United in Running

Running is, at its core, an individual sport. In football eleven players must each execute their assignments to make a play successful. In Aikido, Shite and Uke work together to perform a correct and harmonious technique. Unlike those activities, a runner’s performance is ultimately personal; success depends upon each person’s own goals, training, condition, and state of mind. But runners have, nevertheless, a camaraderie, a spirit of shared community that binds us. We support each other, encourage each other, and we reach out in time of need.

That spirit of community has never been more evident than in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. All over the country, “unity runs” have popped up to show solidarity with Boston and to raise money for care of the victims. Last Wednesday our running group joined a unity run at Kensington Metropark. It was put together on short notice, with no food or water, prizes, or other frills, yet over 1,000 people showed up to run or walk the 4.15 mile route.

Kensington unity runners.
Kensington unity runners.
Kensington unity runners.

Most of the time I ran among people I didn’t know, and yet I felt a tangible connection with them, our shared experiences and love of the sport bringing us together. Individually, we were just running. Together, we were sending the unmistakable message that we are a community, and we take care of our own.

The spirit also manifests in less dramatic but equally powerful ways. When I first joined a local running group I felt welcome right away, and the coach assigned someone to run with me in case I had trouble or got lost on the route. Groups are amazing. At the end of a run? Congratulations all round, especially with new people. You get asked what upcoming races you’re training for, or what your next goal is. After a while you don’t have to force yourself to roll out of bed and go downtown on a rainy Saturday morning. You just do, because you know the group will be there.

PR Fitness at the unity run. Center, Coach Rob holds our newest member (soon to turn 1 year old).
PR Fitness at the unity run. Center, Coach Rob holds our newest member (soon to be the terror of the preschool circuit).

It shows in racing, too. Did you complete the race, even if you had to crawl across the finish line? Congratulations, here’s your medal. Hit your goal time? High five, good job. Missed out on the cool age group award? No shame, try again next year. You have enough coffee mugs anyway.

Paradoxically, perhaps it’s because running is so personal that runners form such a tight sense of community. Because we each have our own definition of success, when someone else succeeds, it isn’t at our expense. Rather than one winner and many losers, we all win. Do you run? Congratulations, you’re a runner. One of us.

Randy Step (center, orange gloves) fires up the unity run crowd.
Community in evidence: Randy Step (center, orange gloves) fires up the crowd.

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