August 5, 2015

For The Snails That Dare.

Everyone loves a winner.

Why should a running event be any different?

From the opening shot to the breaking of the tape, all eyes are on the leaders of a race. How fast will they go? Will the pack stay together? Can the leader maintain that pace? Who will win?!

It’s exciting. Anything can happen and often does. Maybe the hometown favorite harnesses the energy of the crowd and seizes victory. Perhaps an underdog emerges victorious.

Soon, after the leaders have run the course, the victors await their moments on the podium. It’s their chance to be recognized as the fastest runners out there. They earned these accolades, to be sure, and deserve the attention and the awards.

And then they’re gone.

The race isn’t over for everyone, of course. While the leaders were being presented awards, the pack of runners continues to cross the finish line. They are the majority of runners, not fast enough to be elite but still chasing personal records and fast times. And they have friends and running buddies cheering them and joining them afterwards at the finish line to celebrate their great runs.

After they come and go, though, the race continues. Out on the course, hours after most people have come and gone, a very special group of runners are still going.

These are The Snails. And they are very heart and soul of every running event.

They are new to the sport, bravely pinning on a bib and stepping onto their very first official race course. Or they are runners just now attempting a new,  longer distance. They are the injured runners who won’t stay down. They are gasping for breath, tired and hungry and thirsty and wondering what on earth made them think they should enter this race.

But they keep going. They run when they can, walk often, and stagger when they are completely exhausted. But they keep going.

They won’t hear the crowds cheering. Most of the spectators are long gone by the time the Snails make their way across the miles. The excitement and carnival atmosphere has given way to clean-up crews, sweep vans, and a lonely friend or two determined to stay until every runner has finished.

There is still magic to be had on that course, though. I’ve been there along the side of the road cheering every last runner across the line. I have also been that runner, weakened by bronchitis and barely able to draw breath while still running a marathon distance.

At the back of the pack, running with The Snails, I learned that the real emotion and drama of an event plays out there. These competitors are not running to win. They are proving something to themselves. They endure every mile, every mocking glance from those already done. They are all heart and grit and fierce determination.

They do cross the finish line. And when they do, they are as likely to burst into tears as to throw their arms up over their heads in celebration.

And for those of us watching and cheering, the tears of pride and respect flow just as freely. For in the accomplishment, each of The Snails has found their own victory.

My fellow bronchitis sufferer and
Phoenix Marathon Snail, Officer Joe,
as we finally crossed the finish line.

My shiny finisher's medal!