I was nervous because I had never participated in a road running event. I drove the 13 miles the day before the race and I even wrote directions on my arm in permanent ink so that I would know where to make the turns, at what point to veer left and right, crossing over and under a major thoroughfare in Santa Fe, N.M.
Yet, even with my clearly marked and visible map and the drive-by the night before, I was still anxious on the morning of the event. I was still worried I would get lost. I realize now that I did not need to be.
Every 2 miles there was a water station with volunteers and a police presence, and all along the way people stood, cheering us on and pointing us in the right direction. Once I realized what was happening, the applause and encouragement not only helped me stay on course, it made me weep. I had not expected to run fearless, confident that I would find my way, and I had not expected there would be strangers there to cheer my decision to run a half marathon.
Some of the encouragers were there for specific loved ones and they made signs, waiting to celebrate and make noise when that person came near; but there were others, many in fact, who were cheering for everyone, celebrating us all. I still tear up thinking about it.
There were entire families, children following their parents’ lead, ringing bells, clapping, yelling, “Good job,” as we passed. There were couples and even single folks just parked along the route cheering all fifteen hundred of us.
I can’t remember feeling that kind of “blind” encouragement ever before, and I have never felt so deeply the kindness of strangers. It was inspiring not just in a way that caused me to check on a few weary fellow runners and share my energy snacks; it was also inspiring because encouraging others is one of the character traits I admire most and seek to have.
You see, I believe most of us long for encouragement, long to be applauded not for winning, not for breaking records, but just for being out there, just for trying. How much better would it feel at work, in class, even at home with our own family members if our attempts to move outside our comfort zones were honored and celebrated?
It has taken me a lot of years to get up the nerve to sign up and run in a public event; it’s one of the bravest things I’ve ever done. But today, a week later, it is not the accomplishment of completing a half marathon that is causing me to look online for other running events, it’s the cheers from the sideline. Even better than the endorphins that come from long distance running, going 13 miles seems to me to be a small price to pay for that kind of encouragement.
Lynne Hinton is a minister and author: www.lynnehinton.com