Mark Sutcliffe: My Running Life “We have persevered.”

“We have persevered.”

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A year, like every other measure of time, is so arbitrary. Why do we so intently frame our lives around the precise time it takes our giant rock, travelling at great but somehow imperceptible speed, to make one loop around the sun?

There is nothing inherently distinct about any 12-month period. Hence my scorn at anyone responding to recent bad news with a social media post saying, “2020 strikes again!” or “It’s 2020: we should have guessed.” Events know no calendar. Bad and good outcomes do not organize themselves conveniently by year. Besides, were there no celebrity deaths in 2019?

And yet, as runners and humans we must have our start and finish lines. We must measure our progress according to some artificial line or barrier. We might as well draw a line somewhere, whether it’s January 1 or the start of a 10K race, and put another one down further down the road and use that as the basis for planning and measuring everything about our lives and our running. If we hadn’t created time, there would be no four-minute mile to chase, no two-hour marathon.

So here we are at the end of the most unusual year in recent memory. There’s no doubt that 2020 has had more than its share of surprises. Who among us would have predicted a year ago the cancellation of almost all the races in the world, including the Olympic marathon? Who would have guessed even six months ago, in the heart of the first wave, that events in 2021 would be in jeopardy as well.

The coronavirus has caused extraordinary damage, but the news is not universally bad. Another storyline has emerged, one of faith and hope and the strength of the human spirit. We have adapted. We have persisted. We have persevered. We have shown love and concern for others. In a fractured world, we have found a common purpose.

As runners, we have pivoted as quickly as the makers of personal protective equipment. We’ve joined virtual races and challenges. We’ve created our own events. We’ve raised money for important causes. And we have applied the lessons of endurance sports to all the other challenges of our time: home schooling, Zoom meetings, quarantining.

The examples are plentiful. I’ve talked to people who have run farther than ever before, done things they never imagined. There are runners doing loops of their backyards and balconies. And there is a cohort of new runners, people who started the year going to the gym or swimming pool, but have joined our community. Welcome. And long may you run!

The great finish line we crave right now is still undetermined (when will I be able to hug my mom again, for example). But at least we are passing one milestone. The year in which this all began is coming to a close. The year when – fingers and toes crossed – most of us will get vaccinated is about to start. When you run a marathon without a watch or a mile marker, you may not know how close you are to the end. But at least you know every step gets you further from the start and nearer to the finish.

And whether we can savour it yet or not, we know that something special awaits us when we break the tape. We will exhale. We will celebrate. And we will remind ourselves of what we always say at the finish line: If I can get through this, I can get through anything.

Note: this photograph is of Chris Rivera, top, and Tony Leslie, in the Boston gear, and submitted to iRun from our Facebook group account. To join the community, and share your journey, please see Facebook.com/iRun’s Canadian Runner’s Group.

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