I spend much of my time among strangers. Running among them. Treading among them. I may spend hours with them jostling back and forth. Passing them and being passed in turn as the race reaches its final stages.
So much time that these anonymous strangers somehow become friends.
Admittedly I look some of these new friends up when I can match race pictures to race results and see who the man in blue Under Armor was or finally put a name to the face of the woman in grey spandex and neon Saucony’s. I stop short of friending them on Facebook however because, of course, that would be creepy.
But I do remember them.
And after battling alongside of them over a tough course in inclement conditions I usually remember them fondly. As if we were platoon mates or as if I was affected by some variant of Stockholm Syndrome which renders me oddly bonded to these unknown runners on account of the fact that we were each held hostage by the same grueling demands of a particular race course.
Yesterday my eye fastened on the young lady in pink. I had spotted her throughout the evening race as we ran in front of, alongside of, and behind one another. But it wasn’t until we neared the 26th kilometre that I called out to her. She had pulled herself off to the side of the road. Just up ahead of me. And fatigue was beginning to claim her as she swigged from her water bottle.
C’mon! Don’t let me beat you. You’re doing too good for that!
And yes in times of great fatigue, and even in times of not so great fatigue, my grammar will falter. But in this case my lack of accordance for proper diction galvanized her. As she regained herself and willed herself after me and eventually passed me.
Over the final 4 kilometres I would again overtake her. Briefly, in the penultimate kilometre we exchanged encouragement. And when it was all over I turned to find her just behind me and congratulated her. To which she thanked me for helping her.
It was something we all have benefited from. The cheering of a volunteer. The admonishment from another runner. And we’ve all given as good as we’ve taken in this regard. For running bestows upon us all many benefits. But the benefit of community is oft slightly less heralded than some of the more touted running-related blessings of health and fitness.
Yet this sense of community is of no less importance. And it is certainly no less inspiring.
In running, as we fight to overcome similar obstacles and push to achieve unimaginable dreams, we cheer for each other. It’s what we do as runners.
And I’d like to think, it’s what we do as human beings.