I live just a little past the halfway mark of my town’s half marathon course, so this morning I spent some time at the top of my street encouraging runners. I had a few friends running but most were strangers.
One feels a bit awkward at first, standing on a street corner yelling at gasping, wheezing, pain-stricken strangers. They need air. They need water. They need rest. I’m serving out platitudes like “Keep it up,” “Keep it steady,” and “You’ve got this.”
One feels a bit like an asshole.
But here’s the thing: I’ve run that course. I know that by mile eight, your head is buzzing with doubt and worry. You hurt. You’re tired and, having done eight tough miles, you are wondering if you can do another five. You can, but you need to be reminded.
For a moment this morning I feel like I am on the wrong side of the cones. I want to be running in this race with them, but it feels good to be on this side, observing. These people are bothering to do difficult things they don’t strictly need to do. No one is making them. There’s no prize. They struggle, each in their own way, because struggle itself has value.
I admire each of them. The runners, the joggers, the walkers.
Many answer my support with a thumbs up, a wave or a quick thanks. At mile eight, every breath becomes precious. Any acknowledgment is a gift they give to me. And I quickly feel a lot less like an asshole.
I am noticing that thoughts are like viruses. They travel easily and quickly colonize a host. Good thoughts supplant bad thoughts.
Encouragement matters. Not always big, grand gestures. Sometimes just standing at a street corner, noticing someone’s effort, giving them a better thought than whatever is happening in their head at the moment.
Keep it up. Keep it steady.
You’ve got this.