I recently ran the Café Gelato 10 miler alongside an amazing assortment of individuals whom I couldn’t have imagined together in any other circumstance. To be honest, I was not in my best shape and I didn’t know anyone else running the race, but I figured if nothing else, it would be a wake up call to myself to start working out more. Anyway, I am not going to write about myself because that would be boring; I want to write about my state and my school and how lucky I am that they are in the same place.
I didn’t know anyone else running when I registered that morning. However, once I began making my way over to the start, the reunion began to unfold. People from all parts of my past were crossing my path. Some I said hi to, others I maybe only smiled as they walked by, not noticing me. Still others I didn’t acknowledge at all for I didn’t know how to. Friends from high school cross country, freshmen to seniors, showed up in various stages of in-shape-ness since the glory days of having scheduled time to run together every day. More familiar faces included parents of friends, old teachers dating back to middle school and beyond, and that person I did that one project with one time but don’t know if they’d recognize me so out of context.
Knowing a few more faces going in I got excited for the run, still telling myself it was just for fun, trying to dampen my competitive spirit and remember my real reasons for running that morning. Despite recognizing friends and friends of friends, I found my own bubble of strangers to fall into when the gun went off. I got familiar with the group around me each mile, letting some people go off ahead, while gradually moving in front of others, wordlessly reshaping our motley pack of athletes. I enjoyed being surrounded by such a diverse group of people. It was true that some I knew ahead of time, but most others I did not. There were kids younger than me and parents of parents of kids older than me, and there were ex-soccer players and ex-hockey players, and current swimmers and bikers and chemical engineers and international relations majors. I didn’t know everyone’s story, but I knew we were all athletes of some kind. No one signs up for a 10 miler on a whim; it’s no community 5k. But it was so low-key and accepting. The run itself was soft surface trails, backwoods beauty, and crisp fall air. It was weird to think about how many times I’d run those trails, from family runs to high school long runs to college workouts. But I’d never seen it so full of people, and that gave me a whole new perspective on the trails and those who make them.
A lot of times it’s difficult to know whether or not to say hi to a friend, or smile at an acquaintance, or even just acknowledge a stranger. There are awkward social connotations associated with everything you do, actions and words being said but not always heard, or sometimes heard and then overthought. Running is an equalizer. You see people you haven’t seen in years and you gasp out pleasantries as you’re struggling up a hill. You cheer for a friend when you don’t even have enough breath to breathe. You unquestioningly congratulate each and every runner you encounter because they’re there with you and there is no closer thing to empathy than literally feeling the pain they are feeling with you.
I think I’d really enjoy a world where everyday was like a run. I think we all think we’re the only ones who notice things sometimes. You can’t help but notice things differently when you’re surrounded by people, underdressed for the weather, and have ten miles spanning intimidatingly out in front of you. I believe this culture of treating people as people exists outside of just running, but this is where I found it recently, and I really wanted to share that feeling. I hope everyone is able to find a community as open and accepting where they feel completely comfortable just noticing and acknowledging and smiling. Simple things like that can get you up over hills a little quicker, and sometimes that makes all the difference.
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