Running an official race always reminds me of the joys of long distance running. Before the race, I admire fellow runners who (like me) are crazy enough show up in the dark on an unusually cold 40 degree morning in SW Florida covered in multiple layers to wait in long lines outside of porta-potties taking care of last minute details before our 13.1 mile run. Right before the announcer yells “GO!” (seriously, no gun?), many long sleeved outer layers are stripped off and tossed aside. Others are peeled off after mile 2, 3, or 4 as the sun begins to poke its warming rays above the horizon. Shirts, gloves, hats, and scarves can been seen flying to each side of the race course, sometimes dropped on the side of the road and other times thrown into the waiting arms of a friend or volunteer.
I take note of the shirts people wear in a race because I recognize for each runner the choice of what to wear is deliberate, conscious, planned, and it can be revealing. Some wear the shirt for the current race, many others (including me) wear shirts from past races. Some display motivational messages, others have shirts honoring a loved one. In this half marathon, one guy had a Superman top on (no tights). He was fit, and he was fast, and he knew it.
Today, I happen to be wearing my favorite full zip high neck red wicking overlayer which I’m unwilling to sacrifice. So, shortly before mile 3, I sneak to the sidelines and tie it around my waist revealing my Vermont Marathon t-shirt underneath. An older man followed my lead. After he secured the shirt around his waist, I noticed two things: 1) his short sleeved shirt said “13.1 Fueled by Fine Wine” across the back, and 2) he was a run/walker like me (Galloway method of running where you take short walk breaks in regular intervals during the race). Though we never spoke a word, he and I instantly bonded, and he became one of my “race buddies”.
No matter the distance, I mentally latch onto certain runners around me. It’s similar to a long distance drive when I end up in a pack of cars traveling at the same speed (in my case, above the speed limit). We drive together until someone has to exit. The same is true in running. My pack for this race ended up being Fine Wine guy, a younger guy wearing a “Play 60” shirt designed like a football jersey, a pair of young women wearing brightly colored sequined skirts and hot pink tank tops that said “Warrior Princess” across the back, and a very petite woman with a pile of curly black hair flying behind her in a massive pony tail. It was these strangers with whom I kept pace for the first 10 miles. When one of us slowed down to walk or take some water, that person always reappeared near by, a few strides behind the guy carrying the 2:00 pace flag.
Though my pack stayed close, other runners weaved in and out both passing and being passed. Most runners maintain a fairly even stride with a straight back kick, but today I spotted three separate runners who kicked out to the side. How does that not hurt? Their feet looked like little wings trying to flap hard enough to lift the rest of the body off the ground. Others runners bounced excessively up and down or shuffled along with rapid half strides. I want to tap these people on the shoulder and offer free advice to improve their form, but I let them be because the beauty of the long distance runner is that none of us is afraid to do his/her own thing. Whether that thing involves donning a sparkly skirt, or wearing a special t-shirt, or bouncing as if on a pogo stick. Through running, each of us is expressing our uniqueness without fear because at the end of the race each of us will be a sweaty, smelly, hot mess. So, why not have a little fun along the way?
For me the fun begins when the runners in my pack begin to flag. In an official race, people push hard early on and end up running out of juice. Shortly after mile 7 everyone in my pack had passed the 2:00 pace runner, but by mile 10, Fine Wine and Play 60 dropped back. I passed the Warrior Princesses less than half a mile later, and finally caught up to pony tail girl in the last mile finishing ahead of them all and never looking back. It was a race after all, and someone had to win 🙂