In November, I set a very important personal best. It wasn’t the sub-1:40 half marathon that I finally managed to secure. Rather, it was in the days following that achievement at the Hamilton Road2Hope Race Weekend that I shattered my personal best for most likes on a single tweet.
I can’t deny riding a high following that race, especially after I chased the same goal in May at the Ottawa Race Weekend and came up disastrously short in the conditions.
I struggled to shut up about the race, but maintained a healthy sense of sarcasm when I did because all runners know we can’t be too precious about results.
Nonetheless, the day after the race, I posted my PB progression at the half marathon, which ran from a 2:17 debut in 2013 to the 1:38 I managed at Road2Hope.
I was shocked not only that this detail about the progress of some random bum like myself was drawing attention, but that messages came through from friends and strangers to celebrate this milestone with me. Even strangers seemed to have perfect familiarity with what this experience meant to me, wherever their experience and achievements were relative to mine.
Notifications came through to tell me that Rob Watson and Jen St. Jean liked that tweet. “What the fuck is a sub-1:40 half marathon to Rob Watson and Jen St. Jean?” I asked myself.
In a conversation over tea a few weeks ago, a colleague explained to me the possible reason for fellow runners being so exuberant in their praise over a single race result and why it sometimes rings hollow to those outside our running bubble.
“Most people just don’t know what it’s like to stick their necks out like that,” he explained. “The last time most of us were excited and passionate about something in a big way was probably when we were kids, if we even did that as kids.”
This year, I think I found my greatest excitement not in breaking my own barriers, but in witnessing others find and harness some of that same magic in themselves. While the excitement of others initially puzzled me, it made more sense as I felt it for others.
Whether it was my dad finishing his first 5K with continuous running or a coworker texting to let me know they successfully completed their longest run so far, I recognized their excitement not for a single achievement but for the sense of possibility they began to feel. Yet more friends made the transition from athlete to coach and others added more dimensions to their role in community building.
In Adharanand Finn’s superb book the Way of the Runner, the author recalls a visit to one of the infamous “marathon monks.”
Finn writes, “In every training run, we fill ourselves with the experience of life, the air rushing through our lungs, our hearts pounding. Even if we break our best times, or win the race, a few days later we’re lacing up again. Like the Daigyoman Ajari who said enlightenment wasn’t an end, but just another step on a lifelong journey, the race is not the end we hold it up to be. Whatever happens, the next day, we need to start all over again.”
Beneath the very basic act of running is the brave resolution to stretch our boundaries and allow ourselves vulnerability, not just on the course but every day.
That’s what we in this global community see in each other. We know deeply the agony and the ecstasy that comes with sticking our necks out and chasing something that may or may not pay off. Even when it does pay off, the real return is not in
adulation, fame, and certainly not financial, but an invitation to continue exploring.
The trajectory from 2:17 to 1:38 was one marked by continuous exploration that yielded breakthroughs far beyond race results and I’m certain that anyone who offered their praise knew that and lived it themselves.
We operate on curiosity rather than on certainty or comfort. When the victories come, it means that we weathered that fog of uncertainty and deemed ourselves worthy of something greater and that’s an incredible gift to give ourselves. We recognize how rarely we do that so when we see it we swell with pride and admiration for one another.
This year, I feel that I was made more whole as a runner because I learned to recognize, encourage, and celebrate others who took the leap and to understand how drastically different that leap may look from runner to runner. My appreciation of the sport’s riches only grew by learning to see how widely they can manifest as did my gratitude when others still saw it in me.