December 12 2017
Meet Rhonda-Marie and Steven Parke, two ultrarunners who discovered their love for each other through running.
I follow a lot of running fans and runners on Twitter. Currently my feed is filled with updates from professional athletes competing in London, track fans cheering for their favorite competitors, coaches encouraging their athletes through those final shakeouts, brands supporting their athletes and NBC Sports reporting on all the happenings at the 2017 IAAF World Track and Field Championships.
I don’t know what someone else’s Twitter or Instagram feed looks like right now without these posts of support, encouragement, dedication, tenacity, speed and grit straight from the track and field. And I don’t really want to.
If you run or are a fan of the sport, or just a sports fan, or just a fan of the human race, you should be watching the world championships, or at least be following it. I have friends who are diehard followers of professional racing and could rattle off 20 stats on any given competitor. I have other friends who know the “famous names” of the sport—the Shalane Flanagans, Kara Gouchers, Meb Keflezighis and Allyson Felixs—but might not know a single time they’ve run or medal they’ve earned. Then there are other friends who ask what the world championships are, who is running, what they mean and if they are the same as the Olympics. The common denominator with all of these people is this: interest. Maybe it’s just for a second as they pass by a TV, jaws dropping at just how fast those people just ran; I experienced this firsthand as I observed colleagues pass by our company kitchen as I sat in front of the screen for the last week.
There is interest; maybe it’s due to the magnitude of this event for some. Or perhaps your friend mentioned there’s a track meet going on. Or maybe just because watching the human form glide around a perfectly lined oval, teeth clinched and arms pumping is an adrenaline rush even if you haven’t a clue what’s happening. Maybe you just really love Usain Bolt. Regardless, these world champs are not as “mainstream” as the Olympic Games—read: not as famous—but they is the next greatest display of global competition out there on the track. And in 2017, it’s really the very first, early taste of what we might see in Tokyo 2020.
There are more people running than ever, making this sport even stronger than it was before. And at the forefront of that boom, leading the charge, from sprints, to middle distance, to longer distances, up to marathons and ultras, are those elite athletes that dedicate their livelihood and whole selves to pursuing their dreams of winning a medal, or breaking a record, or making a world team. And once you give yourself the opportunity to unearth the human stories that fuel these runner dreams, you’ll discover more heart than ever. One the greatest displays of the sisterhood among runners was after the 1,500 preliminaries at the outdoor championships, where the women huddled around Gabe Grunewald, who, despite her fourth round of cancer treatment, still stepped to the line and raced. The camaraderie and care among competitors is why this sport is so great.
While so many of us stress over tuning out distractions ahead of a big goal race, pros navigate last-minute media demands and questions regarding doping and their competitors hours before racing for an Olympic medal. When we talk about how running is life and being injured would be the end of our sanity, one professional athlete somewhere is grappling with that same realization…except an injury could cost them a championship team that only comes every few years. But the beauty of running is we can relate to the leaders’ basic struggles that we go through, and we can respect the work it takes to achieve a dream. Relatable, combined with awestruck feelings toward their enormous talent, creates that interest.
As the sport grows at the age-group level, let us not forget to cheer for those who live off competition and thrive off the crowds. After all, it is these elites that inspired the running boom in the first place, then again, then again.