To some degree, the answer to the question I pose above is patently obvious--to run a half marathon and a marathon for charity this year with the goal of raising at least $2500 for the two charities combined. To try to run a Boston Qualifying marathon time. To probably run three 5K's with my son and maybe run one other race for which I register this year. That, at least, was my agenda at the beginning of the year. Not a bad agenda. But is that all there is?
Some would ask, what more do you need? Or "why do you need anything more?" I think there is a need for something more. Here's why.
Today, I came to what I think is an important crossroad in my group training for the half marathon. When I was out running (alone but surrounded by members of the group) I pondered the question--if I ever had to pay to be in the group (rather than getting in through being part of charity fundraising) would I actually pay to join?
How did this come about? Well, just last night I was emailing on Facebook with an old friend from an opposing school who ran high school cross country and track. Steve was always better than me but was a totally nice guy about how good he was. He always congratulated other runners who came through and offered encouragement. That bond--as he put it the commitment and sacrifice that we shared--is something that provides a basis for staying in touch these days. Last fall in the marathon training group I felt the shared sacrifice. I'm not sure if I am feeling it yet. I'm not blaming my fellow runners. I just trying to figure out what I am and am not inspired by at the moment.
Last year when I first trained in a group for the Baltimore Marathon, I ran with people who knew way more than I did. I listened. I mimicked. I learned. I made sure to understand the key take away messages from our time in training together. And I tried to thank every one of them whose presence made a difference for me when I finished the marathon in a respectable time.
This morning, at our group half marathon training, I left a bit after a group of two with whom I've run before, caught them, passed them, then ran a bit further than them, so that I got back to our starting point after them. The whole time, I ran alone, although I did encourage other runners as I ran back past them going the opposite direction or passed them on the way back. My 6 miles were in splits of 8:53/8:44/8:21/8:27 (it was mostly uphill)/7:50/6:53. I took the last mile a bit faster than I should have. I enjoyed just going at my own pace. I enjoyed the serenity of the cool late winter morning by the reservoir in near silence. The wind was noticeable but not gusting at 40 MPH like the last time I was at the reservoir with the group. And, most of all, with the huge rain we had a couple days ago, the water rushing over the dam was incredible to watch and wonderful to hear. But while I met with the group and chatted with people (including some I met for the first time) before and after the workout, I ran alone.
Why is that important? Does it mean I could train for this type of event on my own if I needed to? Does it mean I should just train alone on my own schedule and getting done what I need to when I need to?
I think I could train on my own. I don't think it means I should train on my own. Presumably as we approach the summer marathon training season, I'll once again encounter runners who are clearly better than I am and to whom I will continue to look for guidance. For the time being, what I am sensing is that my role has changed. For the current group, I am sure that since not everyone shows up every time, and that on some days there will still be runners in the group who are faster and stronger than I am. But on the days when I find myself at or near the front of the pack, maybe my role should be to slow down a bit and encourage someone directly as I run with them. Maybe my role is to be the person who takes it upon himself to encourage others rather than just showing what I can do on my own. Physically, it is wonderful to do whatever I'm capable of and to push myself (although being careful not to do it too hard like that 6:53 in the last mile). Spiritually, maybe I really need to rethink just pushing by myself. It doesn't seem satisfying. I know that when there are people who are clearly better than me but whom I aspire to run like, I want them to stop and offer their thoughts to me. Maybe running decent times at 41 and bearing the scars of three different injuries over the past year, it is my time to pay it forward in running just as I like to do in mentoring at work. Of course, I don't want to force that on anyone but maybe I do need to extend a hand and make clear I'm in this for the camaraderie and not just for my own personal satisfaction to make people feel like they are welcome to run with me, seek encouragement from me (I'm happy to give it), and perhaps to ask for any advice I may be in position to pass along.
My running spiritual role has not involved writing so much this year as it did last year, but perhaps even that will change over time. More importantly, my interpersonal spiritual aspects of running may take on a totally new set of dimensions as I move forward this year. We shall see.