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Monday, July 18, 2011

Yeah, and . . . so what?

For many people, the thought of completing 40 "event" miles in one calendar year may hardly seem blog-worthy. Heck, for some it barely merits a passing mention in casual conversation. For naturally athletic, dedicated runners, 40 might be a number of miles to complete in a single event, not over a year's time.

But this blog is not about any of those people.

I was always good in school, with a single exception: gym class. While skills in math and reading came easily, the speed, agility and coordination needed to excel in athletics were completely lacking. By the time I was in second grade, the delineation was crystal clear: academics and the arts were my things; sports were not. With few exceptions, my Phys Ed teachers established the primary goal of their classes to be the encouragement of excellence. Those of us lacking ability were tolerated, scored a passing grade, and forgotten.

It wasn't until college and after that I first encountered friends who participated in sports for sheer enjoyment. Some of these people were gifted athletes, but many were not--they just had fun and didn't compare their performances to anyone else. I was surprised that these academically-gifted individuals also thought of themselves as players of sports, even if they didn't happen to be very good.
My concept of "athlete" was expanding--but still, that label certainly did not apply to me.

Fast forward to 2006, when my friend Diane came with her running team to Nashville for the Country Music Half and Marathon. She was doing the half, but most of her teammates had trained for the full course. I had never been to any kind of race before, so I was interested to see what it would be like and to go watch Diane cross the finish line.

Being a complete novice, I grossly underestimated the scale of the event (I believe that year there were about 25,000 participants), and drove around so long looking for a parking spot that I missed Diane's finish. But we finally found each other, and headed over to the marathon finish line to cheer on her friends.

My mind was blown by what I saw. Far from fulfilling my preconceived notions of what marathoners looked like, here were runners of every description: tall and short, young and old, slim and large, graceful and, well, NOT. Runners with smiles on their faces as they crossed, and those who looked like they wanted to puke (and a couple poor souls who actually did). All of whom ran 26.2 miles. It was exhilarating, moving, and humbling. My concept of "athlete" was forever changed.

That next January (2007), I bought my first pair of running shoes and started training for my first 5K. I was a runner--at least for a little while. More in a future post about starting, quitting, and how I eventually came back three years later.

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