What will your running legacy be?
Do you think that your next run affects you and only you? Consider this: Every time you lace up your shoes and head out the door you do so in full view of your neighbors, your co-workers, your children and countless others cruising through the community. Every time you go for a run you have the potential to influence another to do the same. Every time you go for a run you cement another part of your running legacy.
I started thinking about how we establish our running legacy over several days during the past few weeks. The biggest job on my work plate last week was directing a large and prestigious high school track and field meet. The Madison West Invitational Relays celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2012. This is the longest continuously run high school track meet in Wisconsin with the exception of the Wisconsin State High School Championships (which happens to be the oldest state track championship meet in the United States).
During its 75-year run, the West Relays has had only three meet directors. I'm thinking that when Willis Jones founded the meet in 1938 he was not thinking about his legacy. But what a legacy he created. Every year that I am involved in this undertaking, I meet new people who tell me about their experiences competing in this meet. Coaches, athletes, parents and grandparents all remember running in the West Relays. I was running with one of our freshman athletes last week and he told me, with a bit of wonder, how fondly his grandfather remembered competing in the meet. Until that conversation, he had no real connection to the event. Yet his grandfather hoped to watch him run in the same meet he had competed in some 55 years ago. The legacy continues and the torch is passed along.
I recently had the chance to take a short trip to California to visit my oldest son. I have no idea how many times he, as a child, saw me pull on a pair of running shorts and shoes and head out the door for a training run. I suppose I could actually figure it out, as my slight obsession with record keeping has left me in possession of yearly small notebooks/running logs dating back to 1975. Regardless, it never really dawned on me that my son would ever care to emulate my behavior pattern. I was only ever just going out for run; something I did nearly every day.
Now eight years past his competitive collegiate track and cross country career (12 years since his days as a member of the high school team that I coach), my son still runs regularly.
When I told him I was going to try and get out to southern California for a short visit, he quickly looked up a trail run that he thought I could handle. He was almost gleeful as we headed four miles up a forest service road in driving rain and 46 degrees. Gone are the days when I could lead him four miles uphill in the rain and mud followed by four freezing, slippery miles back down. Yet as he slowed to allow the old man to keep up and asked "You OK?" every now and then, I knew that part of my running legacy was safe for the moment. Clearly something had been passed on to the next generation.
We see our running legacy passed on yearly in the races we run, while introducing some of the venerable events to newcomers in our community. 2012 will mark the 40th running of the Syttende Mai 20 Mile Run. Held annually on the Saturday closest to May 17 (Norwegian Independence Day), the race follows a hilly course from Madison's Capital Square to downtown Stoughton, Wisconsin. Once the focal point of the spring running calendar in the Madison area, Syttende Mai has become a smaller more intimate event over the past few years. Still the 500 or so competitors look forward to challenging themselves over the hills in southern Wisconsin.
A look at the course records reveals the quality of the runners who have competed here over the years. Olympic trials qualifiers and one Olympic medalist in the marathon are among those who have left their mark on the Syttende Mai race course. I was delighted to hear that one of the younger members of our Sunday training group was aiming for Syttende Mai with high hopes of an excellent finish. We can only hope that this legacy will continue to flourish.
Many of us have become senior running ambassadors. Whether we realize it or not, all of us have the capacity to leave a running legacy. You don't have to be a graybeard to establish a legacy. Anyone can offer encouragement to get others involved. Some of my favorite events are road relay races. Every year we try to get some new folks running relays. These races help cement friendships and establish traditions that can be carried on for years. Most of the people on our original 1993 Illinois River to River Relay (an 80 mile race in southern Illinois) team likely didn't think we would still be racing the event 20 years later. Yet we were set to return on April 21 another round. Several years ago a runner I coached in high school in 1976 joined our team. It was an outstanding reunion.
What will be your running legacy? Don't take this for granted. We all have the capacity for greatness. Pass it along. Take someone for a run.
Good running to you!
Tom Kaufman, of Madison, Wisconsin, has run more than 40 marathons in as many years of running. He teaches high school phys ed and coaches high school track and cross country, as well as community and masters athletes. He has a master's degree in physical education and a specialization in exercise physiology.