For most runners who are weekend warriors like me, getting an official T-shirt for completing the Peachtree Road Race on the Fourth of July each year in Atlanta is a big deal. I managed to get one Saturday, dragging by dead leg and foot along the concrete from start to finish. So did wife, Mary, and friends, Walter and Jerry. Peachtree is the largest 10K road race in the world, with around 55,000 runners and walkers making their way through the 6.2 miles in downtown Atlanta. And this was the 4oth anniversary of the event — which really is a hybrid of an Olympics sporting event and Mardi Gras.
And in the 30 or so years I have been running, this was the first time I seriously questioned whether I would be able to complete the course because of some nagging injuries. In fact, when I saw the day before the race a number of runners effortlessly going down the street while I was sitting drinking beer, I wished I would have had a T-shirt that said: “I used to be a runner.”
Nah. I made it, running beginning to end. And Mary, Walter, Jerry and I all had good times, although finishing slightly behind the Kenyans who now dominate these races.
Here are some random thoughts:
- It was great to get together again with Walter and Jerry and participate in a major race. And it was special that Mary joined us. Walter, Jerry and I forged enduring friendships many years and many miles ago when we ran together on the streets and on the Towpath in Akron. When you run you have the opportunity to talk and listen. People who are tethered to their iPods and so on miss that.
- Road races — like Peachtree and hundreds others — are festivals — and for those who aren’t competing for prize money (almost everyone), it is a celebration of what is possible. I’m sure that is true of other sports and activities as well. But most people who set out to run do it for a personal reason — and that to me is something special. When I completed the run Saturday and was waiting for the others, I saw a woman runner finish smiling and literally jumping for joy into the arms of what I expect was her husband and engulfed in the embrace of a young daughter. Something tells me that when she made the decision weeks or months ago to run she wasn’t quite sure how it would end. Yet for her — and thousands like her — it couldn’t have ended better on a perfect Saturday morning on a day when we celebrate our independence and freedoms. Capture her moment of celebration in pictures or words and you have a pretty good idea about what it means to set a personal goal — and then achieve it.
- As a nation we are becoming more and more obese — with deadly and expensive consequences. Recognizing the genetic and other factors involved in gaining and losing weight, exercise is an important ingredient in maintaining a healthy life. Obama and gang would do well to remember that fact during the ongoing debate over health care — and figure out ways to incent, if necessary, people to stay well rather than treat them when sick. Peachtree, and similar events, spotlight health.
Now it’s back to reality. (Or at least my version of it.) I’m off to physical therapy again Friday to try to figure out what’s wrong with my foot and leg.
But just for the hell of it I guess I’ll wear my Peachtree T-shirt.
Not ready yet for the one that says: “I used to be a runner.”