I am a runner.
A very slow one at all times, but I still call myself a runner. Most days, I put in three to file miles in terms of distance. In fair weather, I run outside. In poor weather, I seek asylum and run inside. Regardless of speed, distance or location, I would describe myself as a fairly consistent year round slow and steady runner.
And until recently, running for me wasn’t a team sport.
Decked out in average, normal sporting apparel, wearing the most basic of running shoes, my routine has been to get settled with my IPOD, turn on the most eclectic music playlist, and hit the pavement – all by myself. One and only.
My running routes are those of the most basic sort. I start at my home, swing around the neighborhood in a three to file mile circle, and end up right back in my driveway, sweating and tired, a little while later. Each day, I wave at the same folks, walk up the same hills, listen to the same music, and mutter the same complaints about this sport being too hard, too difficult, too challenging for someone like me. But each day, off I go.
Most of the thinking I do while running isn’t that earth shaking. I think a lot about how much further I have to go both in time and distance until I am done. (That’s my favorite subject.) Or about what song will follow the one I am already hearing. Or about whether I am swinging my arms too much or holding my hands too high. Odd as it my seem, those types of topics can actually fill up all of the thinking time available throughout a normal run.
But, as average and mundane as my running may seem, for me there has always been something about it that has made me repeat the process each and every day by myself for many, many years. I just like it – start to finish – day to day – month to month – year to year. It’s fun.
Recently, however, I have kinda surprised myself . . . because I have started to participate in organized running. In April of 2012, I participated in the Illinois Half Marathon in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. In October of 2012, I participated in the Rock and Roll Series Half Marathon in St. Louis, Missouri. There were approximately 20,000 participants in April and equally as many in October. I went from me running around my local neighborhood with my little headset and dorky shoes to joining with a big group of folks – all looking much more spiffy and speedy than I – and running around big cities.
And until last night, I really couldn’t figure out why I made such a drastic change. Keep in mind, I don’t think about these things when I run. My understanding on this issue happened while I was sitting in the living room watching late night television.
Last night, I once again watched the movie Miracle – the story of the 1980 U.S.A. Olympic Hockey Team. Like many other people, I remember where I was and who I was with while watching that particular game. I remember the animated announcer Al Michaels asking me if I believed in miracles, and goalie Jim Craig wrapped in the American flag scanning the crowd looking for his father. I can still see the pile of young U.S.A. hockey players on the ice man-hugging in jubilation.
Me? I remember cheering, smiling, and laughing with my family as we watched the Americans celebrate at Lake Placid – which was thousands of miles away from me. It was a great moment – a fun time.
And then it hit me. Why have I suddenly started running with others? And what is it about running with others that makes it fun? Well . . .
At the beginning of the half marathon, I stood toe to toe with thousands of other folks waiting to hear the starting bell. Once we did, we trotted off – up and down all kinds of interesting city streets. Lining those streets were crowds of folks cheering, waving signs, clapping, handing us water, and just in general supporting the runners. They rang bells, shouted out words of encouragement, sang songs, and turned long distance running – which for me had been a solitary sport – into one crazy-fun time.
I laughed along the way, gave out my fair share of fist pumps and high fives, reached out for the finish line and smiled widely at the entirety of my sag-wagon – which consisted of one person – when I did cross it.
And through the whole process – from the years of running alone to becoming one runner among many and to connecting these moments to a 1980s hockey game, I have learned much.
First, it’s fun having fun with people who are having fun. It is.
It’s fun to be part of crazy fun moments that make people smile for no other reason than something like running together. There is something terribly groovy about sharing the times of our lives with others whether it be cheering along with millions of Americans while watching a winning hockey game on television miles and miles away from the action or participating in a crazy-fun organized run.
It’s also fun to have fun with only one person who is having fun. It is.
It’s fun to do something alone. It’s fun to be incognito and smiling for no other reason than running on my own. There is something equally groovy about experiencing the time of my life with only the fanfare of me whether it be eating alone, working alone, sitting alone or running the streets of my neighborhood alone.
Finally, I learned that alone or with others, I like watching Miracle. It’s just fun.