I slowly followed her as she struggled that last quarter of a mile. We cheered and so did the crowds and a mentor ran onto the course to give her a hug and encourage her to keep going. The announcer chimed in over the loud speaker and the electricity of the race picked back up like it was the beginning all over again.
It might have been the pregnancy hormones but I shed a few tears as I watched this woman complete her first 5k. She trained with a local running group that works with athletes of all levels. They offer training from marathons to 5k’s and she was part of their first time running track. The recognition and praise she received from everyone was just as grand as that of the first finisher.
There is nothing fake about this attitude toward the last finisher. There is no fake welcome to the beginner runners who show up to run groups. Unless you meet a seriously grumpy, bad running apple you will find that most runners are thrilled to see newbies join our sport. We love talking about running and the more people we have to incessantly chat your ear off about the latest shoe model or our favorite fuel type, the better. That is something I can really stand behind.