It’s not about the PR, it’s about connection and kindness
It wasn’t a Personal Record (PR). My favorite running memory had nothing to do with the strength of my run and everything to do with my connection to a stranger. I’ve never shared this story before because it sounds like bragging. As much as I like to pat myself on the back on the inside, I try not to do it in front of others.
Writing has made me want to share more of my life, so let me tell you my tiniest of tales and what I learned.
The end of the race
For me, ‘serious’ running started around 2013 when I ran my first half marathon. I’ve accepted that I will never be an elite runner; I think I lack the talent and I definitely lack the motivation. Some years I train more seriously, other years I take things as they come. This story happened during my second half-marathon, at Rock-n-Roll Dallas, which has since sadly been discontinued.
It was a great course in the early years, starting at the Dallas Convention Center and ending at Fair Park. It had downtown Dallas with Dealey Plaza where Kennedy was killed near the beginning, followed by nice neighborhoods with minor hills and scenery for the first half of the course. The last seven miles were a long slow descent through older low slung strip malls and commercial districts.
My wife and I had learned a lot from our first half together the year before. She’s a faster runner, so after a few miles, we separated and planned to meet at the finish. I was running well.
I was still going strong after mile ten, but getting tired. Ahead of me was a woman around my age, chugging along at a steady pace. I wanted to pass her. I might have even passed her for a bit, but then she was ahead of me again. I had enough energy to hang, but not enough to surge by.
We were heading down the home stretch along the backside of Fair Park with over twelve miles under our belt. It was an uninspiring stretch of road with chain-link fences and the backs of buildings for scenery. Abruptly she started to walk.
I had run the course last year and I knew we were just less than three-quarters of a mile from the finish. I knew that around the next corner it would open up into the middle of Fair Park, more open and scenic. The corner after that would start the final runway with crowds and photographers.
Instead of finally passing her like I had wanted to for miles, I came up beside her, slowed to a jog, and tried to give her a couple of words of encouragement.
“Come on! I’ve been pacing you for two miles and the finish is just around the corner. You’ve got this.”
She looked at me, grunted, and shifted back into a run. We ran together at around our previous pace for the last stretch, lifting our heads and pasting on that fake smile as we passed underneath a photographer on a boom. We crossed the finish line, maybe did a high-five, and went our separate ways.
My wife met me coming out of the chute; we hugged and started to limp our way towards gear check. It was a cold and blowy day, so we wanted to get into our fleece before the wind and the sweat made us miserable. We retrieved our gear and changed, and then aimed to retrieve our one free beer, more out of principle than anything else.
Suddenly the woman I had run with stood in front of us and addressed my wife.
“Is this your partner?” she asked. Uncertain, my wife nodded and said yes.
“Well, I just wanted you to know that he motivated me when I was about to give up. He got me running again and I got my PR; I wouldn’t have made my time if I hadn’t started running again.”
We made small talk for a few minutes and parted our separate ways again. Looking back on this over the years, I realize that I learned a few things from her that I’ve tried to implement both in running and life.
1. Be kind. You never know when the smallest kindness can have a big impact.
It was easy for me to encourage. A few breaths of air, though for me the air is a little precious after mile ten. My time wasn’t important to me that day, but her time was important to her. She’d been training for months. On that day, in my best moment, I made a difference.
I’ve had a few other times in my life where I later found out a word of kindness or encouragement that I casually threw out had a profound impact. I hug these snippets tight and hold them to my heart. When I have a bad day or think I’m a failure or a bad human I pull them out of the vault to remember. It’s vain, but I do it in private in my head.
These few events make me hopeful that there are other times I have been kind as well, other times that I helped someone, and other times I provided value to the world.
2. Say thank you. Pay kindness back and create more happiness in the world.
Sure, my words helped one runner on one day. In return, she probably spent more effort finding me to say thank you than I did to encourage her. She gave me a memory that I cherish years later. She gave me a gift of fulfillment.
There no better feeling than knowing you have done good, so give that gift, that feeling, whenever you can. When someone has sincerely helped you, let the person know. Maybe quietly, maybe publicly, maybe anonymously, whatever is appropriate, but give that gift back.
Tell a teacher what you learned from them. Thank a friend for being there. Write a nice letter to someone’s boss. They may not realize that they are doing good in the world.
The best people are kind to others without even thinking about it, but they need encouragement too. They tend not to see the good that they are doing. Don’t you want them to know?
Brian E. Wish works as a quality engineer in the aerospace industry. He has spent 29 years active and reserve in the US Air Force, where he holds the rank of Colonel. He has a bachelor’s from the US Air Force Academy, a master’s from Bowie State, and a Ph.D. in Public and Urban Administration from UT Arlington. The opinions expressed here are his own. Learn more at brianewish.com.