Running equals sneakers plus putting one foot in front of the other. Period. Or I suppose some people might even eliminate the sneakers. The point is that it’s the easiest possible physical activity to get started with. At least in theory. In practice, there seems to be a mental block that convinces many people that they couldn’t possibly do that one foot in front of the other thing. Too hard. Impossible.
The wonderful news is that the community of everyday people who run – In some capacity or other – has grown exponentially. There are the elite (professional) runners, who are simply astounding and a joy to watch. And there are the very serious aspirational runners, who strive for personal bests that most of us mere mortals can only dream of. And then there are the rest of us, the hundreds of thousands who lace up and head outdoors just for our own personal goals and satisfaction. It’s all good.
A few of those serious aspirational runners are missing the “welcoming running community” gene that applauds everyone who laces up and heads out the door. Those are the precious few who scorn the concept of finisher medals for all finishers, regardless of time: “Why should everybody get a medal; they didn’t win.” The precious few who lament how the running newbies crowd their race venue and get in the way. Those few who think that recreational runners have no place in their world of I’m-faster-than-you-are racing.
Thankfully, runners who are missing the welcome-all gene are very few and far between. In fact, there possibly is no more welcoming group in the world than runners. And surely the world should rejoice to see so many people of every size, shape and age getting out and giving running a try. Folks, it’s not only fun and surprisingly satisfying, it’s good for you!
I was delighted to see articles appear in major newspapers earlier this month around the time of the New York City Marathon which featured inspiring stories of those who simply finished, and sometimes finished last. Usually any running news is restricted to the remarkable feats of the winners, who complete the major marathons in mind-boggling, super-human times. Simply phenomenal. But for the mainstream news to go beyond celebrating professional winners and explore more deeply into the stories of other runners who participated in marathons this year is a heartening step forward.
The reality is that every one of the 50,000 runners who participated in the New York City Marathon this year, for example, has their own personal story of what got them to the starting line and then to the finish line. And the stories relayed in the news were special indeed. Special and hopefully inspiring to others, who may decide that perhaps they could lace up those sneakers after all.
From drug addiction to running addiction
The New York Times ran a story as a lead-up to the marathon weekend called “They were addicted to opioids. Now they’re running the New York marathon.” It described the experiences of many young people who were or had been inpatients at Odyssey House, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in New York. One of the programs available at Odyssey House as a path to recovery is running. As a result, a significant number of residents and former residents from Odyssey House have participated in the marathon for the past several years. Committing to a marathon provides a serious goal, a strong incentive to train regularly and push yourself, improved physical and mental health, and an enormous sense of accomplishment. This is true for all of us, but what a powerful formula for recovering drug addicts. One recovering addict described why she credits running for her recovery. She is quoted as saying:
“I like the way I feel after a run. I may not want to start running. At the beginning I’m like, ‘I really don’t want to go for this run,’ to be honest. But then I know how I’m going to feel afterward. It replaces the adrenaline that I was looking for when I was using drugs.”
Running addiction is definitely preferable to drug addiction.
Coming in last has its own rewards
CNN ran a lovely post-NYC Marathon story entitled, “The final finisher: the inspiring stories of last-place marathon runners.” That caught my eye right away. Maybe there was something special about coming in last at a marathon and I just didn’t know about it. That’s something I could definitely do!
Of course, these inspiring stories were not about people who were trying to come in last. They came in last for many reasons:
- the first paralyzed man to complete the London Marathon on foot, using an exoskeleton;
- a man with cerebral palsy who has completed the NYC marathon every year for the past several years, pushing his wheelchair with his foot – backwards;
- a woman in Atlanta who has found that running helps her overcome severe depression; and,
- a woman from the UK who adopted a whole new philosophy about what’s important in running after finding herself coming in last place after many races, and realizing that she actually enjoyed it more because she had connected with so many kind people.
All their stories are worth reading, and all of their messages are worth thinking about.
In the final bullet above, the runner from the UK, Lisa Jackson, had actually run in 31 marathons before ending up in a bad way on a too-hilly course on a too-hot day. We’ve all been there. Instead of giving up, she persevered slowly, encouraged on by patient spectators, and received an enormous cheer at the end. This experience changed her whole perspective on what was important to get out of running. She’s been the final finisher several times since then – on purpose. She has now written a book about her experiences, called “Your Pace or Mine? What Running Taught Me About Life, Laughter and Coming Last.”
To round out stories about the human dimension of running and the value of running communities, I’d like to briefly relate one closer to home. Our town has a vibrant and welcoming running community. One central point of contact for many is through our local Running Room. For those of you who don’t know the Running Room chain (it’s Canadian, eh?), it’s a hangout for runners a, running clinic, a meeting place for free group runs twice each week, and – oh yeah – also does a great job as a specialty running store.
Many in our running community have gotten started in running by joining one of the Running Room’s clinics, which usually include a target race. And one of the most popular leaders of the running clinics over many years has been a friend and former student of mine, Mark Kirby. Everyone loves Mark. He encourages everyone, and always with a smile. So, when word spread that Mark had been diagnosed with an extremely serious health situation that was going to require treatments in another province, the running community knew it had to do something.
What to do? Hold a Fun Run, of course. And so on the coldest and windiest mid-November evening our town has probably ever seen, 125 or more of the heartiest supporters showed up in the dark, in the cold, in incredible wind, to show their love and support for their running buddy, to participate in the Mark Kirby Bad Pun Fun Run. And to raise money for travel. And to continue to provide Mark with bad puns, whether he wants them or not! That’s the kind of spirit that pervades in our running community.
Why not give running a try? Sign up for a local 5K run (or walk) and set yourself that goal. You will be surprised by the personal satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment you get when you cross the finish line, even if you’re last. You still crossed the finish line! And you probably made lots of new friends in the process.