The Great Equalizer
“Are runners different from other athletes?” I asked of my running buddy as we set out early on a Sunday morning. A good bit of chatter and a couple of miles later, Dave Klibbe and I decided that we thought they were.
The week before we’d experienced two Fort Collins traditions, the Mountain Avenue Mile and the Run for Hope 5k, events that reflected special caring and camaraderie.
“In what other sport,” Klibbe asked, “do the top athletes regularly compete with the middle-of-the-road and back-of-the-pack competitors? Could be that on off-days LeBron James has pick-up games with local high school basketball players, but I doubt it. I’m betting he doesn’t shoot baskets with the guys on the corner who stop to catch their breath after every shot.”
Klibbe went on, as I struggled to keep up with him. “Every weekend top runners line up at hundreds of running events across the country, to compete with weekend warriors and the run-walk-run crowd pushing strollers and tugging or being tugged by their dogs. Every time, you’ll see the winners warming down along the last yards of the course, cheering on their co-runners as they make their way to the finish line.
“And when the race is over, participants don’t hurry home. Instead they hang around rehydrating, snacking and re-living the race with friends and strangers alike.”
We asked ourselves what it was that caused these people to bond. Is it that everyone who runs understands the effort involved, no matter what the pace? When you run as fast as you can, the degree of effort is similar, regardless of the end result.
Klibbe recalled a time during the Colorado Run 10k when the course finished on the oval on the Colorado State University campus. As he approached the oval, he came upon an unlikely woman muttering to herself, “Come on legs. Come on legs.”
“By this time I could hardly breathe, much less talk to myself,” he said. “My respect for this lady was growing, but I was not going to let her beat me. At the finish. barely ahead of her and gasping for air, I watched as she joined friends in animated conversation. That was the moment when I began to appreciate running as a great equalizer. That conclusion has been reinforced many times over.”
Perhaps the talented few who make running look easy to the rest of us are genetically blessed freaks of nature. Yet, they are human and must train, eat with care and deal with injuries as every runner must. And they too embrace the camaraderie.
The nature of what they do, more than often not, creates within them camaraderie with other runners that doesn’t exist in other sports. They recognize and honor the effort that must be expended by any runner determined to do their best.
This understanding may be why running is a great equalizer—why champions cheer on every runner, and why those infected with the running bug are convinced that runners have a relationship with each other that is unique.