There has been one thing that I have noticed about the sport of running that absolutely took me by surprise.

The sense of community.

I’ve never really been into team sports or activities. Growing up, I participated mostly in ballet, with some tap and hip hop thrown in, but never on a travel squad. I also did some horseback riding, but again, that was a more individual endeavor. I figured running would be the more of the same: people who did their own thing and then showed up together at the same time to race against each other.

Turns out, it’s not like that at all.

I noticed it first when I started blogging. Even though I was a virtual nobody, new on the scene, starting, literally, from nothing, I was pleasantly surprised to see that some seasoned athletes were taking the time to read and comment on my posts and to respond to my questions and concerns on Twitter and Facebook. It was such a warm and genuine welcome to the new world I was entering, and, even when I was feeling down about a poor performance, my spirits felt lifted by the positive boosts from the community.

The welcoming continued when I was doing training runs in my neighborhood. I’ve passed other, clearly more experienced athletes on the road. I’m obviously new, in my unbroken in shoes, red in the face, huffing and puffing as I struggle to find my pace. Yet the other runners I pass always seem to take a moment to offer a thumbs up or an encouraging smile. And amazingly, sometimes, that little show of support is enough to help me dig deep and find the energy to bump up my pace or finish my session with a spring in my step. Who knew?

And then, at my first actual run, I mentioned how nice it was that my friend E stayed near me the whole time, even though she could have finished on her own in about half the time it took me (she’s fast). And how all the runners were high-fiving each other and cheering each other on, or hanging around the finish line to welcome the not-so-fleet-footed to the end of the run. While there is definitely a sense of competition, it strikes me as being on more of a personal level, than against each other.

It’s amazing and motivating and nothing short of wonderful. All of these people, all of them so talented and so intense, all of them with incredible goals, but none too busy or too focused on their endgame to offer a kind word or a pat on the back to those who might be struggling or daunted or in need of a pick-up. It’s a special thing to experience.

What’s even more special is that I am going to be racing in events with some fabulous ladies, who I am proud and privileged to call friends. Even though I know we probably won’t be step for step, we will be there ate the start line, and waiting for each other and the finish and cheering each other on the whole way in between. Cheerleading and support network all in one.

You can’t beat that feeling.

So, even though it’s been a slow week for this new runner, I want to extend my gratitude to the community that welcomed me, as it has undoubtedly done so for hundreds and thousands before me. I love being a part of it and hope that one day, I can be as encouraging to some new runners as some of you have been to me.

Thank you.

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