Running tends to have a tendency to bring out the best in people. At least, it has in me, and I know I’m not the only one I’ve seen it in. So much of running is about self-improvement and conquering your own shortcomings; even when you are running a race against others, the real race is against your endurance and your limitations, and beating the other runners is really about besting yourself while in their company. I think this is one of the reasons that the running community has always struck me as amazingly open and friendly. When I ran my first race, I was nervous in the days leading up to it, convinced that, as a first timer, I’d stand out amongst a crowd of hard-core athletes. Of course, the races in New York City are so crowded that no one person stands out, but the entire feeling is warm and communal, even amongst the elites. I’ve never been to a race that didn’t feel like a massive gathering of friends. That isn’t to say the competition at the top isn’t intense, but its a well-intended intensity.
An anecdote I just read on iRunfar.com, however, highlights this like nothing I’ve seen. This Saturday is the North Face 100K in the Blue Mountains of Australia, a race that Dean Karnazes has called “the hardest 100K I’ve ever raced.” Last year, “Andrew Lee Andrew Lee and Stu Gibson dueled for 9 hours, down gullies, around cliffs, over fallen trees and up giant hills. Realizing that neither could have run as hard as they did without the other, in the final minutes they joined hands to cross the line together, setting a new course record of less than ten hours along the way.”
They could have run it to the logical, zero-sum conclusion, with one winner and one second place contestant, and no one would have faulted either of them. But the race hadn’t been against the other man: it had been against the course, their own frailty, and rather than being opponents, they were allies in that battle. As the mountaineer Jacquele Graer once said, “It is not the mountain we are conquering, it is ourselves.”