Running or any exercise follows the old adage regarding computer programming - trash in equals trash out. Poor food equals poor energy and effort. Poor planning affects consistency and long-term improvement. In my opinion the same can be said for the communal aspect of running. We are always looking for an edge. A way to tweak training. A method to reach that PR in distance or time. Or that person or group to bring out a better effort.
I read Born To Run last year and was struck by the nurturing personality of ultramarathoner Scott Jurek. He is considered the Lance Armstrong of ultras. Among his oft-repeated accomplishments is seven straight wins at the Western States 100 miler in California. As much for his prowess on the trails Jurek is known to park himself at the finish line and wait for each finisher to come in. Jurek is super fast over such long distances and could be relaxing and recovering before most runners sniff the finish line, but he chooses to stay and celebrate each person for the commitment and determination to complete such an arduous feat. He sometimes shows up to races he is not entered just to cheer people on. I like that. I like it a lot.
I didn't care much for it when I DNFed my first marathon. That was also my first race entry in eleven years. My next race was the Surfside Rotary 10k in January. The morning was cold and windy and raining, hard from time to time. My ankle hurt. But once I finished and hit the bathroom I decided to park at finish line and cheer on the later finishers. When there is no chance off winning then finishing is the victory. I did the same after a strong showing at a local 5k as well as other races. I even paced my daughter at her first 5k (35 minutes) because she wanted to run and I wanted to run WITH her. Letting others know you care about their effort is a great boast. Imagine how MLB or NFL players feel about a packed stadium full of loud raucous fans on gameday.
The North Myrtle Beach Running group clued me in to another way to give back. On one Saturday run one of the runners asked about volunteer pacers for the upcoming Myrtle Beach Mini (half) Marathon. The event planners were short on pacers and needed help. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a pacer is charged with running a consistent time or speed per mile to set a pace for other runners who may have a goal for overall finishing time. Elite professional runners may have pacers in some events. New runners may need a pacer to stay motivated and on target. Pacers are used in longer distance races and can make a big difference on race day. I decided to try it and am set for an 8 minute per mile pace. I cannot wait.
What I got out of focusing on volunteer pacing is a sudden strong increase in my own training pace. After volunteering I had a sudden panic attack. Am I fit enough to carry an 8 minute pace over 13.1 miles? Will I fail and take a lot of people down with me? What have I found in the weeks since then? Hell no man! I am much stronger than I thought. The Mini was planned for a training run. My next marathon is three weeks after the Mini and I had no plan but for having an easy steady day. Now that I have the motivation to literally run for others I discovered how easy the pace is for me. I can't wait.
Matt W. on Daily Mile writes the blog Run Luau Run and wrote about some similar thoughts this week. Running with others is a great spiritual exercise. Runners seek affirmation in training for others. We seek opportunities to provide motivation and good cheer for runners on their own path. Heather G, also on Daily Mile and the writer of Run Faster Mommy is cheering on participants as a spectator at a local tri event today. She would rather be entered but is there to lend support for others. These are the kind of people that make running and running events so cool.
I think that exercise is like childrearing. Someone is always watching what you are doing, whether you are aware or not. Children learn from parents and newbies learn from more experienced runners. Do well and encourage others and the circle of karma is in effect. If you see a smile on my face, know that I'm running as much for you as I am for me. And don't be afraid to return the smile or wave.
(PS - new race goal. I run fast to finish quickly. I enjoy going fast and pushing my mind beyond its desire to quit. I want to share that feeling. Therefore I am thinking that in a future shorter distance race I want to finish then reverse course to find the last runner. The person at the very back of the pack. The final guy or girl that has no hope of winning and for whom finishing is the only goal. The person on the brink of never entering another race if they don't finish. The person that may benefit from a smiling face and encouraging words and shared strides. That is who I want to run with on that day.)