Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boston, community, and running with our wings

I found community alone on a running trail.

This paradoxical statement is, perhaps, why running is so life-changing. 

Maybe I forgot what drove me to run before, or maybe this time was just so much more intense it’s gone deeper than before.

I first noticed it on Tomahawk Parkway, the place I have logged many miles over the past few months. It’s a top spot for runners in the south KC metro area, paved trails, wide, beautiful, safe. They even plowed these trails immediately after blizzards, giving us addicts a place to run when sidewalks stopped existing.

I’d run there almost every day, and I would notice something exceptional. Plodding along at a million minutes a mile—especially the first couple months—even the speeding guys who probably have run 50 marathons and placed top in their age division, even they would wave, and often would say stuff like “you’re doing great!” Just random encouragement. To be honest, it’s rare I would hear as many compliments in daily life as I do from random runners.

Running is a unique sport because even though there are races for winners and prizes, everyone who finishes is a winner. It’s not some lame “well you tried” philosophy that says even if you wrote three words when the essay was supposed to be 4 pages you got an A for effort. It really just means you wrote 4 great pages but took longer than the people who finished the essay first.

Running is, first and foremost, about beating ourselves. We beat our beliefs, our expectations, our limits. We find out we could do more—better, faster, stronger than we believed had we not put on our running shoes.

Runners don’t know what excuses are. Runners run anyway. If the weather stinks, they modify, they don’t quit. If they get sick, they’re often on the trail anyway (especially if it’s upper body). I got a pretty lousy cold right in the peak of training. Hacking up some lungs and not being able to breathe out of my nose, I ran. And the runs each day I was sick were the healthiest part of my day. I grew amazed. I didn’t miss a day of running from that.

Life without a run is like cake made without sweetener.

And so I run. I run anyway, for all sorts of reasons that some people get and most don’t.

And I found the beauty of running is acceptance and community. Sure there are the old sour faced cranks, just like there are anywhere, but they are the exception. 

In February through our blizzards, I would go run right before the snow would hit, changing in my car, where I had worn leggings under my dress pants, doing my SuperGirl act and hitting the trail. That snow wasn’t the boss of me. I’d pass some of the same people. They wave like when you see and old friend. It feels welcoming. It also makes you feel safe, like if a bomb hit, they would run for you.

And on Monday that’s what happened to many in Boston.

Boston is regarded (however unfairly) for being a snobby New England city. But stereotypes died as countless stories came out—random Bostonians who unquestioningly opened their home to runners displaced from their hotels. Cold, shivering, and traumatized, total strangers brought them in. A lot of them. A Google page was set up to show them where to go. People ran across the finish line and kept running two more miles to give blood at the closest hospital. People ran to the center of the despair to help other people.

Much talk has been uttered about the running community, how the crowds, the spectators, the volunteers make it what it is. They aren’t “fans” like in some sport where the action centers around 20 “important people.” They are part of it—and they could be on the path too. See, running is open to anyone who wants to try. We don’t say you are too: slow, fat, ugly, unpersonable, etc. We say, “here’s the registration form.” And lest you think that is all about money, countless running clubs across this nation host absolutely free weekly runs and even races for anyone at any pace. Slow runners are cheered and encouraged as the rule.

The (I will not use a bad word, I will not use a bad word, I will not use a bad word) “person” (or “people”) who planted bombs in Boston chose the 4 hour mark of the marathon. Four hours is the time the average, but skilled runner would come in. Elite runners hit at 2:30-3. In Boston everyone has had to qualify with a very strict time. 4 hours won’t even qualify most people, so whoever did it may have targeted the time to it when all the average runners would be headed in. That makes it even more despicable.

Trying to stop runners is like trying to clip the wings off a bird.

But we (from elite to slow) will have none of that.

I have been a part of movements and churches and ministries and groups all my life. Never in that time have I seen anything like I have seen this week with the running community. Never. Not even close.

I’m more proud than ever I have made the choice to run again. To me it was always “the one that got away.” I was never content not running and would often talk of it but never did it. But runners run, so I had to find my feet. My feet are my wings. 

I run alone, and I like it. May runners do, though some prefer groups. But the point is that runners are knit together. There is a heart connect that doesn’t matter if you are alone or not; you are connected. Maybe that’s why I never got over not running the years I was off. My heart had never spread from the awesome joy if it. 

I have lost a decent amount of weight primarily through running, though not enough yet, but I could be a size zero and the only effect it would have on my running is to run more because I would be carrying less weight. I don’t run because of weight loss, or needing less sleep, or improved health—though all of those have happened. I run because I love to run and never once since I dropped was I ever okay with the fact I wasn’t running.

What happened this week was horrific, to say the least, and yet it has shown us what we have.

I have cried every day, at every story, it seems. This feels personal because I imagine the agony of destruction. If anything tried to take my running, I can’t imagine how I would feel, but to have such an evil and violent thing on such a perfect day—evil is the most appropriate word.

Rarely do I feel personal connections to tragedy. I think it’s one way I protect myself, by not engaging too deeply since I feel everything so much. As a result I don’t wrestle a lot with anger or bitterness for things that are far away. But I do with this. I have to work not to feel wrath against that person/those people. It’s an effort because I don’t like people who clip wings off birds.

I pray for the ones who endured pain that makes them hesitant to run. I pray for people I have never met. Because I love them.

I always thought community had to be found in a convent or church. I think it can when it’s done right. And make no mistake, my faith is strong, or perhaps stronger in some ways, through running. But the social center of church isn’t my community. Real faith can be transferred across domains in life.  Too often faith becomes a bubble. What I like about running is that it crosses all lines. One thing matters: Do you run? If you do, you are a runner. It’s just so simple. Faith is simple too. And so is community. There is no room for an exclusive club. Instead, it looks like Boston. Even with elite divisions, with qualifying runners, everyone was an integral part.

And today, two days later, an internet movement from my little college town (where I will spend my summer running) managed to mobilize thousands of people to run in the Boston colors to support the community. I ran alone because apparently our KC running groups hadn’t joined in. Expecting storms, I found a park close to my job site and made Siri get me there so I wouldn't miss it. I did my SuperGirl clothes change and was off for 2.62 miles, a short run, but a 10th of a marathon. A passerby would have thought I was alone in Antioch Park, but I knew I was part of thousands.

In politics, two days later, we’d be deciding which party organized it.
In churches, two days later, we’d be deciding which church started it and got to recruit members.
In school, two days later, we’d be writing an assessment for it.
But in the running world, two days later, we ran.


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