For a self proclaimed anti-racer, I’ve been lining up at a lot of starting lines lately. Blame it on the magnificent weather, which dawns a little on the too cold side, then blossoms into a beautiful sun filled day. Or, blame it on the fact that my training has been going really well lately. So well, in fact, that I kind of overdid it a few weeks ago and ended up with some unwelcome off days to rest a slightly inflamed ankle. Old ankle injuries apparently never really die, they just go into hibernation until you make them mad, then they come roaring back to life. Fortunately, a week off worked wonders, and I even raced on it at the end of that rest week, to beat my 5k PR by almost a full minute. Yes, racing is fun to me, finally. Whatever is to thank (or blame) for it, I’m grateful.
Yesterday found me at the starting line of another local 5k, this one very small, maybe 30 racers total. It was a benefit for Bethany Christian Services, and was in the beautiful Bellegrass subdivision of west Hattiesburg, which has a surprisingly hilly course. I signed up on race morning, as this was a last minute decision, and the early morning cold almost made me change my mind. I wasn’t sure I should even race this weekend as next weekend is my next “real” race, a half marathon in Orange Beach, Alabama. But, my training schedule for the half has been erratic, at best, since Gary’s accident, so I figured, why not throw in a last minute 5k to make things shake, rattle, and roll? Gary & I loaded up early, got coffee at Starbucks (he ate cake, I had my usual 5k pre-race meal of coffee & hard boiled egg), then headed out to find the race site.
I didn’t really have a race plan, but once I started running, I just pounded it out to the end. Up hill, down hill,up hill again. Past groups of chattering young women, a few men who were taking an easy morning jog, and around the beautifully laid out development to the last hill at the finish line. Hate hills at the finish line, by the way. Ended up shaving a couple more seconds off my PR and winning my age group again. Not that difficult, but I also blew past a lot of women much, much younger than me. Well, blew past may be a little on the extreme side descriptively, but I like the way it sounds.
I love how small town races reflect the diversity of the running community. People in all sizes and shapes, in all ages and stages, with varying skill and speed levels, all line up for a good cause and a little exercise. There were two young boys (maybe 8 or 9) who were just ahead of me for most of the race. They were obviously racing each other and unconcerned about the race as a whole. One made a dash into the woods and I thought, Ok, I’ll pass them now. But, no, they easily got back on course and were pacing each other and punching each other for the next 27 minutes or so. I would gain on them, then they effortlessly glided ahead and away while laughing and hollering. My breathing sounded like I had on Darth Vader’s mask, and any conversation on my end was short and to the point. They danced across the finish line a full minute ahead of me, with energy to spare and slaps and giggles all around. Loved it!
That’s what running is all about. Fun, camaraderie, testing yourself, pushing limits, trying new things, making new friends, and more fun. Runners come in all sizes and shapes (thank goodness!), and isn’t a one size fits all sport. You never have to run a race, or be particularly fast to be a runner. I have lots of fast running friends who never talk down to my slow, plodding times. They treat me like what I am – a runner. I heard on a podcast the other day that a real runner never asks you what your finishing time is, they just rejoice with you that you finished. I have to agree with that. All the runners that I consider “real” runners are exactly like that. They know that their only real competition is themselves, and continually strive to better their own performance. Most of us will never win a major race, or even place in our age groups in those races, but we’ll finish all the same and be happy, content, stronger, and healthier than our non-running friends. And, really, isn’t finishing well what life is really all about?