It's the day before a race and for many runners, that means a day in front of the television (for some reason I'm watching golf) or curled up with a book (re-reading 'Again to Carthage'). It means a day staying off my feet and glad NOT to be running (a welcome break after 20 straight days and some 400k+m since the last one). It means sipping on liquid calories all day long and eating a generous proportion of carbs. For me, it means a haircut and a shave; no doubt to gain a competitive edge and shed some extra seconds. It means reading old volumes of Running Times or Runner's World and trying to hone in on good racing strategy. It means going to bed early but knowing I won't sleep. Running and racing is about routine, about ritual. And we all share it.
I know I've gotten a lot of smack for writing prior posts that criticize and question various 'types' of runners: ultrarunners, trail guys, the barefoot crowd; those running slow or failing to hit certain times for certain distances; gallowalkers, 10 and 1ers; charity runners; and probably several more. While I do stand my ground and maintain my positions, I do want to issue a friendly admission and concession and say that compared to the vast majority of non-runners out there; you guys and gals are the best. Together we make up a very unique and special social world that espouses certain values, beliefs, norms and morals. We speak a language that is entirely unknown to outsiders and engage in behaviours that seem both strange and unnatural to the average human being. We are a close-knit community with individual goals and dreams but a collective significance.
It was after spending some time at home with family and friends and having to explain for the fifth time that: "No, not all races are 'marathons;' and "Yes, I run that far without stopping," that I came to realize just how unique our world really is and how similar we all are regardless of how far we run; how fast; where; or why. Only we runners know how many meters are in a mile and many times that is around a track. How far the standard marathon is (or the half) and why it is that way. What the qualifying times are for Boston, New York and maybe Fukuoka. How terrible the taper feels even on the first day. Why the 'wall' happens around 30k and how it feels to 'bonk'. Why we go out too fast EVERY single time and why we plan not to next time. The role of a tempo, an interval, a stride, and a pick-up. The difference between easy, aerobic, threshold, and VO2max pace. Why a 5k is the toughest road race you can run but the marathon is the most humbling. What it feels like to set a PB and perhaps why it's necessary to DNF or DNS. Names like Coolsaet, Kipsang, Hall and Haile; Makau; Mosop, and Mutai; Daniels, Lydiard, and McMillan; Paula, Kara, Kastor and Switzer...and many more.
We share a common passion and find pleasure in our pursuits; we set similar goals and occupy the same spaces and places (and occasionally paces); we persevere through adversity and over time; we expend time and effort to acquire special skills and common knowledge; we forge personal and social identities and engage on a 'career' of running; we attain a plethora of rewards and benefits and ultimately take part in a wonderful world and community that will and should continue to grow and prosper.