Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Tue, 21 Aug 2001 09:24:29 -0400

Did I Win?

RUNNING COMMENTARY 370

As I walked back to my hotel from the Stampede 10-K in Calgary, a teenager shouted from across the street, "Did you win?" He wasn't so much talking to me as showing off for his buddies.

The gray in my hair and bulge in my belly let him know I wasn't a winner in the way he meant it. Did I win? I answered with a shake of the head and walked on without trying to explain my feelings that these kids wouldn't have understood.

In my talk the day before I'd asked the listeners to do me and themselves some favors. If you're not in the marathon, I said, then please don't say, "I'm just running the 10-K." If you're slow, don't say, "I'm just a midpack or back-of-the-pack runner."

You're out there trying, I told these runners. You're ahead of the thousands of people won't or can't do this.

I'd gone a long time without practicing what I speak and write. That is to meet the George Sheehan definition of winning: Do the best you can within the limits of your current abilities, keep on doing it as long as you can, and don't apologize for whatever you do.

An old practice of mine was to run nearly every race I attended as a speaker. Marathons usually were the exception, because they demand undivided attention and full energy, but I'd still run a shorter race on that day's program.

This habit ended more than a year ago. One complication or another eliminated the races from my travel weekends, which felt unfinished without these runs.

At races I'd visited since March 2000, I hadn't done what everyone else had come there to do. I'd left town without a necessary ego adjustment -- a final reminder that I didn't stand above the crowd but ran with it.

Kelvin Broad brought me back to my first starting line in 16 months, ending the longest drought ever. He's a New Zealand-born Canadian citizen, now living most of the year in the U.S. (where he teaches at Northern Arizona University).

Kelvin is an eight-time winner of the Stampede Marathon, which he co-directs with his wife Angie Driscoll. When I arrived in Calgary, Kelvin outlined my duties for the weekend.

He didn't ask, "Do you want to run one of our races?" Instead he made an assignment as if I were one of his students: "You will run the 10-K on Sunday morning."

Left with the choice, I probably would have opted out. With all the travel of late, my everyday runs had been blah. I didn't need to go farther than normal, and faster.

Even after receiving my assignment, I thought of ways to slip out of it: Maybe start and then veer off the course early. Or maybe go all the way, ever so slowly, but not cross the finish line to leave my slowness unannounced and unrecorded.

But at the starting line I remembered another George Sheehan saying: Pinning on a race number means you've taken an oath to do your best, whatever that might be.

I ran semi-disguised under a Drake Relays cap that let me go little noticed... ran to the finish while letting a big man block me from the announcer's view... ran each kilometer faster (or less slowly) than the one before as the old excitement built again... ran an unremarkable time that still wouldn't have been possible anywhere but in a race.

Did I win? Yes, I think so. And now I'm excited to try winning again someday soon.

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