Running From a Different Perspective

I have recently become enlightened about running, or should I say I have become aware of running from a different point of view. This summer I have been blessed by two running experiences that have opened my eyes to – things I’ve taken for granted. I also have a renewed hope that we have an effect on the people around us.

My first experience was when my nephew Ryan reached out to me for some tips on running. Ryan is 19 years old, and recently enlisted in the Army. Ryan has always been active. He’s either on his bike or skate board doing some crazy tricks, or just riding from Mt. Hope to Middletown to ride with friends and then back home – all on a single speed BMX bike. Ryan told me he’d been running 5 to 8 miles and would like to run a race with me. We signed up and did the Hudson Valley 15K together. Well, sort of. At the 5-mile mark he began to fade. Afterward, he assured me he was okay, so I ran ahead and Ryan finished about five minutes after me. Ryan then became aware that his training might not be working. Ryan committed to track and a new training schedule. After a few weeks of track, Ryan thought he’d like to try something else. Ryan convinced me and two of his friends to sign up for the Spartan Challenge, a 5K cross country race with obstacles. We started up the mountain off the front but within 100 meters we were in the lead of our group. About 10 minutes into the run Ryan began to fade, but we were able to get him to push a little harder. After 15 minutes and four or five obstacles, Ryan and his friends assured me they were okay, but didn’t want to hold me up. I was able to see Ryan and his friends continue their race and I was able to run my own race. Again, Ryan and his friends finished about 5 minutes behind me. Again, Ryan noted his training wasn’t working. Ryan continued to train on his own and continued to come to track on Wednesdays, but he was always asking questions and reevaluating his training.

On one Wednesday last month, Ryan came to track and I saw something had changed in him. I couldn’t put my finger on it but I watched as he put more effort into each interval and his focus was clear. He was now committed to a goal and that new focus was what struck me. My brother Tom called me that night and relayed this story. Dad: “How was your workout?” Ryan: “Dad, I did good, I almost beat Uncle Ed in the mile run.” Dad: “Almost beat Uncle Ed, he’s almost 60 years old.” Ryan: “Dad, Uncle Ed’s no joke.” This really hit me. This young man had surely paid me the ultimate compliment but what struck me most was that all the times we had talked, all the questions he asked, all the training and diet tips we spoke about, he was listening to me. In his eyes I was someone he saw as a runner. Ryan looked to me for helpful tips, advice , and support. I am grateful I was able to be there for him and I know now he had been watching me for years.

My second experience was working with Steve Holmbraker and the J-Runners. This was the men’s group of Jewish runners who were running from NYC to Monticello – a journey of almost 100 miles. My wife Karen and I committed to work exchange points within Orange County. We arrived early, 6:15 am, at the Bear Mountain exchange point. We waited for our lead runners and were advised by Steve that they were running a little late because they had to pray. We learned that their faith required 30 minutes of prayer three times a day. When you realize that there were eight teams of runners with 5-8 runners on each team, plus the support staff, this would require some planning for the race director. As our runners and support staff began to arrive we were greeted with a warm smile and hearty handshake. These teams were not different than the teams of the Catskill Mountain Relay 100K, which I had just completed. They cheered for one another and also teased one another, but you could see the bond they shared. I wasn’t sure what the excitement in these men was. Was it the money they were raising for the care of cancer patients, or their religion, or just the bond of men working together for a common cause. We waited for the last runner to complete their exchange and move up to assist at another exchange on the top of Mount Peter. This stage was a long uphill climb and each runner was completely exhausted when they reached us. But, again, I noticed the cheers and support from one another and how it motivated the runners to complete their leg with a last sprint and a smile. When we heard Steve was short on support, Karen and I went ahead to an exchange point  in Westtown. As we waited and listened to the teams waiting for their runners to arrive I realized what I saw. It was people, from so many varied walks of life, come together for a common cause through running.

Ryan grew up knowing I was a runner, but he never understood how that commitment affected me. I forgot too, that with each step we take in life, someone is watching. When we lace up and run or walk, someone else may be watching and wondering what is it that drives that person to get up early, go out in the rain, snow, or cold to do that him or herself. Sometimes it's not until they try it that the light goes on and they see you in a new light. With the J-Runners, we saw people as fellow runners, not different from any us. As I watched the exchanges, I was reminded of the love and support we see at each and every race or at the track. We can make all the difference in someone’s life just because we share their effort and realize their goals are so similar to ours. In all we do, we are an example because someone is watching us. When we do the right thing, live our lives as a statement and positive outlook, we can make a difference just because of who we are.

Ed O'Connell
ORC President 2011