A few years ago, a discussion among a group of friends turned to the great local athletes of the past. Naturally, others in the group listed basketball players who scored massive numbers of points before the advent of the 3-point shot, and high school football heroes who, like Al Bundy, scored four touchdowns in a high school football game.
I shook up the conversation by stating that my vote for the greatest local athlete of all time was Randy Haas, who, back in the 1980-1981 cross country and track seasons, earned three state championships, in cross country and in the 1600 and 800 meter events. His records in the 800 and 1600 meters still stand locally, after 34 years. Randy went on to the Olympic Trials and owns a marathon time of 2:17. His story is chronicled in the chapter entitled 'Cast of Characters,' in my first book, Running Shorts. www.muldowneyrunning.net
In 2016, I will enter my 40th year of competitive running. Throughout that time I have engaged in fierce rivalries with other competitors. When the gun sounds, friendship pauses for the duration of the race. But when the race has ended, for the most part, runners of all ages and abilities display extraordinary character. Former running adversaries have gone on to become some of my closest friends.
Both in competition and coaching, I have observed that most runners are smart, socially conscious, and successful. Most runners do not suffer from addiction or dependency issues, and most are successful in their professional endeavors.
Let's say you're an employer and the job applicant lists that he or she is a runner. By reading the application, you know that the person is driven, goal-goal oriented, and is probably going to show up on time. Sick days will be minimal as you know the person is health conscious. Just like a race situation, your prospective employee will be competitive but cooperative. If he or she is driven enough to run and race, chances are that drive will apply to their job. In many high schools and colleges, the cross country team achieves the highest academic average among the varsity sports teams.
Whether a runner is an Olympic prospect or a back-of-the packer, their goals remain the same. It may be to climb the ladder from a 5K to a marathon, or to improve their time at a particular distance.
Every runner displays an extraordinary amount of courage each time they pin on a bib. In team sports, it can be convenient to blame other team members for a failure. If a runner produces a race time outside his or her goal, they beat up themselves. In the large scheme of life, nobody really cares if you run 30 seconds slower, but you do!
And when a runner returns to work after a tremendous marathon effort, coworkers may ask about the time or place. When they tell you that, "You'll do better next time," the courage and discipline it takes to restrain yourself is also a testimony of your runner character.
Continue, through your example, to spread the good news about running. Anyone can do it. It is inexpensive and convenient. You don't need anyone else to participate. You simply lace up the shoes and go.
By bringing more people into our sport, either through your example, coaching, or mentoring, you are displaying your true running character, as well as building a running character in others.