The Best Half Marathon I Never Ran

“That seems like the worst deal of all time,” my friend Katy told me, after I explained that I was doing long training runs for a half marathon I’m not doing. “So you’ll put in all the hard work,” she continued, “without the day-of excitement of running in the race?”

I agreed it was a very unique approach. But I was more excited to cheer on my lifelong friend, Hayley, in the race than I was about doing it myself. Instead of registering as well, our compromise was that I would accompany her on long runs.

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What I didn’t think about the time was that 8 and then 9 miles would feel a lot more natural for one of us who trained for that distance than it would for the other who did not.

But that’s really a personal problem.

Come race day, my original plan was for Brandon and I to bike to Uptown so that we could then be nimble and follow Hayley around on her path. What I didn’t factor in is an 8 am race start means we would need to start biking …before 8 am… on a Sunday. The drinks we had the night before and the rain the morning of made that plan worse and worse. Driving to uptown, instead, gave me even more respect for what Hayley was taking on.

Brandon and I met up with her husband, Ethan, and their dog, Lola, who had a lot of questions about why we were standing in one place in the rain. The course is two laps through a Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun/Bde Mke Ska loop, which made it easy to see her at the 6 mile mark and walk over to the 13 mile area. (Sharing this if you’re interested in running or watching this race next year)

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At the 13 mile area, the spectators had a new level of energy that made me consider jumping into the race, or at least jogging in place. In particular, was a couple that was cheering on each and every person turning the corner for their last .1 miles as if it were their best friend completing the race.

“Turn and burn, baby, let’s take it home!!!!” They screamed, hunched over hands on knees, like a head coach dialed in for the last minute of the most important game. They jumped up and down, and were feeding off the energy of each other.

I was in awe.

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First of all, I really wanted to get to the bottom of if they even knew any runners in the race. Which made me wonder, is this how they met? Were they just cheering on strangers like crazy, then caught each other’s eyes across the street, and thought, wow we have a lot in common? 

I was also envious of the effect they were having on the runners, and wondered why I wasn’t bringing the same energy. I encouraged our group to head up stream so we could be a little appetizer to the real cheer leaders down the way.

Rather than watching the runners, until Hayley arrived of course, I was mainly watching this couple. It brought me to tears thinking about how impactful it is to hear that encouragement as a runner.

It is the exact encouragement they need, in a moment where they feel like they have nothing left to give. It’s amazing how strangers cheering you on can validate the sense of accomplishment you should have after 13 miles, but for some reason in the moment, all you can see is the .1 you haven’t yet reached.

Since race day, this couple has stayed with me. I’ve been sharing this story with all of my yoga students, encouraging them to be this level of enthusiastic, but for themselves.

As amazing as it is to hear compliments, praise, and cheers from others, it can’t truly resonate until we believe it ourselves. It’s incredibly difficult for external validation to overpower our own talk track we have playing on repeat.

When we’re not being nice to ourselves, it’s hard to genuinely appreciate and convey what we admire in others. We know comparison is the thief of joy for the person doing the comparing, but I think it also steals from the person being complimented. It shifts from “this is something I truly admire in you,” to “this is something I wish I liked about myself.”

My #couplegoals cheer leaders weren’t inspiring runners by brushing them off, saying “Good for you, I’d never be able to do anything remotely close to this.”

They inspired by being present and fully engaged in the moment, making each and every runner feel seen. The runners I saw Sunday have carried on to their daily lives, and they may no longer have those enthusiastic cheer leaders top of mind, but I’m sure they remember how they made them feel.

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So, I’ll likely never see these people again.

But they’re what I’ll remember most from this race, which made me think of my students and whoever reads this.

It can be hard to see in ourselves how we inspire and change those around us. But this doesn’t mean we don’t have impact.

As Drew Dudley explains in his Ted Talk, there’s people out there, like strangers watching a half marathon in the rain, who just haven’t gotten around to telling us yet how we’ve changed their life.

Whatever you may be taking on this week, don’t hesitate to recognize what you’ve accomplished so far.

Even if it seems counter intuitive, when we’re intentional about directing praise inward, it makes it easier to appreciate other’s accomplishments and cheer them on.

And you can take my word for it, those sidelines are not a boring place to be.

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