Monday, September 19, 2011

A Community of Understanding

Some quick thoughts on the North Coast 24, held this past weekend on the shores of Lake Erie.

First and foremost, thank you to Dan Horvath for all of his work as race director, and to Shannon Fisher for her work getting together and keeping together the volunteers and tremendous array of food. And to Frank Dwyer for his work, and Roy Heger for loading up and driving the truck (and unloading it) while knowing they were both going to put in their own efforts running the race (and both did tremendously well, let me add!!). Thanks to Howard Nippert for being the official USATF rep and for his support. I thank all the happy and responsive volunteers, like Dan Bellinger who made sure I had water every lap, anything I needed to keep going, and Jan Roe for being beautiful and spunky. And for Mike Keller who gave me coffee, and all those other people for which I am so appreciative.

I don’t intend to write a race report per se, personally it was a little disappointing to go in to that race knowing I was ill-prepared and taking a spot away from some other “deserving” runner who might have been actually able to place in the National Championships. But I still love the event and thought maybe the Plantar Fasciitis in my left foot would behave enough for me to not embarrass myself at least. I was able to squeak out 100k, 62.2 miles, but the majority of those miles did take place in the first 14 hours of the race. Thankfully my daughter Alicia was able to wake me up and get me out from under the warm covers to do another 10 laps or so before I went back to bed until dawn. I hobbled around a couple more times before the clock ran down to 0, but only because Jay did. In all honesty, my main motivation for even showing up was because Jay wanted to do the event with me. He believed in me, and knew that no matter how many miles we “ran,” we did it together.

The race proved to be another excellent memory made, and this time for more reasons than just how I felt and how I finished. This time I observed more, and appreciated more the effort of those runners who accompanied me. Perhaps in the past I had minimized the effort it takes to compete – really compete – at a national level. I know that I downplayed the effort it takes to get 100 miles in, under 24 hours – it was simple math after all, at least 5 laps an hour. Doable, right? Well this year I realized that to even get 100 miles in takes a consistent effort from a runner. The folks I know who got 100+ miles were up at it mostly all 24 hours. They were still moving when I was not.

I know for sure that those runners who were shooting for records and/or a spot on the national team are absolutely made of something different than me. For the most part they were not out there laughing, pausing for lots of hug breaks, or messing around with cute skirts… they were determined. They had a plan. Most had a crew – a supportive parental unit, or dear friend, spouse or fellow elite ultrarunner handing out prepared bottles, responding to “pb&j” requests, and yelling encouraging (sometimes mean) words to get them moving faster. I heard discussion of mathematical calculations written up to stay on track. Some runners were tracking food intake by the calorie. A lot of them didn’t even change clothes. The top runners who had those really high miles did not stop to sit. No sock changes or complaining to the tent-dwellers next to them. They were driven. They were something else to watch. I wonder if the whole of Cleveland understood what these athletes were accomplishing. The overall winner, Phil McCarthy, ran 153 miles – 170 LAPS -- around that circle. The top 10 overall each had totals of 125 miles or more. I wonder if anyone outside of our community understood the amount of talent pooling around that .9 mile loop at Edgewater Park was actually newsworthy.

I like to think that I am one of them. And sometimes just by participating in these events, showing up and doing okay relative to “recreational runners,” I am one of them. Like Jay said to me yesterday, it was cool to be there, so close to the action to watch it – front row seat -- to be an observer but also a participant. How awesome was that, how fortunate.

I suppose on a good day (in another life), if I really made the honest effort, I could be close to being one of them. But for now I am happy to have had the experience, and to call those amazing runners my friends -- some just for being one with me in the community of understanding.

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