Whether it’s the noise of feet pounding on tarmac saturated in conversion and laughter or heavy breathing interspersed with the frequent “keep going, almost there,” running with my local running group brings a smile to my face and continually reminds me of the importance of community.
In case you haven’t noticed, we humans were created for unity and community. Essentially, most of our lives revolve around community—whether it is by making time for friends, family or pulling an all-nighter whilst playing video games with your friends, even if they are thousands of miles away. Like magnets, we are somehow drawn to community.
Yet there is one aspect of community that manifests itself in endurance sports such as running, where we get to spend hours on end with others, that just seems to amaze me. Whether it is offering to pace me on a harder effort, cheering their guts out during a race or strenuous running workout, or simply bringing a hearty dose of laughter to the run, the warmth that I have felt running in a community has been palpable. It is this altruism along with, of course, the blazingly fast times that these runners can put down in my running community, that makes me look up to them, both as exceptional athletes and wholesome, genuine people.
I still remember the time during my sophomore year of high school that my neighbour at the time, despite having severely fractured his arm, paced me to a personal record in the 5K during a time when I had lost all assurance in any ability to run fast. Not only that, but I feel like running in a community has been a way that God has emboldened me to step out of my comfort zone and help others by paying it forward.
A couple weeks ago, I ran with an insanely fast group in Boston, running in the harsh headwinds and extreme sun. I honestly felt like I might fly off at any minute and had to take numerous breaks. The thick-skinned Bostonians are probably almost back, I thought, and I am still miles away. All I have with me is a caramel-flavoured, sticky energy gel and I long for another swig of water but there is none to be seen. Finally, at the corner of my eye, I see a table parked with a huge water dispenser. The sight of water has never been sweeter! Upon talking to the fellow runners who also congregated at this little oasis, I learned that the man who was taking care of the dispenser had been there for hours in the sun. He had taken time out of his Sunday morning to help us out, of all things. While I was basking in the sun with my little plastic cup of water, I thought to myself, “this is what running is about.”
As I ingested my gel, took in some water and trotted along, I felt reinvigorated and grateful. Seeing this community, the man who waited with water and being reminded of my last run at home on the bustling streets of New Delhi before finishing a 16-miler and jumping into my dad’s arms as I finished and said my last goodbye, I am filled with gratitude for the community that I have in this sport.