Found on RunnersWorld.com and written by Jen A. Miller
Forget about comparisons to other runners. Every mile you run is a symbol of accomplishment.
“We are famileeee!” the silver-haired volunteer yelled, singing along with Sister Sledge’s disco classic as it pumped out over two speakers. He was standing on the side of Martin Luther King Drive in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, swiveling his hips to the beat, and holding out a plastic bottle of water for me.
It was 6 a.m., and I was on mile four of a 12-mile long run on a summer morning thick with humidity. Sweat rolled down my legs and pooled in my shoes, making them squish with each step. To cope, I’d been taking a walk-and-water break every mile, and my bottle was already nearly empty. As I ran past the sashaying volunteer, he begged me to take a bottle, “Please, we have plenty.” I longed to take it, but I shook my head. I wasn’t part of his race. I hadn’t paid for it.
“His” race was the in24 Philadelphia Race Challenge, an ultramarathon in which 300 runners run the same 8.4-mile loop as many times as they can in a 24-hour period. By the time I hit Fairmount Park (which organizers left open to all runners), participants had been on their feet for 20 hours.
My watch beeped: Time to walk. But I pushed on, suddenly self-conscious about the effort and ambition of the racers around me. How could I walk when they’d been running for nearly a day? They were covering 75, 100, 125 miles (the winner would run over 155). They deserved the walk breaks, the water, the “We Are Family” serenades. I was just doing 12 miles.
Hold on. When did 90 minutes of sustained running become “just”?
Seven years ago, I didn’t run at all. Not until I got a writing assignment to work with an online coach for what I figured would be a humor piece about forcing an anti-runner to train. My first time out, I barely completed a mile. Eventually, however, I knocked out a 5-K, then a 10-miler, then a half-marathon, and–you see where this is going–finally a marathon. The road became a place I could work out a knot in a relationship, fix a work problem, or wonder at will about topics like what, exactly, my dog enjoys about rolling in goose poop.
But the more I ran, the more I lost sight of my accomplishments and began comparing myself to other runners. I’d call myself a slacker if I didn’t run as fast or as far as other people. That day in Fairmount Park, I realized I’d gone from thinking of a mile as a feat deserving of a dance party to refusing water on a dangerously hot day because my workout wasn’t worthy.
No one running 12 miles through a swamp at 6 a.m. is a slacker. I took my walk break, and turned around at my halfway point. Every exhausted racer I passed said, “Good job,” or “Good morning,” or offered me a weary smile. They weren’t judging me, so why was I? Their goals weren’t mine, and I’d be running on days they rested. I didn’t need to run endless loops around a park. I needed to get in 12 miles as part of my larger goal of running a marathon in October.
I approached the aid station again. Same dancing volunteer, same blasting music, except this time it was Sugar Hill Gang’s “Apache.”
“Hi hooooooooo silver!” he called out in time with the song, pointing two bottles of water at me.
I took one of the bottles. And I ran/walked/ran home.