I started running when I was 32. I’m not sure why, but there was something in me that wanted the challenge and the fitness and the experiences and the discipline running would bring me.
Why do I keep running? I got all of those benefits from running, but I think what truly keeps me running is the community. My community has a language and a special craziness all of its own. We’re connected by the miles we log alone, the races we run together, the injuries we fight with the help of those who’ve been on that road before us. We’re connected by the willingness to lace up our shoes in 25 degrees or 85 degrees alike. We’re connected to the strangers we wave to each day as we pass each other on our morning run. We’re connected to the fastest Kenyan chasing the next world record and the slowest couch potato who has decided to try her first 5K.
I don’t want to Rock ‘n’ Roll
Runners are even connected by our favorite shoe stores and the particular races we choose to run. And so maybe that’s why Rock ‘n’ Roll is a dirty word at our house these days. No, not the music. My husband and I will never stop loving that. This Rock ‘n’ Roll has to do with racing and all that is wrong with big corporations coming in and pushing the little guys around or even out.
You see, the Rock ‘n’ Roll race series, like the evil eye of Sauron (see Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings), has turned its focus to my city. They’re a big corporate entity that pushes smaller, local races out of the picture, enabled by a greedy city council looking for the promise of big bucks and full hotels. Sure, they raise some money for charity, but they’re really raising money for themselves. And those of us who support local races wonder what the cost will mean to our running community.
Rock ‘n’ Roll has a PR problem around my city. There’s the downtown churches for one, upset that many of them will be completely inaccessible to their members on a Sunday morning that is one of the top 5, if not top 2, most significant, most well-attended Sundays of the church year. Word on the street is that despite promises from Rock ‘n’ Roll to work with churches, some cities have had no luck getting the corporation to help churchgoers get where they want to go come race day.
There are the non-running citizenry who will be angered at the closed roads and difficulty of getting around town that day. Will they get fed up enough and speak out loud enough and call for an end to all racing in the city? If races get scaled back in our city, will it be the big corporate ones that lose out?
There are the local running clubs and local stores and local race directors who are rightfully upset that a local race has been bumped from this particular weekend, and the city council has approved a premium course for the Rock ‘n’ Roll, a course that has long been denied to the local races as being too disruptive to the community.
I volunteered at the packet pick-up for a recent local race. Rock ‘n’ Roll had a booth there (I hope the local race got a truck full of money from them for getting to be at the expo). I heard lots of runners talking about doing the Rock ‘n’ Roll. But I also talked with friends and members of the local running club who are offended by the mere presence of the Rock ‘n’ Roll folks and find themselves stuck trying to balance being a good host and protecting their own community when Rock ‘n’ Roll representatives show up unannounced to speak to their running groups about their race, trying to ingratiate themselves into our community.
When the Walmart of running comes to town (albeit an uber-expensive Walmart), what happens to the Mom and Pop organizations that get run over in its wake? Our community gets fractured. Maybe it’s just a small fracture that will heal in time, but it may bring greater pain than we realize.
So when Rock ‘n’ Roll comes barreling into town, I won’t run it. I won’t volunteer. I will not support it in any way. But I’m not so naive as to hope that the rest of the runners in this city will do the same.
The beautiful side of running community
All right, I’ll step off my soap box and go back to sharing some beautiful parts of the running community with you. I’ve seen several amazing running stories and videos lately, and whether you run or not, I think you’ll enjoy them for their beauty and message and artistry.
Sometimes big corporate entities can create great things, too, and in this case, Salomon has created inspiring running videos. The first video features Bernd Heinrich, a retired professor and active ultra runner, describing what running has meant to him and how it has created community in his life. There’s a scene near the end of the video where he has climbed to the top of a tall evergreen tree and is swinging the tree top back and forth, with him riding along in it. He ends by saying, “Ideally, I’d like to be a bird, but running is a close second.” See it for yourself.
Kilian Jornet, author of Run or Die and another of Salomon’s sponsored athletes, may disagree that you can’t be a bird when you run. Check out this crazy video of him running in slow motion. A lot of it looks to me like controlled falling, and his kind of running isn’t for me – if I tried to run that way, my book would be called Run and Die, and someone else would have to write it because I’d be dead – but Jornet is an inspiring part of my running community, nonetheless.
Finally, if you want to see the humility that comes with the running community, watch this video of one of USA’s top marathoners Meb Keflezighi talking about his tough race at the New York City Marathon a few weeks ago and why he finished instead of giving up. When Mike Cassidy caught up with Keflezighi, Cassidy could barely believe his eyes, but he encouraged his hero to keep running, and they finished together. In his interview Keflezighi got choked up when he talked about it: “He could have beaten me … we’re going to finish together and hold hands. And I’m proud I did that with him.” And don’t miss Cassidy’s version of the story, complete with a photo of their finish. It reemphasizes that we runners make up one pretty fabulous community.
Are you a runner? What’s your favorite thing about being part of a running community?
Not a runner? What’s your community look like? And in what ways does it inspire and encourage you?