"I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself." -CS Lewis, The Great Divorce


Thing #92: the running community

I went for my first run since Boston today. I've been thinking about it a lot, but I had not been ready to run, to be away from distraction for enough time to actually digest the information. Here's what I came up with:

I have not always been a runner. For years, I stood loyally on side streets, hills, muddy courses, in rain, snow, boiling heat, just to catch a glimpse of my brother, mom, or dad. And to yell really loudly. While the waiting was sometimes long, the cheering was largely filled with joy. I didn't go because I had to go; I went because I wanted to be there for them.

However, I was an avid non-runner. If anyone asked (and they often did) when I'd follow my family into running, I always replied that I would never run; I wasn't that crazy. I was a good cheerleader, anyway, why did I need to run?

Somehow, five years ago in August, I became a runner despite my repeated promises that I'd never run. Those first steps were more of a stumble, throwing one foot forward in a sort of painful lurching. It was only one mile, but that was all it took. I kept lurching forward until I reached two miles. At the end of August, I saw my family moving toward the finish line of a local half marathon, and I couldn't help but notice that they seemed happy to be have finished their runs. That night I pushed myself to three miles on my run, and I never looked back.

In October, I ran my first 5K, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in memory of a good friend's mom. I kept going with a 10K in November and a gift of half marathon entry for Christmas. In March, I ran my very first Shamrock Half Marathon. It was a spiritual experience; the volunteers on the course boosted my spirits as did strangers cheering along the course. In the last miles, my (much faster) younger brother, home from college to cheer me on, shuffled one and a half miles and pushed me toward the end. As he left me to finish my race, a stranger running next to me asked if I'd be ok making it to the end by myself. I cheerfully said, 'Yes!' but I never forgot that fellow runner's kind words and helpful actions.

It was that race that kept me going. I haven't always been diligent in my runs, but I do know that the Nike ad isn't wrong. Running has never taken more than it's given me. Even from the start, I have been embraced, even at my slowest pace, as a runner.

But even more so, the running community has given me more than I ever could have imagined. My running buddies - family mostly and a few good friends - have become my most trusted companions. I crave those long runs where we debrief the events of the week. But just as much - though I hate the early mornings - I love the excitement of the starting line of the races we prepare for on the long runs. I love the anxious jumping, the nervous smiles, the extended stretching routines. Mostly, I love the smiles, the conversations, the spirit of community.

As I have grown into this life as a runner, I have received encouragement and advice from strangers and friends. Last summer, at a low-key summer evening running event, I was one leg of a three-leg, three-mile relay. It was clear I was the slowest member of the randomly selected team, but I felt no annoyance from the other two runners. When I ran my mile faster than I predicted, I received only congratulations. It is that kind of support this community offers to ALL runners.

And so, when my running buddy texted me to tell me that there had been bombs at the Boston marathon finish, I gasped in the middle of the Kroger aisle. The community is why I cried when I saw the footage later that day. It's why I still can't fathom how evil crept into a day so full of joy. Why those people - those who I have been on many days - were targeted is something that I just don't understand.

As my dad said in a conversation today, the bomber could not have been part of the running community. There is no way anyone who interrupted a day of joy (and Boston is a day when many runners cast their thoughts North to the streets the runners trace in their 26.2 victory run) understands the positivity of the runners and their supporters.

As a runner, I have run in 100 degree heat, snow, pouring rain, wind so fierce I thought I'd fall over, and faultless sunshine. As a spectator, I've done the same. We are a tough bunch. We thrive on victories others can't fathom ( I ran a mile in 8:30! My hip doesn't hurt today! I didn't have to walk! I ran today even though it was a crappy day!). We cheer for silly moments ( She's still smiling, must be a good day! His arms are loose, running easy today! She's going to make her goal!). We are loyal, dedicated, obsessive. We don't quit.

And so, faceless bomber, nice try. We'll keep running and cheering.

As my family always says, "let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us." (Hebrews 12:1)

Today, I ran for Boston, but I also ran for all the runners and spectators to there who are just like me.