Many thanks to all my readers who wished me good luck on running the Hood to Coast 2011. I did indeed run all three of my legs and can now call myself a Hood to Coaster, or some such thing. You know I must have had a good time if I’ve already signed up for another run on October 2nd, the Great Columbia Crossing. And I did have a good time running Hood to Coast. There is a lot to be said for having accomplished a goal, but it is even more powerful to be part of something bigger than you, bigger than the daily experience.
I went to work on Sunday a bit stiff, but it was great to have the opportunity to talk immediately about the race and what the race really reminded me of: I am a part of a community. And the role of community in our lives certainly centers us in ways that solitude cannot. Community brings us back into a fold that reminds us of the connectivity of humanity and how being connected reaffirms our very existence.
When I started talking on Sunday, I asked people to decide what the word “community” meant. And in their own words they said the basic idea of a group centered about something in common. For Still Running, the most obvious connection was the race number we all wore pinned to our shirts. When you wear a race bib, you wear a reminder of your membership in that race’s community, and in this case as a member of a team. Each member of Team 1249 was needed because it takes twelve people to run this relay race. Each member is valued, regardless of speed or experience. And the fact that when we gathered for our pre-race meeting we didn’t all know each other makes our connection even more special. Being a part of relay team helps build a community but does not guarantee that the community will be cohesive. However, ours came together quickly and successfully.
As I noted in Friday’s post, team Still Running represents our church, First Congregational UCC Vancouver. However, of the 12 members of the team, only 7 are actual members of our church. We had some folks who were originally interested in running who needed to drop for a variety of reasons so MisterSoandso put out the word we were looking to fill the roster. Of the 5 folks who agreed to run with Still Running, three are relatives, one is a neighbor, and one is a fellow CrossFit member. But even before the vans set off on race day, those titles no longer applied. Instead, we were all simply teammates. We were all members of a small community with the same value to that community.
One of the fun aspects of running Hood to Coast is how people in the homes and businesses along the race react to the thousands of race participants and vans passing by. Some ignore the whole thing, but many show signs of encouragement and community. Some of my favorite were little kids spraying runners with hoses and squirt guns, the elderly man sitting in his lawn chair, cane across his lap, encouraging each runner who passed his driveway, the family handing out thousands of paper cups of Gatorade, and the toddler in the saggy diaper yelling, “Go runner!” over and over. All these people felt connected to the energy and experience…they were connected in the brief community of a race.
And, of course, every runner and walker in Hood to Coast was part of the race community. What that means to each member is different, but I was struck by how many members willingly connect with others. My first leg was along the Springwater Trail at about 2:30 Friday afternoon. The thermometer may have read 90 degrees but the lack of shade made it feel even hotter. There is no van or water-support along this leg so I struggled. Runners passed me and over half cheered me on. Some runners may have been discouraged by being passed but I saw it as evidence of how the running community supports one another–especially how stronger runners are able to support those slower than themselves. I had lots of “keep it up” or “you can do this” but I also had more than one runner ask “are you doing okay?” That support helped me find the strength to keep running even as I felt the effects of heat stroke about half way through.
Lastly, I was truly overwhelmed by the community at Seaside as I entered the race chute along the sand. To have thousands of people cheering me on and high-fiving me was a fantastic experience. I was barely running along but people cheered me as if my speed had no bearing. And indeed, it didn’t because like all the other runners and walkers, I was finishing what I set out to do…complete a race. When we set aside our differences and focus only on supporting other people, we make the human community better.
Being part of a community, regardless of what that community has in common, helps heal the aches that life deals out in spades. It gives us people with whom to share our successes and failures, people to laugh with, people to be real with. I hope each and every one of you is able to find a community that embraces you and reconnects you to what matters in your heart and in your life. May you find a community that centers you in this wildly spinning life.
ps. Many thanks to my family for running with me for my first real race. Your support is amazing and I appreciate each and every smile, hug, and cheer. You are my first running community and I say we race some more…