It cannot possibly be an accident that Forrest’s last name is Gump. As in gumption. Rewatch the movie if you need some convincing. Or just go watch a foot race like the Music City Marathon or put Spectate The Boston on your Bucket List like I just did after this weekend. You will need no further convincing that people who run long distances around the perimeter of a humid, dry, hilly or flat metropolis are, next to our armed forces, some of the most legitimate badasses on the planet.
When I assemble to watch people run long distances as part of scores of groupies and family members on the sidelines, I become more and more convinced….
Out of every sport known to mankind, running is the purest meritocracy in the athletic world.
You simply cannot halfass it. You get out what you put in. As my runner husband says- ‘the training does not lie.’
A Running Race: The place where your physics professor might very well have the NFL’s winningest football coach for lunch. And when you spectate these races like I have been over the past few years, you will start to notice things. Different rituals. Different gear. Different strides. Natural strides. Painful looking strides. Wobbly gaits. Skinny runners. Thick runners. Smooth and awkward runners with petrified torsos that barely budge. Teeny little shuffles that keep on trucking for 26.2 miles come hell, high water, charley horse or bowels with a mind of their own.
Last weekend, my husband set out to run his third half-marathon. 13.1 miles to be exact and, believe me, runners are exact. During last weekend’s race in Nashville, the humidity invited minimal clothing by 6am- a full hour before the gun signaled the start and before the sunrise even signaled morning. This was the first year that I thought both kids may be old enough to appreciate and participate in a race. I set them both up in their camping chairs to cheer on their dad at a grassy turn near the halfway point.
We brought our posters. Runners like posters. Almost as much as they like a breeze at the back or a mid-race carbloaded beer. They will pretend their name is Matt or Matilda for a day if it convinces them that you are their personal cheering committee. And you are. You cannot watch what they do and not go hoarse from yelling.
My favorite running trend is when the runners use a thick black Sharpie to temporarily tattoo their name on their arms so that you can cheer for them by name as they come by your turn. Doesn’t matter that you have never met. Yell their name and watch them go. Watching them go just does something for your psyche. I cannot quite put my finger on what that is yet. But it is a good thing…a motivating and inspiring thing to watch someone manhandle (womanhandle) pain and pin it down on the other side of a finish line.
My absolute favorite part? The runner faces. Like snowflakes, no two alike. But every single one resolute even when winded to the point of gasping or grasping a toothpaste like gel to push in a few extra electrolytes for that last stretch. Oh, those runner faces that launched a thousands ships or shits in some cases. The human body responds in ways that you cannot strongarm or hold at bay when you are running double-digit mileage on a single day. At least they have a fine excuse. Too many White Castles the night before is not. But running for two to four hours straight? You will never see a human being so willingly slinging open the door to a port-a-potty as you will on the sidelines of a distance race.
Some runner faces look like what I would imagine Achilles did when his heel was pierced. Or what Bronco star, Eddie McCaffrey, looked like when his knee was T-boned from the side with the force of a mack truck at Mile High Stadium on September 10, 2001…I only remember that insane injury and date because it was so atrocious… until the day after trumped it and changed our collective definition of injurious.
Some runners are juggling tennis balls or hacky sacks. Literally. Presumably not to entertain the sideliners but to get their mind off of the hell those relentless hills are wreaking on their knees. Some are glaring as if they have just walked in on a husband in the midst of transgression. Some are making an Oh Face to rival The Agony of Saint Theresa’s. Go on and google if you have forgotten her. I only remember that one because it was the first time a teacher used the word orgasm during class in high school. I want to have that running face one day if I must have one at all.
Last summer, a Denver pal recommended a book to me called Born To Run by Christopher McDougall. I laughed. Born To Run? I am barely born to walk without tripping. I am born to make posters for people who run. I am born to forget about my germophobia when I high five 800 sweaty palms from the sidelines. That one turned out to be one of the top five books I have read in this lifetime. It is about a hidden tribe of superathletes who run up to 100 miles, um, without stopping. In sandals. I understand if the premise sounds crazy but I would truly recommend this book to any sport aficionado. Any and all.
I cannot run a mile right now. I could offer you a million reasons why- none of which are legit. I am working on that with intermittent speedwalks followed by short jogs between one set of streetlamps at a time.
For now, maybe G is just for Groupie. Congrats to the runners out there. I follow you with a fervor reserved only for tracking my kid’s reading habits. You have my attention and my wholehearted respect. You don’t ask for luck. You don’t ask for agents or signing bonuses. You don’t even ask for nice toilets.
You just run. And run. Then run some more. And eventually you inspire a few of us to walk an extra mile or two.
Meritocracy (noun): A system in which advancement is based on individual ability or achievement.
And isn’t that pretty much the way the world should work?
That’s all I have to say about that, Gumpsters.
I like the word ‘gumption’ because it’s so homely and so forlorn and so out of style it looks as if it needs a friend and isn’t likely to reject anyone who comes along. I like it also because it describes exactly what happens to someone who connects with Quality. He gets filled with gumption.
Robert M. Pirsig
Your Groupie, Shannon