Saturday, March 24, 2012

Thoughts on Being a Race Spectator

I've been actively training for and running in races for the past five years. It all started with a couple of little 5Ks, then I discovered a fabulous coach and group to run with and my running career blossomed into a series of 10-milers and half marathons. While I'm not a "competitive" runner by any means (except against myself), I have learned to be consistent, persistent, and that bad days are still o.k. days if you get one foot in front of the other. And, I've become an addict. The end of each race is the beginning of training for the next, regardless of what hurts or what other life activities may deserve some of my precious training time. Upon recognizing this, I made a New Year's resolution to not race this year. "Not racing" does not mean "not running," only that I'm emphasizing cross-training more in an effort to keep me running for longer into my life.

For the first couple months of the year, this wasn't so bad. I've never been one to sign up for a winter race. But when registration for a popular St. Patrick's Day race was opened, I started to feel the pull to sign up. In fact, several of my running friends had registered and more than once I was asked if I was going to be there. Was I going to register? No. Would I be there? Absolutely.

St. Patrick's Day came with an unusual amount of sunshine and warm air, and I packed up the dog and found an intersection roughly halfway on the course. My own racing reminded me how tough that middle section can be, and it is often void of spectators save race volunteers. The lead runners flew by, strong in their focus and indifferent to my "Looking good!" cheer. But as the crowd of runners increased, so did the level of fatigue and exasperation I saw on their faces. While I was mostly looking for my friends, I started cheering for everyone. It felt sort of silly to be one person standing alone while clapping and hollering words of encouragement, until runners I didn't know started to thank me. This only encouraged my obnoxiousness, and I continued to clap and cheer. By the time I saw my friends, I was deep into spectator mode and I felt a surge of pride for each of them as they took steps toward their individual goals.

Watching the race was more fun than I thought it would be, and maybe it helps that I know what the runners are going through. Some of them are racing for the first time, others have set time goals, and others still may be having a bad race and just need an uplift. Having run so many races myself, I've experienced all of those scenarios. For the rest of the season, I intend spectate more races, maybe volunteer for a couple. I might have given up racing, but not the race.

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