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Run Far. Run Fast. But Why?
It is race day! We are running a 5k at the Peachy Cheeks race event in Greeley, Colorado. We have five runners: mom, dad, Natasha, age 12; Tori, age 10; and John, age 5. And me, the spectator.
Early in the morning, very early, the preparations begin. We must eat a specific breakfast designed for long lasting energy. We must gather our equipment such as the Garmin, socks, shoes. I have the snacks and water bottles.
The excitement is palpable as we discuss times and tactics. Winning the race is not considered, but mush time is devoted to personal best. Today Natasha would like to run the 5k under twenty-eight minutes. She discusses in detail where she should be at each mile. She checks and double checks her Garmin.
John at age five is not the youngest runner, but he is in the youngest age group. What does he need for a pace to place in the top five? Tori is very fast, but she tends to burn her fuel in the first mile. Her dad covers strategy. Leave something in the tank for a good kick at the end.
We pay to do this, to run a 5k. We make sure to collect the T-shirts that come with the registration fee. Some T-shirts become well worn favorites. Others are destined for next summers yard sale.
Parking is the first obstacle. Depending if the race event is one part of a larger festival or if the race is its own event, parking can be the single biggest frustration of the day. Regardless, finding a parking spot can't be allowed to suck the fun from the occasion.
Multitudes of people are wandering about. People are stretching, jogging, and setting up booths. Runners exchange greetings and tidbits about the course.
"Long uphill portion in the second mile," we are told. Quick consultation, change strategy.
The atmosphere of camaraderie is extraordinary. We are all smiling right up to the serious business of stretching and warm-ups and gathering at the start. Faster, stronger runners start first followed in waves until the kids line up. There faces are intent as they wait for the gun.
As the spectator, I love the start. Once the runners are out of sight, I find the finish line and wait. At one race in Fort Collins, the runners ran with their dogs. Incredible to watch. This race has the usual assortment of dedicated runners who look too thin and intense, adults pushing baby carriages, and walkers who are thrilled to finish.
When I see the first runners approaching, I leave drink and snack bag, purse and jacket on our camp site and walk to the finish. Everything is right where I left it when I return a half-hour later. I do not recommend leaving your purse, and I will not do that again, but apparently runners and race fans are honest people.
We cheer them through the finish tape and across the mat. Automatically, we check the time. The time is the whole point. My runners are successful today. We find the water and snack booths and sit down on the grass to wait for results.
Running a 5k does not look like fun. However, the experience is fun. We check our calendar for the next race close bye.
Running Becomes Lifestyle
Like every sport, running has levels. Even the earliest beginners start somewhere. And the first lesson learned is that runners must prepare to run. In that first mile race, back in junior high, the runner may have tied their tennis shoes, ambled to the start line and taken off with the whistle, jostling his friends.
The lesson: prepare to run or be a spectator playing Angry Birds on your phone.
The runner decides to prepare for the next time and practices. The beginning is timid. We do not want running to take too much time and effort. We do not want running to interfere with our regular life. A week or so before the race, the runner goes to the park and runs on the track. He or she does this three or four times before race day.
Aha! They feel a difference and manage to beat the fifty-year old man running in speedos. Wow. Yes their legs burn and their muscles tighten, but it is a thrill. The runner writes down his time.
So it begins. Depending on other commitments, the runner begins to prepare two weeks in advance and then he just runs several times a week. He finds himself reading about diet. He could improve his time by three minutes if he ate better.
For many, the bug has bitten. The runner researches shoes. He buys timing equipment and calorie counters. He joins a casual running group. He calculates which races to enter, the dates, distance and time. He buys protein drinks and avoids donuts. He feels better. He wants to improve his time.
For most running becomes a lifestyle that is a daily awareness of diet and exercise and friendships. Running is for everybody. At this level, effort counts more than talent. You get back what you put in. All shapes, sizes, and ages can run. We cheer everybody who crosses the line from first to last.
For a few, running becomes a competitive sport at the highest levels. Every year at the Bolder Boulder race event in Boulder, Colorado, thousands of runners participate. Most participate to be part of the fun; the costumes, the booths, and college students handing glasses of beer onto the track.
At the top are the best runners in the nation. These runners are serious. They want to qualify for national or international competition. They have talent as well as a twenty-four, seven life style committed to running.
The point is millions of people run. They run for health. They run for fun. Running changes their life.
States That Run the Most
Not surprising, California scheduled 2991 race events in 2014. Of course California enjoys an accommodating climate.
More surprising, Texas is a close second with 2969 scheduled race events in 2014. Most events are scheduled in September through November. Heat stroke is an issue.
The least? South Dakota and Wyoming. We have to consider population.
From Healthy Hobby to Obsession
With common-sense precaution for ankles, knees, hips, and back, running at any level is aerobic exercise that builds stamina.
From the earliest beginning we learn to replenish our electrolytes. We learn that pasta has carbs. We learn balance and priorities.
When a five year old tells me that he can't have two cookies, only one, because he has a race on Saturday, I have mixed emotions. Awareness of diet at such a young age is awesome. When are we out of balance? When have we become obsessed?
When I visit a classroom of sixth graders and count six children out of twenty-four who are over-weight, not a little but a lot, I encourage them to join the new after school and free running program. Definitely these children are out of balance. Running sounds like work. Okay, running is work. Start by walking with your friends. Find a way to make the effort not so much work, but something entertaining to do. Find a balance between watching TV and eating cookies and walking first and then eating some grapes.
The running craze is for the most part a healthy balance. Like anything, running can become an obsession. To be at the top, the best, running must be an obsession. However for most of us, running is fun, a healthy lifestyle change, a balance with work and family, a fascination.
We are between gaunt and obese. We have some birthday cake. We have balance, and we have fun.
2014 Bolder Boulder Winners 10k