When we run races, we all use a variety of methods to keep us focused and moving. Sometimes it’s a mantra, like the one I used last February at the Super Sunday 5K/10K. Sometimes it’s keeping someone in mind who has inspired us. Sometimes it’s the crowd that pushes us on (Women of Wellesley, you are awesome!). Sometimes, it’s a game we play with many of our fellow competitors – a game my buddy Mike calls Heroes and Villains. The thing about this game is that generally only you know that you are playing, despite the fact that many of those around us are unwittingly playing as well. You pick runners around you that you want to run like (the Heroes) and runners that you want to catch or stay ahead of (the Villains) – check out Mike’s recap of his Boston Marathon and his bitter duel with the Cat in the Hat.
I was floored, flattered and thankful when I received this email yesterday:
$22 to Autism Speaks; you can decide what to write for Providence.
And at the risk of seeming creepy, here’s the story of how I came across your blog & hopefully return the favor you (unwittingly but undoubtedly) did for me on that little jaunt to Boston on 4/19.
A bit of background:
• An invite & generous sponsorship from my employer secured a charity bib for me to run, so I also began toward the back of the pack (somewhere in the middle of coral 25).
• For a number of reasons, I’ve been interested in transitioning to barefoot running but decided to hold off until after the marathon. A friend, mid-transition to barefoot himself, asked that I report back on how many barefoot/VFF runners I saw during the race. My attention was thus double-primed toward anyone in the category (I saw a grand total of three).
• I run for fun, fitness, mental health, perspective, etc. and while I did have a tiered set of time-related goals, my primary focus was to enjoy my first experience participating in the grand event that is the Boston Marathon. [Incidentally, goals were (a) beat my fiance’s ex-girlfriend’s time of 4:23 – very mature of me, (b) come as close to 4:00 as possible, and (c) qualify for 2011 – under 3:41] But my approach to the race was pretty much to just go out and run for fun, disregard the clock, and see what happened for me.
Flash forward to Hopkinton. I always run on the left side of the road, against vehicular traffic, and out of habit I took to the left shoulder from the start. I also found it easier to weave through the throng from the side than the middle while I sought whatever pace felt right. About mile 3, I moved inside to allow what turned out to be VFF-wearer #2/RaceMenuSinglet pass ahead. I had passed the nearly-hobbling VFF #1 (apparently dealing with a pre-existent ankle injury) around mile 1, and this was my first chance to see a minimally-shod stride/running form in action. I was struck by the runner’s apparent lightness & energetic but graceful stride – a beautiful thing, that forefoot strike, what I took to be joy in running and in the overall experience, and his consistent effort to give a high-five to every child with an extended hand. With all the anticipatory chatter on the bus about the grueling course, the training, the times, the splits, the will-I-even-make-its, etc., it made me really happy to see someone else seeming to enjoy the gorgeous day, and to love the experience for it’s own sake (and not just the outcome).
Water stops aren’t a part of my normal runs, so I passed through most of the initial aid stations without stopping. After one of these, I found myself somewhere ahead of VFF #2 but continued on at the pace I had adopted. After another mile or so I encountered VFF #3/VeganShirt, who looked strong but seemed to have a heavier footfall & greater heel/midfoot strike than VFF #2. His focus seemed different as well. I followed him for a while, and after a point VFF #2 came from behind again – stride comparison confirmed. VFF #2 still looked to be going strongly, happily along his way, enjoying himself and the day, and rewarding the outstretched hand of every child lining the street. It was great. And so I figured I’d keep pace a while longer, and thus it continued until around mile 11 or 12.
It was then with some disappointment that I let VFF #2 & VFF #3 go on their way: morning coffee and nerve-driven (fun is fun, but 26.2 is still a goodly distance) pre-run sipping from three bottles of water had me looking for a pit stop. Unlike the flocks rushing for the woods outside Hopkinton, propriety kept me running until an actual ‘facility’ was readily available – unfortunately short lines don’t always mean short waits, and I lost a solid 4ish minutes.
But I had somewhat locked in on the pace maintained thus far, and fell back in stride pretty easily. I had no sense of my time, pace, etc., but tried to run hard while staying true to what felt good/right (in spite of the pain setting in) and continue to enjoy the day. Because who knows what any future holds? It could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience I was having, and I wanted to be able to look back and love it from beginning to end.
I continued to keep an eye out for barefoot/VFF runners, but through the rest of the race I neither saw any others nor encountered the three previously sighted. I was curious how these three had fared…Was VFF #1 even able to finish? Did VFF #2 maintain his admirable stride & enthusiasm? How were those heels holding up for VFF #3? How would I be feeling after ‘x’ miles in different footwear? How long does the transition to barefoot actually take? Will I end up preferring it, or will I be back to padded shoes and arch supports?
Many other thoughts (irrelevant to this account) & miles later, I reached the finish line. I looked up to check the clock upon crossing, but the time was entirely meaningless since I had no idea when I had crossed the starting line to begin with.
It was only after meeting my family over an hour later (they had been stranded along the route) that I learned my actual time – 3:40:18. With a mere 41 seconds to spare, I qualified for Boston 2011. Quasi-disbelief, a surge of pride, and a silent but exuberant thank you to VFF #2 – the runner who inspired me to set a faster pace than I may have otherwise, and whose manner over those few early miles seemed to resonate with my own approach to the day. I was curious how the rest of his race had gone, and sent well-wishes out into the cosmos.
But curiosity eventually got the better of me. By the power of Google, and the circumstantial coincidence of there being but one Boston 2010 runner wearing VFF and a Race Menu singlet who happened to mention these things in his blog, I discovered RunLuauRun – your race report & pics confirm you as VFF #2. I earnestly hope it doesn’t seem inappropriate that (a) I googled a stranger and (b) I’m emailing* the same. It’s just that you were inspiring during my run and I wanted you to know as much.
I’ve already taxed my legs a good bit this week (not having had a second marathon on my radar just yet), but by way of returning the favor and in show of solidarity with your commendable 2 in 2 weeks effort, I’ll commit to 26.2 miles of [activity on foot] this weekend. Congrats on a great race in Boston, and all the best in Providence. Whether it’s this weekend or some other, your BQ is most definitely out there.
To unwittingly help someone BQ is almost as good as doing it myself. It is not too often that we get to learn of the good things we have unknowingly done for others. I am thrilled for “Ilsa” and I hope that next year we get a chance to chat at the Athlete’s Village as we wait for the start of Boston 2011!
We all have people who help us each and every day, but how often do we really take the time to say thank you? What if today, for just one day, we follow Ilsa’s lead?
Thank you “Ilsa” for making my day! I will be thinking of you (along with everyone else who signed up to use the human billboard) as I make my way through Providence on Sunday.