Sometimes, Running is Not About You (Part 2)

By: Brad Deel

If anyone missed the first part, here's a link.  Part 1.  

When Joanne first saw my invitation to run the Marshall Half Marathon with her, she wasn't sure if I was serious.  She was hoping to complete it in around four hours while I run half marathons in under 1:30.  I assured her that I was very serious.  Much to my delight, she and three of her friends signed up and made the trek in from Philly.

Upon her arrival, I told Joanne that my mission was simple.  I was going to stay with her for the whole race and I was not about to let her quit unless I thought it was medically necessary.  I would distract her when needed, try to provide a dose of humor on occasion and, given my 26 years of military service, act like a drill sergeant if necessary.  We would adopt the motto of many ultra runners: "relentless forward progress."

The more I run, the more I'm convinced that much related to running is mental rather than physical.  In my first marathon, I passed a lot of people in the last six miles.  I don't think it was because I was in better shape than them.  I think it's more likely that I had read from so many people how much the last six miles hurts so I was mentally prepared to be in a lot of pain.  I knew that, as this was her first half marathon, Joanne wouldn't know exactly what to expect.  Thus, I thought that much of what I needed to do was to assure her at the tough portions of the race that her feelings were normal.

A mile by mile recap would serve little purpose.  When Joanne said she was tired around Mile 8, when she said she was starting to hurt around Mile 10, and when she looked like she wanted to give up around Mile 12, I assured her that I feel exactly the same way during a race.  That was one of my revelations.  If you are running at the limits of your ability, it doesn't matter if you're moving at a 5:00 pace or a 10:00 pace.  The physical and mental experiences at various points in the race are the same. 

The last half mile was tough.  Joanne focused all of her energy on moving forward.  I told her that I knew how much she was hurting but recalled something that was said to me that has helped me in rough patches.  "You can hurt for the next five minutes or you can hurt for the next five weeks."  She didn't give in.  She kept moving.

The final 100 yards down the field were marvelous.  I faded so that she could cross in front of me.  I felt that was fitting as the effort had been hers and hers alone.  She managed to pick up the pace and crossed the finish line running rather than walking.  She nearly collapsed on the hood of a truck and was physically and mentally spent.  But she had finished.  I found out later that I had finished dead last and somehow that seemed right.

I'm a person who cares deeply about every second in a race.  Yet this race wasn't about me.  This race was about helping another person accomplish what had once seemed inconceivable.  Finishing last was just a final reminder that running is not always about you.  Sometimes, it's about helping others.  I learned that helping someone else across the finish line can be even more rewarding than setting a PR or winning your age group.

Let me close this lengthy post with an exhortation.  Find someone to help.  Maybe they have never run a 5K.  Maybe they don't know if they can make it through a half marathon.  Maybe it's just someone who is afraid of what they’ll look like in public if they start running.  It doesn’t much matter.  Make the effort to help just one person in 2012.  I can promise it’s worth it.

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