Roger. 82 years old. 440 races under his belt (aiming for 500). Has never finished last.
Me. 36 years old. One marathon, two 5Ks, and now one 8K under my belt. Have never finished last.
Roger+Me = Best. Running. Team. Ever.
As I mentioned the other day, I was signed-up for an 8K today, along with two of my girlfriends. Earlier this week I was really concerned because a) I’d convinced (this may or may not have included mental arm twisting) my girlfriends to do this race, b) I have had a horrible cold all week and it’s always harder to run with you have gunk in your chest, and c) I haven’t run in several weeks due to pain. Despite my being nervous I decided to go and just do the best I could.
This morning as we drove to the race, rain was falling, and it was chilly. There is nothing I would have rather done than go back to my warm, comfy, and dry bed. I had concluded that I’d likely not be able to finish. Great way to go into it, right? Assuming the worst? Expecting to fail? I had resigned myself to the facts that I’d likely encounter pain and/or have trouble breathing normally.
We agreed that we’d be okay with separating. As we started to run, one of my girlfriends ran ahead, but Eh and I stayed together. When I started feeling the effects of a stuffy head, nose, and chest I told Eh to go on and I slowed my pace. I stopped to walk but began running again almost immediately. I stopped again, this time to blow my nose, and once I’d done so I slowly started to run again.
“That’s the spirit!” I wasn’t certain the runner behind me to my left was talking to me so I didn’t respond. I felt okay but my breathing was labored. I slowed a little and the runner who had offered encouragement was soon beside me. He had seen me go through three Kleenexes when I was last walking and said “you’re an inspiration.” I looked at him and, at first, thought to myself ‘shut the front door.’ He was an older man. And by older I guessed he was at least in his 70s. He was running at a slow and steady pace and I quickly decided I had two options. I could either a) continue to run at a faster pace and then have to break for walks, or b) run at his pace and have the chance to run the entirety of the race. I chose B.
He said “I’m 83 in two weeks and this is my 440th race.” I said “I’m 36 and this morning I was pretty sure I couldn’t do THIS race. I’m sick.” He thanked me for running with him but in my mind I was thinking that without him there is no way I’d still be running. He told me he hoped to reach 500 races before he’s done. As others passed but then stopped to walk he would say “you can do it, keep going.” A woman in front of us was switching between walking and running and he yelled something positive to her every time she started running again. At one point he said “I’ve never been last. I’ve been darn close but I’ve never finished last.” At that moment I decided that I would stick with him, and at his pace, until the end. If we were the last two runners I would stop so he could finish NOT last.
When I first started running with him I was so incredibly grateful. This man was going to get me through the race. I was going to run the entire thing and finish because of him. Because the pace was so slow, however…faster than speed walking but slower than normal jogging…I soon felt like I could go faster. But I wasn’t willing to leave my wing man (see…I paid attention to more than just Tom Cruise during Top Gun!).
He kept thanking me for keeping him going. Now, to be clear, I’m pretty sure he was full of sh-t. He has completed 439 races…I’m sure he didn’t NEED my help. But his gratitude, even if fake, was lovely to hear. I thanked him too because honestly, without his little bit of encouragement and his pace, I’m not sure I could have finished. I know I couldn’t have run the entire thing.
We finished the race and I felt great. I wasn’t having trouble breathing anymore, I didn’t feel overly sore, and I felt incredibly accomplished. Maybe some people would feel embarrassment over finishing with an 82-year-old but I was proud to run through the finish line with him. AND that there were plenty of people behind us.
I was very sad yesterday to hear of the passing of MCA of the Beastie Boys. I can’t tell you what the Beastie Boys meant to me in high school and college. I adore them and could go on and on about their talent, their music, and their politics. They, and MCA in particular, inspired me throughout my youth in so many ways. The point is this. Every single person in this world will find inspiration in others. We won’t always agree on who and what is inspirational because we’re all different. As I went through the day yesterday remembering all the times I was lucky enough to see the Beastie Boys in concert, and as I ran my 8K today with an 82-year-old man, I thought about how important it is to look for inspiration wherever we can and to hold onto it tightly once we’ve stumbled upon it.
I’m so grateful to be surrounded by people who inspire me often. I feel truly blessed to live in a world in which inspiration pops into my life regularly. That said…I sometimes feel like I’ve got what I need to succeed, have all the friends I need, and that I’ve got things figured out. If finding the perfect running partner in an 82-year-old man taught me anything it’s that I should always keep my eyes, heart, and mind open to the possibility of finding inspiration and hope in unlikely places. We can never have too much inspiration, or too much hope. Right?
TODAY: What if inspiration and hope come from people we wouldn’t necessarily expect? What if once we find people who inspire us, we hold onto them or the thought of them (or their music) tightly in an effort to continue to be inspired throughout our lives? What if, as unlikely as it sometimes may seem, WE can be an inspiration for someone else? And what if remembering the things that those who inspire us say, like “I’m 83 in two weeks” or every single word of “Paul Revere,” allows their inspiration to resonate within us forever?