It is possible to run 26 miles by yourself. Organized marathons, however, assume that there is value in community experience. And there are several parts of that community.
There are people who are paid to help, like the police officers at every intersection. Every intersection. Dealing with the frustrations of drivers who want to go through, standing for hours. And smiling or nodding when they are thanked. But just because they are paid doesn’t mean they don’t help, doesn’t mean they aren’t important, doesn’t mean they don’t care.
There are volunteers. People who hand you a cup of cold water, or Gatorade. People who ride bicycles along to route to make sure things are safe. Even the guy with a walkie-talkie sitting in a lawn chair along a back corner of the route. They aren’t running. They aren’t going through what I’m going through. But I don’t judge that at all. In fact, I don’t care that they aren’t doing what I do. I am grateful that they are doing what they do. I thank them and drink the water.
There are other runners who are in the race with you. Josh and Zach for the first twelve miles, someone I didn’t exchange names with during mile 19, and Jen who walked and ran with me (or I with her) for the last two miles. I’d never met them before. I’ll likely not see them again. But we shared encouragement and identification during those moments. No criticism. No judgment. No answers. Just presence.
And there are random encouragers. There are some people who lie. “You are almost there” is a lie when you still have nine miles to go. But there are many people along the route who cheer, who ring bells, who dress up like santa, who have neighborhood parties during the race. The human presence helps. I don’t drink the beer shots, I ignore the smell of grilled food, but I am grateful for the community.
I could, of course, run on my own. But it is remarkable to be part of community while I do this work, having others helping me bear my burden even as I am doing the work I am responsible for.
It almost feels like a metaphor.
Tomorrow, the team.