I want to share a story from my 10K at the Illinois Marathon this weekend.
If you live in Central Illinois, you know what kind of a day we had on Saturday – it was rainy, cold, and windy. Those are conditions that make us want to stay inside and avoid even the simplest task, such as going to the grocery store. But, I – along with thousands of other runners in the 10K, Half-Marathon, Marathon, and Youth Fun Run later in the day – took to the streets of Champaign-Urbana on Saturday morning. It was a chore and my feet were completely soaked within the first mile or so, but it was rewarding for me.
With about a mile to go, I heard a woman as she ran by me – I was at a quick walk, due to running water in the street and a downhill slope… I wasn’t about to risk falling, that close to the finish – calling back to somebody, “Come on, you can do this, where are you?” I turned my head just enough to be able to see the person that she was yelling at. It was a young man, probably 16 or 17, who looked absolutely gassed and was walking slowly with his hands on his hips. I don’t know why, but I felt like I should talk to him, so I stopped and waited for him to get to me.
When he walked up, I asked him if I could talk with him for a second… he said yes. I asked him his name – for the life of me, I don’t remember it now, sorry, young man – and if he was a runner. He told me that he’d run some before but was really out of shape. I laughed and said, “Hey, look at me”, and pointed at myself. I told him that I’d just attempted my first half-marathon exactly four weeks before and that I’d fought through injuries to get ten miles in before I had to give up and call it a day. I told him that, if I could be back out on the streets doing our event that day, that quickly, and still feeling the effects of the injuries, he probably had it in himself to finish our event strong.
He looked at me with doubt on his face, but with the slightest hint of a smile. I pressed on and asked him, “How much do you think I weigh, young man?” He hesitated a little before replying, “I don’t know… 250, 300?” I smiled, laughed, and said, “Thanks for the credit, but I wish I was 250. I’m carrying about 320.” He seemed a little startled by the response, but I think he may have seen at that point where I was going with the conversation. “How much do you weigh, 200… 210?”
He told me that he was at about 210 and I replied, “So, if I’m this heavy and I’m going to run as much of what’s left of this race as I can, what’s stopping you?” No immediate response, but the smile grew… I then said, “Get up there!”, and pointed toward his friend (maybe a relative?). The smile became almost electric and he took off, eventually running well out of my sight up ahead.
I don’t know who that young man was and I don’t know if he’ll see this post at any point. But, young man in the gray hoodie sweatshirt, I hope that you got something out of our sixty second chat and that you enjoyed your day (as much as it was possible for all of us, given the steady rain and soaked streets). Seeing you take off like that made me smile and made me realize that this running thing, which is admittedly totally new to me, isn’t a competition with each other, as much as it’s all of us against what our minds and bodies are trying to tell us we can’t do. It’s against what expectations the world might have of us, for whatever reasons. Oh, sure, it’s nice to have the ability to say, “I was (___) in my age group in that race”, but at the end of the day, it’s about all of us taking the time to better ourselves.
If you’re struggling with your weight or body image, consider entering a race sometime. You don’t have to do what I did and try to bite off a half-marathon your first time out… start easy with a 5K (3.1 miles) – such as the Fat Ass 5K this weekend, maybe? – and tell yourself that you are going to run at least a mile of that (it doesn’t have to be consecutive) and power-walk the rest. Complete that, keep training, and do a 10K (6.2 miles). That’s a little tougher, but you can do it. If you’re feeling good, take a few months, continue training, and do a half-marathon! The phrases may sound intimidating and the miles may seem long, but the payoff is worth it, mentally and physically.
Take it from a guy who has never in his life thought about being a competitive runner… this stuff will hook you and you’ll want to keep doing it. I can’t wait for my next race and I’d love to do it with you!