No, this is not a post about sports bras. Another time, friends.
A little moral support goes right to the heart of this runner, and I can only assume other runners as well. I do not expect my friends and family to really care about my running, my times, or how I feel after a triathlon. A simple acknowledgement is nice, but even that is not necessary. Desired, yes. But not essential. That stated, having a cheering squad at a race, or an interested party at a social gathering, or a stranger’s wave, are all part of a web of support that keeps me motivated.
Support comes from a variety of sources. Just today, Kristin and I were running up a hill at Lake Chabot towards the end of our run, and a group of middle-aged hikers came towards us in the opposite direction. I squinted through sun beams at large man in a white T-shirt who called out, “You’re my inspiration!” to us as we very ungracefully jogged by. Another guy in the group of men had a cane, and he said pleasantly, “I was doing that yesterday, but look what happened to me!” and laughed.
My favorite stranger is a man I pass almost every time I take a certain side street near my house. He is always in his garage or standing right outside his garage, cigarette in hand, watching the world go by. There never seems to be much world to watch, but he’s there all the same. I don’t know his story — maybe he’s retired. But he is almost always there, wearing a plaid lumberjack shirt and jeans, beard bespangled in gray and white, looking a bit like he may have used to socialize with the Hell’s Angels. And he always lifts his arm and waves, a grin on his face. He once called out, “Looking good!” I wave in response — heck , after two years, I sometimes even waves first. I always find myself stepping into my disappointedpants when he is not there. I like seeing him at the end of a run.
The gang I swim near at the pool is another form of support. Yellow Bucket Man is always trying to get me to improve my flip turns, or swim intervals. When he is feeling unmotivated, he’ll swim my boring, though still useful, set. Richard and Melissa always smile, despite it being six in the morning, and we exchange pleasantries and make strange small talk. “Ready?” Melissa will say. Richard and Yellow Bucket Man will nod, and then they’re off. I don’t join in their workouts often, but I’m still in the club, and I look forward to their familiarity, their ritual of just being at the pool.
Best friends make great support as well. Years ago my very first road race was the Bah Humbug Run in San Ramon. I was a bundle of nerves, but my friend Sean drove me to the race, watched calmly, and congratulated me at the end. Later in that year, he again delivered me to the start line of the Big Sur Marathon, and was waiting for me at the end of take me home (by way of Pizza My Heart! How I remember that meal). Then he started running himself, and by the next Bah Humbug Run, he was in the race himself, and I got to wildly cheer him on (and at the Kaiser Half Marathon as well).
I must admit, running in front of friends can be challenging. Sweating as much as runners (okay, as this runner) does makes sharing the sport with anyone a bit daunting. This year, Krisitin and I ran the Kaiser Half Marathon (my third year, her first). Matt and Ken, who were still relatively new to us at the time, came along, and were very kind in their dropping us off, being at the finish line, and taking us to breakfast afterwards. Having them there was really meaningful, even though we were apprehensive about it. At least I was. Sweating and all.
Even my family has come to a few road races. My mom often jokes that long distance running is quite dull to watch — the runners head out, disappear, and reappear some time later to cross the finish line. But her and my father have both witnessed the finish of the Workday Devil Mountain 5K, and one of the Kaiser Half Marathons. And seeing them there, after years of being someone who never wanted to participate in sports, let alone be watched participating, was exceptionally sweet and rewarding. I know they think I’m a little nuts in my desire to run, but I like that they let me be me.
And as much as Ken and I laugh about the strangers who come to races to cheer on everyone, I really do love those people. I love that they ring cowbells and yell “You’re doing great!” even when perhaps you are not. I love the man who rode his bike up and down Highway One during Big Sur, cheering all us strangers on. And I love to think that one day I’ll be a stranger who is overly enthusiastic in my cheering, who delights in encouraging, and who offers support when none was maybe needed, but always accepted.