We are excited to share our first ambassador blog post! Written by Kelsey Plefka:
I never truly understood how fantastic and supportive the running community can be until I tanked a half marathon.
It was September of 2015 and I had the best summer of training of my entire life. I was injured more than I was healthy while in college and about 50% of my injuries were most likely a result of my anxiety about competition or my hypochondria. I’m far enough removed from my college days where I can look back in hindsight and admit that. So, getting up to consistent 30-35 mile weeks during the summer leading up to this specific half marathon was a true accomplishment for me. I was on the line with a former college teammate and the best running buddy around. We were ready to take on this race and set some new PRs. I had been doing my long runs at 8:20 pace and I was ready to go sub 1:55 for this half! Well, as luck would have it, this wasn’t my day. I was feeling decent through 5 miles when my hips slowly began to cramp…most likely a result of dehydration caused by my pre-race nervous stomach. I took a fruit chew that my buddy had but the cramping got worse. Eventually, at Mile 7, I told her to go ahead because I was dying fast.
I’m not proud to admit it, but by Mile 8 I had to walk. I’m normally a very smart racer. I start easy and gradually get faster, passing people along the way. That’s the way I was always taught to run. So, being passed by other runners in the last 5 miles of my race was a true punch to the gut. But I noticed something as I drifted further and further back in the race. The people got nicer and nicer! It started with sympathetic smiles, then some half-energetic thumbs-ups, then the hand gestures turned into words of encouragement. Eventually, there was a man who literally walk/ran with me for a whole mile while telling me how great I was doing the entire time, even though I’m sure I looked like death eating a cracker. Now I’m not saying that I was ever fast enough to be in the lead pack of cut-throat professionals, but truly this comradery from strangers was unlike anything I had ever experienced.
I was always taught to be a friendly runner. My high school team went to a local forest preserve every day for practice and we waved and said “good job” to every group we passed on the trails. It was just how we were. I carried that into college while doing workouts on the Illinois Prairie Path. And I try and instill this sense of comradery and fraternity in the women that I coach now. But not until I was dragging myself through the last few retched miles of a trail race in Naperville did I ever realize how much those kind gestures or words of encouragement actually mean to someone.
I eventually finished…about 15 minutes off of my goal, but still under 10 minute mile pace (It was the little victories that counted at that point)! My running buddy/life-saver was waiting in the chute with a banana in hand and the comforting clutches of a friend who knows there’s about 135 pounds of dead weight coming her way. As I sat in in the dewy grass trying to stretch my IT bands, those runners that passed me started reappearing. It began with the pacer for the group I was supposed to stay with, and several pats on the shoulder later I was actually feeling ok about my terrible, awful, no good, very bad day. Everyone has runs or races that just don’t go as planned and I was no different. I am not a bad runner because of one bad day and those high-fives and hugs just reiterated that point.
You may never know the full story of the person on the starting line next to you. You may never know what kind of trials and tribulations they had to overcome to get to that starting line or that trailhead. You may never even see that person again after this fleeting moment. But I will, personally, never forget that man at Mile 9. I will never forget the feeling of the hug from my best friend who was waiting for me when I finally finished. I can’t be satisfied with my performance that day, but I am forever grateful for the kindness that was shown to me. It is truly amazing what a little bit of compassion can do for the human spirit.
So, runner friends, wave to passersby. Say “good job” to the high school cross country team as they blow past you on their workout. Be kind to fellow runners, walkers, cyclists, etc…you never know whose day you’re going to make.
You can find Kelsy on Instagram here.