When I talk with elite runners that I know (or, more accurately, with the parents of elite runners that I know), they make a convincing case that distance running is a team sport. However, for the rest of us mere mortals, race day is mostly an individual endeavor with a primary objective of getting between point A and point B with our dignity in tact.
But every once in awhile, you can get a taste of what those runners must feel. Whether you Race for the Cure, are Runnin’ for Rhett, or are out there getting it done to support the elementary PTA as part of a school fundraiser, it’s a chance to be part of a group participating in something that can be more inspiring, more motivating, and more impactful than just going at it alone. The matching race shirts, ribbons, and even pink feather boas remind you that you are part of a team and your collective goal is to do something good for someone else, and that privilege alone can be the wind against your back pushing you forward just a little faster, just a little harder.
Last weekend, I had the honor of being part of such a group running the Across the Bay 12k in the Paul K. Sloan Memorial Wave 3. I joined Paul’s closest friends and family in their annual pilgrimage to the start line of that race, one that Paul, in life, ran and ran well. They come together to celebrate Paul’s life. Though sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve to be part of this band of brothers and sisters, my family and I have been adopted and welcomed into their midst through my brother, one of Paul’s best friends from high school and beyond, and I am grateful for it.
The truth of it is that I think about Paul while I run with a frequency that is entirely disproportionate to how well I actually knew him. I’m not exactly sure why that is. It might be that when I look at my teenage son hanging out with his two best friends, I see my brother, Paul and Chris at the same age, doing the same goofy things, connected like brothers. It might be the fact that Paul was taken away in a moment in September that shook our nation to its core. But mostly it’s because I absolutely marvel at the depth of the loyalty, love, friendship, and dedication that exists between people whose primary common denominator is Paul. The extent of their commitment to each other and to Paul, that withstands the passage of time, busy lives and geographic distance, and that brings this group together year after year is extraordinary to me. I have never seen friendships so pure and so true. Ever. It says a lot about them. It says volumes about Paul.
And so when I laced up my Saucony's on race day, and when the start gun went off, I thought again about Paul. If I was going to be welcomed into this elite team, I at least owed it to them and to Paul’s memory to push hard, to breath deeply, to take in the San Francisco vistas, and to celebrate the gift of running and being part of something that was bigger than me.
Paul, thanks for having my back.