People stood in small clusters, beers in hand and sweaty running shirts stuck to backs.
This is tradition, Bob Roncker’s running group members gathering over drinks as we begin our two-week taper before the big race.
During these gatherings we speak about hopes and goals, pains and aches, and plans on how to handle the 26.2 miles ahead. Experienced runners share what they know with new runners. New runners nervously share their goals. For about an hour there is that magic alchemy of camaraderie, alcohol, and hopes for the pay off of months of hard work.
On the outer deck of Arnie’s on the Levee Tuesday, a bar located near the running store where we gather each week for practice, I felt good. For three years, and what will be five marathons, I’ve done this. I’ve made new friends, experienced pre-marathon nerves, and hopefully been changed some for the better in the process.
On one of those miles of running, either enjoying it or muttering against it, the hobby I started doing in 2010 to lose weight became part of who I am. As I so often discussed in the past, running has become a life saver and the best form of mental health therapy. The only cost is a pair of shoes, group training, a bit of time and race registration. No matter when I finish on race day, as long as I do, I realize each season that I learn something new about myself.
Being 37, continuing to learn to take solace and comfort in accepting who I am, I am more convinced than ever that meaning lies with the journey more than outcomes. I’ll never be the Boston qualifier. I may never be the journalist or the novelist I hoped to be in my youth (though I still hold out hope that I might one day write that book). Hell, I often doubt the route I’m on, but if I can finish the marathon, if I can mark a new date on the calendar and set a new goal for tomorrow, then I’m okay, because I have somewhere to go. I have hopes and joys and pains.
Fitting or not, in this marathon season I’ve adopted the last lines from Samuel Beckett‘s 1954 novel, The Unnameable. I won’t lie, I’ve never read his work, but the line at the end of The Unnameable, “You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on,” is in my head this race season.
Quite a few of my running group friends will be in Indianapolis on Nov. 1. A few are running other races, such as Columbus on Oct. 20. Some are taking part in the 200-mile Bourbon Chase relay in bourbon country Kentucky. One will be going to Washington DC to run the Marine Corps Marathon next weekend. Word will get around on who did what. A few of us will keep in shape and run a few miles together in the cold winter months, talking about future races. We’ve already floated a group trip to Detroit next year.
And we’ll sit at a bar in early spring and then late fall, and we’ll talk about how training went. They’ll be the new guys and the new lessons learned for us all. And hopefully a few new friends and memories made along the way.