“You live in Johnston!”

“Why, yes I do!”

I’m running along Kingman Boulevard, approaching the last water-stop in the Drake Half Marathon 2021, when a tall, friendly, white-haired gentleman jumps out to greet me, and the above exchange ensues.  The unexpected recognition was quite a pick-me-up at this late stage in the race – and also a bit of a mental distraction as I tried to work out who this person might be!  He did not look familiar, and I wracked my brain (unsuccessfully) for any possible circumstances in which we would know each other.  After the race, I searched for the sponsors of the water stop, in case that might provide any clue as to his identity – but again, no success. So, it seemed that this would remain one of life’s mysteries, an unresolved puzzle that I would wonder about when it occasionally came to mind.

Fast forward several months, and I’m at Panera (in Johnston!) when I am approached by a tall, friendly, white-haired gentleman.

“Do you run a lot?”

“Well, I suppose I do.”

My questioner explained that he and his wife saw me nearly every day as I ran past their house. “We could almost set our clocks by you.” (This probably goes contrary to the safety advice that you should be predictable in your running…).  We had a pleasant conversation, in which he noted that he had also seen me on my bike and that he and his wife liked to ride, too.  Then he looked at me slightly quizzically.

“Did you run in the half marathon at Drake in the spring?”

Aha, mystery solved!  He said he had instantly recognized me but didn’t quite know what to say since he didn’t know me or my name (even though it felt like he did).  Hence a statement: “You live in Johnston!”.  Now we know each other’s names, and I have new ‘friends, whom I always wave to when I run past their house.

The exchange also had me thinking about the perceived anonymity – or otherwise – of our running habit.  Runs shared with others are inherently social, but when I run on my own, I’ve tended to imagine myself as somewhat incognito in my own little ‘bubble.’ Although I stay attuned to the environment and always acknowledge other runners or walkers that I meet, I’ve never really thought that other people might notice me from a distance.  They do – just as I see others who are out running, even when I am not.

Several years ago, I was at a talk given by a former Olympian. He described the successes and challenges he had faced both in his athletic career and in life and the things that had helped him overcome difficulties and inspired him to succeed.  As he looked out at the audience, he spotted a friend of mine and pointed her out to everyone: “You live in the same apartment block as I do.  I see you going out to run after work every day.  Seeing your dedication is the motivation for me to keep running.” It was a surprise enough for her to learn that she lived in the same block as an Olympian, even more so to know that she was a source of motivation to an Olympian!

If you have been regularly putting in the miles as you prepare for any of the IMT Des Moines Marathon Weekend events, the chances are that other people (both friends and strangers) will likely have noticed you, too.  Friends will know that you are training for your races and will hopefully be providing support and encouragement.  To strangers, you may be ‘that runner,’ and they may feel that they somehow know you even if you have never met (just like my new friend from the Drake water stop).  Both friends and strangers will probably respect and admire your commitment.  Even those few who (jokingly or otherwise) question your sanity or suggest that running is not suitable for your knees must have noticed you – and they may secretly be envious of your energy and diligence.  I know many runners who took up the hobby after seeing others enjoying the activity.  Not all of us can motivate Olympians, yet your example may inspire others to start running or be more active or return to running after a break.  Consistency is key to our progress as runners – but your consistency may also positively impact those who observe you pounding the pavement or trails.  We can all take some pride in being thought of as ‘that runner’!

by Shelia Maddock

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