Sunday, April 29, 2018

We are all the same, you and I

Unless there is a miracle, my competitive racing career is over as I have effectively been forced into early retirement due to health concerns. While I struggle with this notion from time to time, it has given me the opportunity to look back at what was an otherwise stellar stretch of running. These days I spend more quality time with my family and those long grueling pounding the pavement are replaced by hours of walking the dogs. It also has given me a lot of time to think back over my running career.

During my 30’s I was racing almost every weekend; sometimes twice, averaging 40+ races a year for the better part of a decade. I was running every distance from 5km to 50km and was winning or standing on the podium in just about every race. You can say that I had an obsession.  But like any athlete that rises to the top of their sport, it takes hard work and you have to be a little selfish and obsessed to rise and stay on top.  There was a time early in my career where I was jerk!  I never really knew how to deal with having success so it took me awhile to figure that out. 

I remember one incident in particular that helped to put some of this into perspective for me.  There was a race in which a mid-pack runner came up to me and said that it was an honor to talk with an "elite runner". I knew that I was having success, but it never dawned on me that I was viewed as an elite runner by some people. So in the weeks to follow, I remember thinking long and hard about what that really meant.  Why should it be any different to talk to someone just because they are good at something?

Then I realized that just like I looked up to faster runners at the time, and viewed them as elite, that person probably did the same to me. While none of us were going to the Olympics any time soon, I appreciated the kind words, but I also realized that it takes nothing more than going to a big time race to be humbled as to where we fit with our abilities. I also appreciated the fact that others looked up to me and I will admit that selfishly it did feel good to be recognized for something, but should it have been an honor to have me dispense some running advice because I was fast? No.

For tens of thousands of miles, I laced up my shoes just like any other runner. I paid the same race entry fees for races. Regardless of finishing time, we both put forth the same effort during the race. If you ran as hard as you could and you were proud of that effort, then I loved to hear about it. I was always looking to talk to people before and after races; I loved to hear the stories of where people were from, the adversity of their training and other stories that help bring us closer together as athletes. It should have been no more of a privilege to talk with a faster runner than it would be to talk with someone who had a higher rank at work; we are all people at heart and when you take running away, we are the same.

I was taught by some of the best (and fastest) guys in town and I loved nothing more than to be able to pass this on to the up and coming runners. If I had kept it all to myself then it would have been a waste for those who taught me. I really enjoyed teaching so that others could pay it forward. I loved it when people would ask me for help on training or something running related where I could leverage what I have learned to help them out.

Just because I ran fast doesn't mean that I am, or was, any different than you. I respected the fact that you are out there doing it and trying your best. I was never above running with, or talking to anyone. If anything; the opposite. People think that because you are fast, that all you do is run fast. I loved to run with friends of all paces and really I just enjoyed the company of running with other people. If I was training for a goal race I would always find a time for my quality workouts. Not many people enjoy running alone day after day and I was no different; sometimes I'd rather sacrifice a key workout just to not run alone. After all, we are just human first and runners much further down the list.

Now I will be honest to say that after I warmed up before a race, and lowered the sunglasses, that was my time. It was how I went to that mental state that I needed to be in order to race my best. Some athletes use heavy rock music on their phone to take them there; for me lowering the sunglasses put me into the zone. But, the second the race was over, I got more enjoyment from seeing people finish and talk about how exciting it was to race. If I was able to help you in your training, with coaching or to even just encourage you with my words or cheering during the race, then that was greater than any medal or reward I could receive for my own efforts.

So if you are a 5 minute miler or a 9 minute miler; a 40 mile a week person or an 80 mile a week person; a 10 mile runner or a 100 mile runner; we are all the same, you and I. We are runners. We are athletes. We all suffer the same during races, hurt after hard workouts, have occasional injuries and smile from ear to ear when we cross the finish line, knowing that we have given our best effort. We all look up to people who are faster than us, but maybe we should be looking in all directions for good quality people – not just those who are gifted athletes.

Now that my racing days are over, I hope that I was known for who I was, or how I impacted your running life in a positive way, not because I ran a fast race once upon a time.  I am just glad that I figured this out early on, and didn't continue my running career thinking that I was above anyone else.  I was not.  I was simply a man who had the will to test the limits of my body.  And now that I look back on it, it means more to me that I may have been a difference maker in peoples lives, than all the medals that I earned. 

After all, we are the same, you and I.