It doesn't seem too long ago that my parents (mom, in particular) were horrified by the amount of running I did. It was no secret, either. I'd regularly gripe to my running pals about it. THEY JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND, I'd whine, while pounding the pavement. Though in my mind I was stomping my feet. It's true, they didn't entirely understand. People who don't run (and oftentimes those that do) don't understand. "OK, so wait. You ran how far? Why? That sounds awful." I literally heard that just the other day from an acquaintance. I don't mind. People don't have to understand. But more than not understanding, my mom worried. She incessantly panicked that I'd drop dead during a race. Just right there. Splat. And she did not want to be there to see it happen.
But they still were there. Every time. (Please note I've yet to drop dead, much to their delight).
They're there because they're my parents, and they love and support me in every single possible way. And they're proud. Throughout my entire life, they always made that clear: their pride. The sound of their voices yelling excitedly from a hundred yards away is the same sound I remember from when I was 17, racing around the track in high school. The sound of your parents' pride is a comfort. Over time, my mom's gotten over her fear (or at least has learned to control it). Today, they're excited to come out and cheer. They make a day of it. They plot the perfect places to spectate a week in advance.
In a race, when I come around a bend or off of a trail or turn a corner and hear their voices or see their faces, I can't actually put into words the feeling that swells in my heart. If I'm in pain, it evaporates immediately. Temporarily, but immediately. If I'm tired, I strengthen. Everything is immediately better in that moment.
I write this today because not everyone is as lucky.
I know someone whose mom won't come watch her race this Saturday because she likes to sleep in on Saturdays. Another person who wishes her husband would just once offer to come watch her race.
For the most part, my parents each know how important it is to me when I see them on those big days. I want them to know. I have a weird habit of looking for them when I know it's impossible for them to be there. I remember running through St. Louis in a race in the spring, stealing glances at large crowds, oddly expecting to see them. Their absence -- or the absence of any support -- is palpable when you cross a finish line alone.
I don't admit this to make them feel guilty. Not at all. Rather to make them understand the giant void they fill. Everyone should have that. If you have a runner in your life, be there. Don't wait for them to ask. Go to the finish line. Stand along the course. Maybe your runner acts like it doesn't matter, as if your disinterest doesn't affect them. It does. And even if it doesn't, your support will shock them and surprise them and fill a void.
Running is selfish. Most of us do it for ourselves. It's a solo sport. We make our own goals and fight our own race battles. But everyone needs a cheerleader. I'm lucky to have mine. Go make someone lucky.