I do not stand at the front of starting lines, all dressed up in my Timex-sponsored shirt, tiger-eyed and set on the kill. No cameras are pointed at me and the organizers of a race never wonder if I’m going to break a course record. Among the thousands of anxious athletes lining up at running events, I am nobody.
When the gun goes off, no one screams my name. There isn’t a pace rabbit whose sole objective is to make me run a national record or a support team that takes care of my hydration or my gear.
In the middle of the pack, I inhale a couple deep breaths and take a moment to sink in the fact that I’m lined up with healthy, enthusiastic people in better shape than most of the population. I revel in the idea that I’ll finish in front of some of them, and smirk when I think other runners have the same idea about me. There’s always a faster runner, and you’re never really the last one.
Even if you’re in the cheering crowd, you won’t see me. I’m just one among thousands of anonymous faces. Unless your kid pulls incessantly on your sleeve yelling «Look! This one forgot his shoes!», you won’t notice me.
I know I’m not a pro racer and never will be.
But inside of me, there’s a fire raging. I stand at the line focused and jittery, revising my strategy, making sure I’ll be ready for everything that comes my way. I triple-check my gear, my food, my hydration. Among the restless crowd, I start my music, always with the same song. And every race morning has started with a Facebook post that reveals my current mood, followed by the words «Here goes nothing».
In the meantime, thoughts storm in my head. Will I make it? Can I push hard and attempt a personal best? What if I go out too strong and lose it halfway? Did I train enough? Get sufficient rest? How’s my hydration? Am I ready for this?
And then the crowd starts moving. I leave my worries behind and take a first step forward. I’ve just switched universes.
It’s evident I’ll never climb on a podium.
But as I pick up my pace and gather my will, I feel more alive than the vast majority of the time. There’s just me and the road. I’m not doing this for anyone else than myself; I run for a very tough crowd. So I give it all.
In my mind, I go back to all my training sessions, good and bad. I re-live the efforts I’ve invested, the hills I climbed and the intervals I made. I also think of my downtimes while injured, of my yearnings to go out and run. And realize that’s exactly what I’m doing, right in this moment. I feel privileged.
Things will get tough at one point or another. I’ll have to draw even deeper inside of me to find the strength to go on. I’ll think of friends, personal heroes, memories, the woman I love, the places of the world that transformed me and borrow energy from all of them. I’ll call upon visualized images that have followed me for as long as I can remember. And inexplicably, a renewed flow of vitality will run through me and push me beyond my hardships.
I’ll never be invited to join a track team.
But I’ve had the chance to run with the utmost elites. I have sided with the world’s greatest runners like powerhouse Daniel Roy, braveheart Juan Pablo Robitaille, maverick Samuel Champion, wiseman Yves Daigneault, mischievous Geneviève Dupont, loving Laurence Hurtel, leader Ben Sicotte, tough man André Bourdeau and so many inspiring others.
I know I won’t go down in running history.
But I have been witness to superhuman performances from people who have gone to the extreme limits of themselves and reached goals they never thought achievable. I have cheered, cried, screamed, ached, laughed and suffered in the midst of genuine champions.
And each time I cross that finish line, exhausted and overwhelmed, I am one, too.