Cindy Valdez did her best to get out of running the Rock ‘n Roll Half Marathon in Denver last October. She told her husband, Ralph, that she couldn’t do it. She asked her son, Brandon, to take her place. He was busy that day.
So Cindy entered the race, burdened by the sorrow of losing an older sister only a week earlier. “I had no motivation,” she said. “But somewhere inside me there was a small voice telling me that I’d trained hard for this race, that I’d paid my money, and that I’d better just do it.
“The first miles were miserable. I came close to calling Ralph and asking him to come and get me.”
She plodded on, with no pressing reason to quit and no real desire to move forward.
Cindy’s a social person, a true lover of people. By mile nine she needed someone—anyone—to talk to. At her side she caught sight of a young boy, age 14 she learned later, listening to music on his headphones, struggling to keep a decent pace, now and then sinking into a slow shuffle.
“Hi,” Cindy said. “How’s it going?”
“This is my first half marathon. It’s hard.” came the reply.
“You don’t need to take off your headphones.”
But the boy left his headphones off, wanting to talk. He explained that his parents didn’t like it that he’d taken up running. “They say I’m going to ruin my knees, but I love it so much.”
“I’m 60 and I’ve been running for 27 years. My knees are just fine.”
When Cindy asked how he got started running, he explained that the year before he’d been in big trouble in school—poor grades, hanging out with a gang of bad kids, and heading down a road to nowhere good. He hinted that he’d spent some time in jail.
After a difficult confrontation with his parents one day, he left the house angry and ran—as far and as fast as he could. The run made him feel better.
At school he saw a poster inviting kids to join a running club. Before long the boy became dedicated to running. He came to see it as the thing that had turned his life around.
As Cindy listened to his story, the miles clicked away for both of them. She knew now she’d finish the Rock ‘n Roll Half.
The boy’s pace slowed and Cindy stayed at his side, planning to finish with him. He encouraged her to go ahead and finally she did, sensitive to the fact that he needed his music to keep him going and that he would probably feel most comfortable completing this challenge alone.
Cindy searched for the boy at the finish line, but didn‘t find him among the crowds of people. “I’m sure he finished,” she said. “No doubt about it.”
Her story was over and so was the ten-mile training run Cindy and I had completed side-by-side on a stunning Saturday morning in the Horsetooth hills.
Life is story and sharing stories with each other enhances friendship. Long runs give us the gift of time to listen.