I planned to write some motivational entry to help you make it through your taper. My plans, as you’ve seen on my Instagram account, were to talk about how my daughter has inspired me so far through the taper for my half marathon in less than a week.
That was until I went to the Liberty Mile today and stood next to a very seasoned, very wise runner and was given the chance to briefly converse with him. What he said is something that will stick with me not just through my next race, but likely forever.
The Pittsburgh GNC Live Well Liberty Mile is a favorite race of mine. I would have never tried a mile race if it didn’t come with my Pittsburgh Marathon Megaticket, and I am so glad it was the catalyst for me to know and love the mile.
What I love about it is that there are so many different kinds of runners on the course, and we all support each other. While this is true in just about any race I’ve run, it’s a little bit different during a mile race. Mile races aren’t distance racing, and they are not nearly as intimidating to new runners as a marathon or half marathon. The mile is a wonderful way for new runners to get into the sport, for fast runners to earn amazing PRs, and for seasoned finely-aged-wine-type runners to show themselves what we already knew: that they are still runners and that they can still do it.
This year was extra special for me.
As I waited for the Women’s Pro Mile to begin, an older gentleman wearing a race bib came to watch and stood to my right. He happily turned to me: “How’d it go today?” I responded with my typical “It went ok. Not my best time, but I had fun.” We talked about the weather; we talked about the elites. I built that momentary, dissolvable trust with him that lasts the duration of a conversation with someone he may never see again.
“I just turned 60 last week,” he said. He tried to make eye contact with the ground, fumbling with his thumbnail as though there was some nerve there that would stop him from tearing up. “I’m not as good as I used to be. I ran in 7:32.” He followed with a smile, the type of gentle smile we produce when we find our inner peace or meet our serenity, even momentarily.
“That’s the great thing about running, though. Every couple of years, you’re reborn in the sport. I’m sixty; I’m happy I can still do this.”
I felt stunned. I cocked my head to the side, and all I could conjure was “Happy birthday. I’m really proud of you.”
In his hay day, he said, he ran miles under five minutes. And I believe him. Even though he and I are in different worlds separated by thirty years, we were one in the same during that short lived, yet very powerful and moving, conversation. Suddenly, I forgot about my “shitty time” that I made my husband swear he would not disclose to anyone.
This is what it is to be a runner. This is the good stuff. This is what people don’t see; this isn’t what we can hang on the walls or wear around or necks or pin to our shirts or tie to our shoes. This isn’t a timing chip, over-priced compression socks, or a worn out piece of KT tape.
This is miles, tears, frustration, upward leap, downward spiral, brokenness, rebuilt, pushing hard, and settling slowly – not without a fight. A chain of memories linked together with hope and determination.
Please take what this perfect stranger told me and internalize it when you run. There will be years when it seems like you have wings and are flying. There will be years when you cry yourself to sleep because you come to grips with the realization that you may not hit your stride the way that you used to. There will be reasons to slow down, both good and bad, that will never sit right with you 100%.
None of that is a death sentence; it is a rebirth.
I wish I could thank this man, thirty years my senior, for telling me what I needed to hear exactly when I needed to hear it. No matter what, I’m always a runner. I may not meet every goal and I may not PR in every race, but I am making it my personal mission to celebrate myself more often – and you should, too.