Sunday, March 30, 2014

in praise of random strangers


I'm part of a big Facebook runners' group that I have always enjoyed reading and following. Running is a community. It's an activity, but it's a community. Lots of people talk about community, but as far as I have ever known, runners live it more than anyone as a whole (individual exceptions aside). This weekend I had a big PR at the same time I was struggling with personal trauma. It was a bittersweet moment in some ways, and yet one that I enjoyed totally. Perhaps I enjoyed it more because I knew what I had fought to run that race.

Yesterday, I posted about the PR on the runner’s group, and today I posted a picture from the race. The professional shots captured the moment well. I looked strong, fit, and confident. And I wanted someone to know it. 



Even as I type this my Facebook is blowing up with notifications on both posts. Tonight some random stranger said “Proud of you.”

Proud of me.

Random stranger is proud of me.

Because random stranger is a runner. He knows what it takes to run, to fight, to overcome.

The majority of my personal friends didn’t really respond to my race pictures or statuses. A few old standbys did. Most just go “Oh, Suz, she’s a runner.” As if I run races every day, PR each time, overcome things that no one knows about. These moments are special to me. See, in some ways they are what I have.

I have talked about this before too. I don’t have family. I have a few close friends. I have many causal friends. I have many acquaintances. But few people expect much out of me in an achievement sense. No one really has set expectations for me in my life. Growing up, even. I ran wild, did what I wanted. And if no one has expectations for you, no one needs to be proud of you or cheer for you.

One reason I love races is the random strangers. They yell for you, they hold signs for you, they put their hands out so you can high five it like you are a celebrity. Other runners in races say “good job!” as they fly by.

My first half marathon was run at a pretty slow 14 minutes a mile. I could have done a bit faster at that time, but I didn’t know it. I was afraid I wouldn’t have it in me, and I wanted to finish, and that was it. As I coasted around the Fargo neighborhoods and around mile 13 into the Fargodome, people were standing on the other side of the barriers cheering for a 14 minute a mile runner. I feel chocked up writing this even now. No one cared how good I was at it, but that I did it.

Sometimes I think the best community there is can be found on the streets, on the internet, a community of runners who love you anyway. Not because you are fast or slow, hit the wall or win the race. They know the runner’s heart and the runner’s spirit, and so they are there. 

A few times, very few, friends have come to my races. Those few times were very special to me. You see, I want people there. I know running is a boring sport to watch. I want people who love me not to care it's boring but to care I am running. I think we all do. And it's true, I will run anyway. I run for me. I am a runner. I am proud of me. I cheer for myself. But it sure is special when others do it for you. And sometimes it's those random strangers who make you feel like family.

As I end this entry, 78 runners from the group like my picture, and 3 of my personal friends do—the same picture. Let’s say there are three times as many people in the runner’s group as on my FB friends’ list (pretty closely). You see why I love random strangers. Sometimes that’s where I feel most like I have a support group.

Lest I omit the random friends—there is a small group of people who cheer me on too, who know me personally, and I love and appreciate that so much. That’s not to disdain that joy. Real friends always mean more if they exist. But this weekend, it’s been the strangers I praise because they have made me feel like I won a race yesterday.

Because I did. 



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