Running – the sport of kings, queens and the people
There’s an egalitarianism about running that’s hard to find in other sports. Not everyone is going to be able to experience what it’s like to throw a buzzer-beating three pointer in a championship basketball game.
Few of us will be able to feel what it’s like to sweep past the chequered flag in a Superbike World Championship race.
Hardly anyone is going to know the feeling of throwing the touchdown-winning pass in a Superbowl.
But getting out the door and going for a run is a sporting challenge billions of people can tackle. You don’t need anyone else to do it (though it’s fun to run with friends), you don’t need any specialist equipment (a pair of shoes generally helps, but even they’re not essential), and you can do it anywhere.
Sure, we might not all be capable of striding as fast as Eliud Kipchoge or Paula Radcliffe (the fastest man and woman marathoners), but we all know what that smile at the finish line feels like.
On my bedroom wall when I was a kid there was a Nike poster of a bunch of athletes floating along a dusty African trail, their faces utterly relaxed, their arms efficiently swaying at their side, their legs in synchronicity. Written on the poster was: ‘‘In my mind, I am a Kenyan’’.
And it’s a feeling I’ve often had. Sure, sometimes running is a chore – the act of getting up the merest of hills can be a slog. But other times, in my mind, I feel like any number of the champions who glide smoothly along the paths and hills of the Rift Valley in Kenya, home of so many Olympians.
(Although, I recently saw evidence that fantasy and reality are far removed. Running towards the end of the Kepler Challenge race, I felt smooth and metronomic – in my mind I was Kipchoge. Then a friend who was running with me posted a video of us, and I realised my running style at that stage of the race was more akin to Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame.)
That egalitarianism applies no matter what distance you’re running, though, lately, there’s been a bit of a trend developing which I don’t like.
It happens when there are
race events that have different distances – a marathon, half marathon, and a 5km, for example. Or like at the Tarawera race next month which features a 100 miler, a 100km, a 50km, and a 20km.
You’ll hear people saying, ‘‘Oh, I’m only doing the half marathon.’’ Or, ‘‘I’m just doing the 50km.’’ There is nothing ‘‘only’’ or ‘‘just’’ about doing a half marathon or a 50km (or a 5km or a 20km).
They are all huge achievements, and people should be proud of them, not diminishing them – and nor should those doing the longer distances be smug, either.
On the Dirt Church Radio podcast this week, we talk to Courtney Dauwalter, who is a global trail-running superstar, an American who runs races far in excess of 100 miles, even.
If anyone is qualified to look down their noses at shorter distance races, it’s her.
But when co-host Matt Rayment and I talked to her about this trend, she was quick to respond.
‘‘Oh, man. When people do say they’re only going 60k or 30k or whatever it is, I’m like, ‘no, that’s so awesome’,’’ Dauwalter tells us.
‘‘I’m just excited for people to get out and experience the trails at all. So many people don’t know the networks in their own area, there are great trails all around the world, so I just get excited when people are out enjoying that and the freedom that you can feel out on those trails.’’
So, there you go: that sensation of freedom and enjoyment that someone as talented as Courtney Dauwalter feels on the trails? You can experience it, too.
Getting out the door and going for a run is a sporting challenge billions of people can tackle.
Global trail-running superstar Courtney Dauwalter as she crosses the line first in the Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile race. MELISSA RUSE