In the past few weeks I have been traveling and speaking at various races. At my book signings I invariably encounter people who are carrying a bag full of race goodies. Asking them which race they are partaking in this weekend, some will give me a sorrowful look and mention how an injury derailed them about a week before the race. As such, they are here just to pick up the things that they have already paid for and to get some deals on running apparel.
While I have been fortunate enough to not have an injury keep me from racing at an important race, I have had to miss races for a variety of reasons. The most recent would be when a bike accident kept me from competing in the World Aquathlon Championship in Australia. Having qualified for the US team in my first ever Aquathlon in August, I was more than stoked to represent my country at the Worlds.
I did not think that 9 days later I would be in the emergency room with news that there was no way in heck I was going to be swimming a few weeks later. So I do understand the feeling that training and hard work, when derailed by an injury, can feel like a total waste.
In speaking to these people, I offer as much solace as I can and try to impart to them that I do indeed feel their pain. I then try to point out that, for many of them, while crossing that finish line would indeed be a dream come true, they have already gained so much. Often these people are not going to even come close to winning their age groups, let alone win the whole race. They are the ones who have gotten off the couch after years of neglect to their physical well-being and are happy to just be running. You know, the plodders. The 6 hour finishers. The ones who many feel don't even belong in the marathon.
While this blog is not about a debate of whether "slower" runners belong in a marathon, I will say that my opinion falls a lot in line with Greg Meyer, who in 1983 was the last American man to win the Boston Marathon. Greg, who I had the pleasure of meeting and spending some brief time with at the Brooksie Way Half-Marathon last year says that when he hears such complaints from average marathoners, he replies, “If it wasn’t for the run-walkers, you wouldn’t be finishing in front of anybody.” But I digress.
My point is that, there will be another marathon for these people, the injured, to finish. In the meantime, they have gained so much more. , mental resolve, and probably a whole group of new friends are now in their back-pocket. Completing the marathon is not just that one day's worth of events but rather months of training and sacrifice and the rewards that come with it.
Summing up my feelings on the subject, a runner I met in Manchester this past weekend sent me an email recently saying, amongst other things:
"The entire experience of training for and then running the marathon has allowed me to connect with myself and reflect on my strengths and weaknesses more than I would ever have imagined! It may sound silly, but I feel like I accomplished much more than just running 26.2 miles."
Nope, Rebecca, it sounds just about right.