EIghty-six percent of Grand Canyon visitors never set foot into the canyon itself. That’s 4.3 million people who travel from all over the world every year to stand at the edge of a parking lot.
The vast majority of these visitors are unable to stray too far from their vehicles because of age, or infirm, or physical incapability that they may or may not control. And so they are content to see one of the world’s great wonders from the same vantage point as if they were sitting comfortably in front of the high-quality, big-screen television in their living rooms.
That is not me.
Even more than running far, I am enamored with the idea that I can go places that I’m not supposed to; I can see things that other people can’t see because I’m on foot or, better yet, I can take advantage of sanctioned race road closures.
I have run on the Great Wall of China, across the Golden Gate Bridge and down the center of the Las Vegas strip at night. I have viewed Downtown Los Angeles from behind the famed Hollywood sign. And, during a four-mile morning run through a stormy Washington, DC, found myself, not only alone at the Lincoln Memorial, but alone on the Mall, a 146 acre expanse of land that has held as many as 1.8 million people at moments that have shaped our nation.
No one has ever traveled to Walt Disney World to stand at the edge of the parking lot. But most visitors’ experiences involve logistics and lines, punctuated by the short-lived delight of photos with a favorite character, or the wonders of Splash Mountain.
My Disney experience is different. From inside the gates, I know what the park looks like during that pre-dawn time when the sky is turning from black to blue, my favorite time of day in any location. I know that the glow of Epcot up close can take your breath away.
I won’t ever really understand the people content to stand at the edge of the parking lot. To be honest, I don’t really want to. I much prefer to travel unencumbered by traffic signs, or pavement, or my own perceived abilities.
The first thing you notice about Rosie Rose Coates is her laugh. I could say that it’s “jovial” or “infectious,” but the truth is that it’s just loud. Loud in a way that would annoy you, but only if you didn’t have a soul. She starts her races (yes, Rosie Rose Coates has her own races) with the chant:
Wah! Wah! Hootie hootie! Time to go now work that bootie!
And with that, my quest for 40 races in 2017 was under way. (Check out my live, start-line broadcast!)
I feel like anything you do on January 1 has some weight to it. Or, at least we try to make it have some weight. We make resolutions. We vow to be kinder, gentler, more zenned-out versions of ourselves. Like a snake shedding its skin, we decide we are done with our last year’s selves, in favor of what is new (read: better) at our cores.
Or maybe that’s just the vision I’ve created for myself.
I’m not A Resolution Person. I don’t need to exercise more, or spend more time with my friends, or pay off decades-old school loans. I could probably stand to dial back the soy cappuccinos and the Manhattans but won’t. And I won’t entertain a discussion about my shoe budget.
But, as Rosie Rose Coates reminds me, I can laugh louder. I can draw attention to myself with my positive spirit. And I can high-five more runners, as I practiced today on the 2.8 mile loop course around Greenlake in Seattle when, faced with increasing civilian crowds on the public course and staling scenery, some participants chose to run the loop in the reverse direction.
When I finished my seventh lap, the only race participant signed up for the odd, 19.6-mile distance (remaining runners would complete a full 26.2), I received a Sporty Diva dog tag and hug from Rosie Rose. The volunteers and I chatted briefly about the weather in Orlando, where several of us are traveling in a matter of hours to run the Walt Disney World Dopey Challenge. And I got into my car for the 10-minute drive home.
Race 1 of 40 is complete. 2017 is officially under way. I may not be any more zenned-out than I was yesterday, but I am smiling. Really, what more can you ask from a year less than 24-hours old?
“Why do you run so many races?” Asks Chloe, a 26-year-old, former NCAA Division I middle-distance runner and trainer at Elite Fitness Training. I could tell she’d been dying to ask me this for a while, though she’d been unable to work all the judgment out of her voice in the time it took her to work up the nerve. “Wouldn’t you rather run a few races a year and run them well?”
I shrugged, as well as one can with a weighted barbell across her shoulders. “I do only run a few races a year that I care about. The rest are just training runs.”
“Yeah, but all those times are out there. I wouldn’t want those bad times associated with my name.” Says the woman who has a profile page on her University’s athletic department website.
“When was the last time you Googled me to study my race times?” I asked her.
“Well, never,” she admitted, sheepishly. “But still. Those times are out there.”
Indeed they are, I thought. But here’s the thing — for the small handful of people that will, in fact, Google my race times (you need something better to do), I expect one of three reactions: (1) wow, she’s slow; (2) wow, she’s fast; or (3) wow, we run practically the same pace. Such is life. You can’t wait until you’re the best at something to do it; and you can’t only do those things that you are the best at. There will always be someone better than you. And there will always be someone who is not impressed by whatever amazing feat you are accomplishing. I’ve learned not to get spun up about it; I’m going to do whatever makes me happy. With 40 races on the calendar in 2017, there are bound to be some slow times, but I don’t think there will be any “bad times.”
Why do I run so many races? Because I can. Because there is no more magical place on Earth than the start line of a race. And because I know the courage it to put myself out there will make me better in the long run.
The anticipation of the best experience ever. That’s what it feels like to stand at the start line of a race. Sometimes the anticipation is tranquil; like the the sun rising over the horizon. Other times it’s electric and, for a moment, you think you can actually see lighting pinging among the sea of competitors.
This year I will run 40 races to celebrate my 40th birthday, and I will support 40 other racers in stepping up to a start line of their own. My journey, and theirs, will be chronicled through this blog. I hope you’ll join me!
See you at the finish line.