It’s been another amazing Seattle summer with luscious sun, warm evenings and precious time outdoors. Us locals wait all year for this perfect weather, and waste no time in using it to full advantage. The gyms are empty and the trails are full of joggers, walkers, and bicyclists. Lakes are crowded with canoes, kayaks and swimmers—exercise in any form happens OUTSIDE. I spent the first two weekends of this spectacular season involved in two races; each with a unique purpose; both of which left an impression on me.
The Lake Wilderness Triathlon is an annual event hosted by my former personal trainer. She uses the event to raise money for charity and also as planned torture for anyone fit enough (or crazy enough) to join in the fun. Having experienced the thrill and pain of competing several years ago, this time I volunteered to help keep the runners on course. Rather than swim ¼ mile in Lake Wilderness, followed by a 12 mile bike ride and finishing with a 3 mile run (also known as the “sprint” distance)—I opted to wave a little orange flag and cheer on the participants. My arranged station sat less than a half mile from the finish line. As runners approached, their reaction to seeing me was as varied as their fitness and enthusiasm. Some runners were poised and steady in their stride and barely acknowledged me as they ran onward—eyes fixed on the horizon. Others looked to me for direction and guidance, feeling the strain of the race increase with each footfall and gulp of fresh air. Still others struggled forward, desperate for reassurance: “how… much… further?” I felt an amazing sense of satisfaction from cheering on the runners—knowing they were in the home stretch, empathizing with the pain each must have felt in their feet and burning lungs, excited to imagine each of them crossing the finish line.
The following weekend, I spent 24 hours walking at a high school track for our local American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. Gathered for a completely different reason, I joined hundreds of cancer survivors, caretakers, family and friends to celebrate, remember and fight back. The event ran from 12 noon on Saturday to 12 noon on Sunday, designed to represent a day in the life of someone fighting cancer. In this race, the medals are given out to the survivors before the first lap is run. After their triumphant survivor lap, the clock starts and everyone walks, skips or runs around the track, over and over and over. The afternoon dragged on, hour after hour, as the temperature continued to climb. We rested, we drank bottle after bottle of water—motivated to carry on and just keep walking. As the daylight finally released its hold on the day, the track took on a different look lined with luminaries each dedicated and decorated for someone who faced—either survived or lost the battle with cancer. We walked into the night in silence to the stirring sounds of bagpipes. Just kept walking. Around and around and around. Some walkers stayed all night. Others left and returned with the sunrise. How much each relayer walked was as varied as the reasons for taking part. We just kept walking until the 24 hours was complete. The whole affair took on an anti-climactic feel as everyone packed up their folding chairs, coolers, tents and shade canopies. We all returned to our homes, plans for the weekend, and cool showers without any fanfare.
The analogy of life being a race is not a new idea. From the Tortoise and the Hare’s message of “slow and steady wins the race” to inspirational stories of speed and endurance from the world of sports—the concept of running your best race is common fodder for motivational messages. It’s true that our journey through life can be likened to multiple races with varied purposes and outcomes. Yet in every race we run, we find comfort, direction and inspiration from those who guide us, push us and chart the course.
In some races we watch the clock and attempt to beat our best time—in other races, it’s the distance we travel that matters and time melts away into a blur. Some races we run for ourselves. Some we run for others. And in every race, the true reward comes with the feeling that accompanies pushing yourself beyond what you thought possible.