Probably the most rewarding aspect of running is helping others improve and achieve their goals, whether this comes through advice, coaching or good-old-fashioned encouragement. This is one of the things I most love about my running club, the Southeast Running Club. It's a venue for helping others achieve their goals and soliciting help in achieving my own. Symbiosis, you could call it.
I have a very close friend, Don, who I've known for 16 years--since we were college freshman--and who I'm proud to now call a fellow runner. A few years ago Don ran the Marine Corps Marathon and finished with a time of over 5 hours, enduring a painful last 10 miles and basically resolving never to run a distance race again. Then a couple of years ago he came within inches of his life when he suffered severe heat stroke while serving our country during National Guard duty. To this day he still struggles with some of the physical effects of his heat stroke, particularly when it's hot outside. The doctors told him his heart may never be the same again.
Well, a few months ago Don got the urge to run a half-marathon in Virginia and he trained hard for it--harder than I ever thought he would. Every morning he was out of bed at 4 a.m. getting in his training runs so he could make it to his law practice by 7 a.m. Oh, and he's a father of two with daily child-care pick-up responsibilities and a wife who works most nights as a nurse. In other words, the guy doesn't have much time to himself, but he still found a way to get in his half-marathon training program during the work week and weekends. I was honored when Don came to me for training advice. Playing the role of coach was a most rewaring experience.
Don ran a 1:51 at the half-marathon, finishing strong and ahead of his goal and setting himself up for a sub-4-hour marathon time this fall. We're planning to run the Air Force Marathon together in September. I'm going to pace Don to a 3:50 or better. I won't let him down.
I'm proud of Don for stretching himself and going for a time that he previously thought he wasn't capable of and, frankly, didn't seem possible only a few years ago when he was still reeling from the heat stroke. We have to constantly rebel against society telling us to play it safe, go conservatively, don't stretch yourself too much, don't get yourself hurt....
Playing it safe is for the birds.
When I put a race number on and line up at the start, there's no playing it safe. The pain you experience going all-out in pursuit of a goal actually isn't pain at all--it's the feeling of being alive. No goal worth achieving is a goal that comes without sacrifice, pain and suffering that lead to the thrill of success, the thrill of finishing, the satisfaction of knowing you left nothing on the course. You don't have to win to achieve victory. To achieve victory as a runner and in the race of life, all you have to do is put it all on the line and go all balls out.
Just like Don did. His commitment inspires me, and it speaks to what makes running the greatest sport of all.
Don't go gently. Don't ever go gently.