For the third year in a row, and the third year in its existence, I got to take part in my favorite running event of the year – Reach the Beach Relay: Massachusetts. For the third year in a row, I got to spend a day and a half in a van full of people I barely know, running all through the night to reach our goal that taunted us from 200 miles away. For the third year in a row, I did it for no reason. For the third year in a row, I come away wishing every day was like that one.
Let me give you a bit of insight into the relay before I get into the preachy part of the post (there’s always a preachy part, if you’re new here). Zoom Multisport, a triathlon training team, has kindly taken me into its arms every year to run from Wachusett Mountain down to Horseneck Beach. You have a team of 12 people (or, if you’re a psychopath, a team of six), split into two vans. You organize yourselves into positions 1-12, and you rotate running distances between 2-9 miles until you reach the destination. And yes, to answer your question, it is just as insane as it sounds. And it makes people turn into speedo-wearing, thong-strapping, duck whistle quacking, butt-slapping lunatics.
Personally, I ran over 15 miles in three different pieces of the race – at 6pm Friday, 2am Saturday, and 10am Saturday. I probably managed an hour to an hour and a half of sleep in between each run. Where did I sleep? In random school parking lots of course! And I know I just glossed over the “I ran 6.5 miles at 2am” part, but I’ve now done it so many times that it doesn’t even seem weird (plus it’s awesome – you just wake up in the middle of the night, cram some Gu and some water down the pipe, and then go running through neighborhoods where the only things you can see are the circle of light coming out of your headlamp and the blinking lights attached to runners in front of you. You just pretend you’re in a horror movie and there’s some crazy with a sickle lurking in the woods waiting to jump out at anyone who stops running, and you’re golden. Or you could decide not to be a 14-year-old girl and just run.).
This year Zoom actually built two teams, and we rivaled each other the whole way (check the results, we finished 2 seconds apart – 21st & 22nd out of almost 150 teams – do you know how nuts that is?). But we also supported each other the whole way. And that’s what the culture of running is all about. It’s not some huge competition where you wish ill upon others – you’re only competing against yourself. It’s not some exclusive club that you have to be cool or super-athletic to get into – you just have to try, and you’re in. Anyone and everyone will encourage you, cheer you on, run at your pace, and push you to new limits. It’s not costing anything to support each other. And even though this support prevails most at big events, it’s true of runners every day.
That’s the thing about events like this and snapshots in life – you can save pictures and videos and write incredible blog posts about those experiences (like this one and this one), but you can’t bottle those actual moments up and carry them around with you. Instead, you have to let the experience carry on through your daily life and through your actions. Just because you’re not out with a bunch of other lunatics in vans*, you don’t have to stop pushing yourself or stop supporting others. You can just go ahead and do that stuff. Nobody is stopping you.
*They’re not all actual lunatics. Okay, a random woman did tie a thong to my van’s antenna at one point**, and a member of my own van actually pinned his bib number to his nipple rings, but the lunacy is supported, stride-for-stride, by some of the most phenomenal people I know. My team shows me that each year, but I also ran into a couple of people from past parts of my life (Hi Jill! Hi Cooper!) who are two of the most positive people I’ve ever met. Not that I needed it, but that just confirmed my assumption that everyone who runs this race is awesome.
**I’m getting way, way off track, and this is going to ruin the impact of the message that follows, but I have to share this part of the story. I had just finished running 6.5 miles, my second leg of the race. It was around 2am. I’m standing next to my team’s van wondering how in the world I’m going to get my muscles to move enough to actually step into the van, never mind drive the thing. A woman rises up from the shadows of the parking lot and starts fooling with our antenna. She informs a pair of us that we have been “thonged,” in a tone of voice that made me wonder if I had unintentionally run over her dog at some point. I pulled out my phone to take a picture of her in the act – she noticed my action and instinctively pulled down her pants. I had no idea whether or not it was okay to look down – she was like 50, I wasn’t excited to see how else I was getting “thonged.” I waited until she walked away so I could look at the picture and find out if some old lady just mooned me. Anyway, here’s your visual evidence on the right. Now you’ve all been thonged, too.
I’m fortunate enough to have a phenomenal support system in my life, through the people I align myself most closely with. If I didn’t have them, I probably wouldn’t be of much use. I never would have runs as fast as I did this year without my van pushing me to do so and my “rivals” in the opposite van taunting me along the way. I never would have made it through Reach the Beach last year without the support of my friends from the previous year as I nursed an injury that I had no idea how to deal with. I never would have made it through training for the Boston Marathon two years ago without the support of my two running buddies. I never would have even started running without my Dad just pushing me into the deep end. And I never would be blogging about this if I didn’t have encouragement from friends, telling me to keep writing.
In Boston right now, it’s especially important for this message of support to stay a part of our everyday lives. We’re all caring for each other in ways we never have before, but after more time passes those feelings are going to fade away for those of us who weren’t directly affected. They always do. And while it’s fine for us to change back to who we normally are, we shouldn’t forget how it feels to be a community and to back each other up, even if there isn’t a catalyst for those feelings. We should continue to support one another, not just because of an event, but because that’s who we are and who we should continue to be. Take a page out of the running community’s playbook.
We don’t need a reason to run. We just do.