Hi there! I’m in the midst of yet another marathon training cycle. Next stop, Chicago. Several years ago, I stopped listening to music on my runs. No music, you say?!
What do you do? What do you think about??
Lately, this is what I think about:
Look around. We’re living in a polarized world. At our worst, adults are getting away with name calling, bullying and deception. At best, we’re unwilling to see the other side or meet anywhere close to the middle. I’m not just talking about government and politics. Don’t you see it in traffic, at the grocery store, walking down the street? Society is getting more and more impatient, inconsiderate and selfish.
I’m not saying we are all bad people, and I certainly don’t think we need to agree about everything. We don’t even have to like each other!
But what happened to decency?!
Have you ever watched runners at the beginning of a race? How about the volunteers working the event? Every course is different. The runners change. Awards vary. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 1-mile fun run, the Boston Marathon or a 200-mile relay through the mountains of North Carolina. There’s one thing you can always count on: decency.
Sure, it’s a competition, only one person or team wins, and some may not even finish. None of that stands in the way of this concept:
We are all in it together.
Here’s what I see at the start of a race: friendly faces, smiles, high fives; spectators cheering for complete strangers; volunteers giving their morning, day or night to provide water, guidance and first aid. On the course, I hear things like keep going, you’re doing great, don’t stop, awesome job. I’ve literally seen two runners carry an injured runner across the Boston Marathon finish line. There’s a true sense of community — a shared experience.
Just this past weekend, I ran the Blue Ridge Relay. It’s a 208-mile relay through the mountains of NC. It took my 12-person team 24 hours to complete the course. We each ran three legs, slept in vans, shared snacks, made friends with strangers, had a few dance parties.
The Blue Ridge Relay runs like a well-oiled machine. Volunteers from mostly churches throughout western North Carolina work each exchange zone, marking down runners’ bib numbers as they pass off the baton. Some volunteers are out there at 3 o’clock in the morning. Many serving food and drinks, flipping pancakes, holding signs and cheering their hearts out. These folks don’t know any of us; we aren’t even from their community. But they open up their roads and facilities, give their time and service to us nonetheless.
Covered in reflective gear, a head lamp, flash light and pepper spray, I started my 3.8 mile night leg around 12:30 a.m. I was slightly nervous. Running by yourself on a rural highway in the middle of the night is not the most comfortable experience. On top of that, just before my run, I heard that a man was hiding somewhere in the bushes along the course trying to scare women runners. Great.
About a mile in, I saw a car pulled off on the opposite side of the road and a person standing beside the car. My heart dropped into my stomach and forefinger shifted to the top of the pepper spray bottle.
Then I heard a sweet southern woman’s voice yell out, “Avery County is so proud of you! You are doing great! Keep going!”
Exhale. Smile. Nod. Wave.
I don’t know if that woman was out there for the safety of runners, or if she had nothing better to do at 1 o’clock in the morning on a Friday night and decided she’d come support us. Regardless, her presence put me at ease. Her words encouraged me to run harder and keep going. Thank you, random Avery County woman!
I guarantee that if you put all of the Blue Ridge Relay runners and spectators from across the state in a big room with those generous volunteers from rural western NC, we would have vastly different political and religious views. We probably pull for different sports teams, have conflicting opinions about how government should spend our money or who we should love. But you know what? None of that mattered last weekend. It never came up.
What can we learn from runners?
What if everyone acted like the people at a race? What if we supported and protected one another, showed random acts of kindness and sportsmanship, despite our differences? What if we treated strangers the way we would like to be treated? What if we complimented our opponents instead of calling them names? What if we decided to work together instead of pushing each other away? I don’t think this is too much to ask. I think it comes down to decency.
So, in the name of decency, I say:
Let’s live this life like one really big marathon!
But seriously, next time you’re in traffic, let someone cut into the lane ahead of you. Make eye contact with the cashier in the grocery store. Say hello to a passerby on the street. Don’t forget that each one of us is running our own race every single day with hills and valleys and everything in between. Just start with decency.
See you out there.