The ugly t-shirts, the pre-race nerves, the post-race bananas, the older guy who goes out way too fast; when I first started running I couldn’t get enough of that stuff. I was a race junkie, signing up for a local five or 10k every weekend, often in support of charities. But as I grew as a runner and my goals changed, I stopped racing as much and I started training differently. With the specific workouts I had on my training schedule, I found it harder to fit the fun charity runs in. If a race fit my workout plan, or if it was on Thanksgiving and I’d get a t-shirt with a turkey on it, then I’d make an exception.
The less I raced, the more pressure I put on myself when I did race. I would set almost impossible goals and then make myself sick about it before the race even started. Finally I just gave up. I wasn’t having fun, so what was the point? Then I got snobby, telling myself I was busy running marathons, I didn’t need to be bothered with a local 5k. These are the lies I told myself.
Then I got a different, though unwanted, view that showed me the healing power of the charity run.
On a windy, slightly cool, yet beautiful morning on Cleveland’s lakefront I found myself surrounded by a group of about 20 family and friends who had gathered to run and walk five kilometers. They were there because I had asked them to join me. I was there because the doctor treating my mother’s brain cancer handed me a flier a few months ago. The flyer was for the “Head for a Cure” 5k run/walk to support brain tumor research. I looked at that flyer in my hand and I looked at my mom and before we left the hospital, I put out the call for friends and family to join me.
This race was just like any other local race, in fact I’d run the same course for other charities before. However, when the cause is something personal, you begin to see the ordinary through different lenses. You see those battling the disease, you see those who love someone who is being attacked by the disease, but you also see the power of running. I saw a cancer patient pushed in a wheelchair for most of the run, but she got up and crossed the finish line on her own two feet. I listened to my mom’s doctor talk and I know that he wants to cure this disease more than anyone. This run brought people together to remember, to love and to hope.
And while all that was occurring, a race was still happening; a race that encompassed every aspect of what makes running great. There was competition and speed with the superstar husband and wife who won the race in sub-16:00 and sub-19:00 minutes respectively. There was my friend Crystal who dug deep and broke her goal of a sub-30:00 5k on her second attempt at the distance. I ran with my daughter who completed her second 5k about 12 minutes faster than her first one. When she got tired, I told her grandma was doing something that was hard and that we could do something hard for her. I watched my daughter listen to that and start running faster.
I watched as my niece ran her first 5k in under 30 minutes. I watched her face light up when she realized that she had won her age group. Behind that smile, I could see the seed being planted of someone who could grow to love running as much as I do. I watched my mom’s childhood friend finish the 5k with her granddaughter. I watched my daughter take my friend’s daughter by the hand and convince her to run the kids’ dash.
I hugged my aunt and uncle as they finished the race even though the long uphill mid course was more than they had bargained for. I watched as my friends talked and laughed and ran together. I watched all of this and it helped me heal. And no, this race didn’t heal my mom, but it did heal me just a bit and give me strength going forward. Strength to be what my mom needs me to be.
I have to think that for every local race out there, there is someone watching the race unfold through different lenses. And while for many of us, the race is a place to have fun, enjoy friends, try new goals and to test ourselves, it’s also helping heal someone. Someone is healing just a bit knowing that people came out to support them. They are healing a bit more knowing that much needed funds are being raised for the cause closest to their heart. They are healing watching others do things they didn’t think they could do.
So yes, I will start making time in my schedule for the charity race. Yes, I will set goals for some of those races, and I’ll get myself a bit worked up and nervous before them. But I’ll also remember the bigger picture. I’ll remember that this is one more way that the sport I love helps heal and make a difference. I’ll remember that it’s not just another charity run.
It there a charity run that is particularly close to your heart?