My name is Heather, and I’m a (gulp) . . . runner.
It always takes me a moment when I say that, because even after 10 years, I still don’t see myself as a runner. In my head, runners are lithe, sinewy, totally focused on the goal. Actually, they are every person who has ever graced the cover of a Runner’s World magazine. And me? Well, I’m not lithe, sinewy, or all that focused most of the time. But here I am, pounding out miles, albeit not as many as these gals, always in a state of training for something. And that current something happens to be the 2nd annual running of the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail 200-mile Relay this August.
If you haven’t heard of this, you should check it out here. And if you want to sign up, you’d better hurry; prices rise on June 1. Anywho, Kristi asked me to guest blog about being the “Conductor” for our team this year. Once you know about the relay, you’ll know the language is permeated with railroad lingo, as the trail used to be the GR&I RR between Cadillac and Grand Rapids. So, yes, as team captain, I’m the conductor to a yard crew of switch monkeys.
I was part of this inaugural run last year, and although it was cut short by a huge lightning storm and tons o’ rain about 3:45 a.m. on the second day (yes, you run round the clock), it was fun, in that “pushing-beyond-your-limits, running-every-12-hours-and-getting-little-sleep” sort of way. I’m doing it again this year because we never officially got to finish and well, why not? I live in Grand Rapids, I grew up north of Cadillac, and heck, who doesn’t want to ride around in a van with sweaty, stinky runners in the middle of August?
Kristi does. After I told her about this race last year (and after she saw the awesome Patagonia gear and the ginormous medal I got), she was in! So she’s got a spot on the coolest team this year: Full Steam a’Fred. That’s right. We are nerds, and we remained true to the railroad lingo spirit of the race. We’re even gonna get matching shirts this year.
So what? What does all of this have to do with the heretofore inspiring posts CP & KG fill your inboxes with? How does this matter to you?
I’ll tell you. I’m a runner. But I doubt myself. I constantly compare my pace, gait, performance, shoes, gear, thighs (oy, especially thighs), you name it, to everyone who runs. Not to intentionally beat myself up, mind you. I’m not built to have certain attributes I love in some runners’ bodies, nor am I at the level of mental fortitude it takes to run with some runners. And I sure don’t have the time to put in to a lot of hard-core training, nor, honestly, the desire.
But my team really inspires me. As individuals, each of these people has contributed something to my own personal views on running in the last two years, and I am okay with backing off some of the needless comparisons I get caught up in. It’s not the titanium-leg sort of inspiration, or running with a new organ sort of inspiration, but it doesn’t have to be. That’s the point. It’s just this: Look at all these lovely human beings, running with their hearts, enjoying each other’s (stinky) company, and ultimately, completing a pretty significant distance. I call that run-of-the-mill inspiration. And that’s sort of the best kind, because I can live up to that. And I’ve learned that most of them, in some way, plays the comparison game, too.
There’s running-beast Ben, who is constantly struggling with some sort of hamstring-related injury, but he shows up with a smile, and is always looking for some crazy person to run 20 miles on a random Saturday. There’s Ken, an awesome, 60-year-old racing veteran. He’s got some Boston ghosts, but probably has the fastest time per mile of anyone on our team. There’s John & Jen, married friends who just love to run together and got hooked on the relay last year. There’s Pablo, our Chilean cellist, who runs when he’s not playing (and rooting for) soccer, and Steve, the “guy we met through the Fred site” who just needed a team last year. (Oh, yeah, he’s back!) There’s Liz, last year’s capable conductor and one of my very best friends, who meets me nearly every Sunday through rain, snow, pitch-black pre-dawn days for our long runs. There’s Julie, whom I’ve yet to meet, but who, I found out, likes to run super distances, like 100-mile endurance runs. (I’m already intimidated by Julie — see? I’m starting to compare and I’ve only seen her Facebook picture.) There’s Andre, who always has a smile on his face and despite being our alternate last year, not getting to run any miles, just rode with us stinky people (and he kept smiling. Maybe it was helping block his nostrils). There’s Jeni, another gal I’ve yet to meet, who runs and bikes. There’s Kristi, whom you know all about now, friends, and there’s me, your honest-to-goodness average runner.
I am inspired by what I know, or what I’m learning about, or what I’ve seen these folks, and folks like these, do. Like me, they all go home from jobs and meetings and other commitments and try to fit in the mileage. Sometimes we can do the mileage together, sometimes we can barely get out the door with our car keys. We have families, pets, emotional needs of ourselves and others to attend to, lives to live. But running is part of all of that. Running takes the edge off the day, or starts the day off right, keeps our bodies and minds and spirts in synch. When I see other runners out there, moving their bodies forward through space, I think, “Hey, there’s a runner, too!” and realize I included myself in that thought and we’re part of the same group. Big, white thighs or not.
I run. I’m a runner. All aboard!