I ran track in middle school. Sorta. I was not a fast runner, even then. But we did have a local fast runner, in the same grade as me, who was already amazingly good even at age 12... and I'm going to call her "Alex"*, because I didn't get her permission to use her real name.
Alex really was a fantastic runner. She would lead the warm-ups at the beginning of meets, and wouldn't you know it, her warm-up pace was faster than my race pace; I couldn't keep up. And I remember her occasionally talking about going here or there to run some unbelievable distance-- like a 5K-- and it was a world I thought I'd never understand. (Ha! How things change!) But unlike some highly-talented, extremely-focused athletes, she was never unapproachable. We weren't besties or anything-- I think "acquaintances" is probably the most accurate word-- but she was very encouraging, even to the slowest member of the team (me).
Fast-forward a decade (okay, two decades), and Alex & I are friends on Facebook. I think we talk now more than we did when we saw one another on a daily basis. Good job, internet! Way to bring people together. A few months ago, upon returning from a particularly good run, I innocently went to Alex's page to ask her if she still runs. No, she said, her knees gave out on her years ago. Dang.
It seems unfair to me that Alex, of all people, should be unable to run. Alex, who worked hard at it when I was goofing off. Sidelined from running before she even got to her 30s, when many long-distance runners peak. Meanwhile, slow & waddling me, for whom a 10-minute pace is blindingly fast, who might get up to 9:30 on a downhill with the wind behind me-- I'm still plodding along.
I run because I can, however slowly. I often think about how I would like to run for something besides myself-- that's why we do charity runs, after all-- so I hope there is a part of me who runs because there are those who cannot.
Thanks for the inspiration, Alex. I'm a better runner because of you.
*And also because the front-page story of the newspaper next to me is about a girl named "Alex," and I'm currently short on creativity.