I ran another race today. Unlike most of my races this year, there was nothing about this one that initially stands out. The distance was short for me. My time was nothing special. The course was one I’ve run before and is not noteworthy for any spectacular views. What made this race special were the people.
I initially signed up for this race last winter as a way to motivate my friend and running partner, Jen. She had such a rough winter health-wise that she went several months without running at all. There were days when she couldn’t get out of bed. She needed a goal to work towards, but she was scared of taking a risk and failing. Enter the 1/2 Sauer, 1/2 Kraut Half Marathon. Having run this race together last year, I knew the course would be a good balance of the roads that she is comfortable on in a more natural setting that I love. Plus, the race has a generous refund policy, so we knew that if training didn’t go well, we always had the option of opting out the month before. Fortunately, Jen’s determination and hard work got her back into running shape and we made it to the start line without any issues.
Fate helped us out and made today extra special, as it marked a milestone moment for Jen & I in our running journey this year. Back in late December, I convinced her to sign up for the Run the Year Challenge with me. We committed to running a combined 2,016 miles together in the next calendar year. We started slowly in January but have been picking up the pace ever since, and on Friday we realized that we were at 998 combined miles heading into the weekend. It was so awesome to be able to reach the Mile 1 sign in the race and realize that we had hit our 1,000 mile mark together.
I was worried that a bad toe would hold me back and prevent me from sticking with Jen throughout the course, but my foot cooperated and we managed to run every mile together. We even felt good enough at the end to push one another on to a strong finish. I’ve run so many races with this woman over the years, but every single one of them is special. After crossing the finish and grabbing a few bites of food, Jen raced off to some family activities while I dropped my medal and race bib at the car. I then returned to the finish line to await two more friends.
While Jen and I were conservative and stuck to the half marathon, there were about 150 runners who were bravely taking on the full 26.2, including two friends from my running club. I cheered them through the halfway point, and then hopped back onto the course to keep them company while wracking up a few more miles myself. I had originally planned to spend the second part of the day completely on the trails, but a closed path forced me to include some more paved trails in my loop, which turned out to be a fortunate coincidence. It was nice to be able to run with the girls, checking in on how their race was going. It can be difficult to run the same course a second time, especially on a hot day, and I was hoping that a bit of company might distract them and make the miles pass a little faster. Unfortunately, we reached the mile 2 mark rather quickly, at which point I peeled off to explore some of the technical trails on my own.
After some time spent exploring, I eventually made my way back onto the paved path for the final two miles of my run, which happened to be the end of the full marathon course as well. At this point, the field was really spread out, and I only encountered a couple of runners along the way. The great thing about a small race field is that you feel like you get to know your fellow competitors a bit, even if only for a brief moment in time. I enjoyed cheering on the runners that I saw, offering words of encouragement to get them through the final few hot & humid miles. I peeled off the course just before the finish line, made a quick trip back to my car to change and grab a snack, and then found a shady spot to park myself near the race finish. That’s when the fun really began.
I spent the next hour cheering in the marathoners that had survived the tough course conditions. This race was small enough that there were very few spectators left at the end. For most of the time, it was just me and two other men who sat cheering the runners. It was awesome to watch so many people approach the finish. I am usually too concerned with my own race to have much energy to give to the other racers. It felt great to be able to sit and support these people who had worked so hard to make it through the course. I once read that the noted ultra runner, Scott Jurek, was known for sitting at the finish line for hours after he crossed to cheer on his fellow competitors. My brief stint at the finish today helped me to understand why he did that. It was clear on many of the runners’ faces that it felt good to them to have someone there to acknowledge their hard work. It was equally gratifying for me.
Today’s race was all about connections. From the deep bond that I continue to share with Jen, to the snippets of conversations that I had with other runners, spectators, and race volunteers, I was reminded that the connections that we make in life are what bring joy to our days. In my future races, I hope to devote more time to seeking out these connections. The world is full of interesting people and it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to cross paths with so many of them.