A bum heel and a bout of food poisoning put me on the shelf for one of my favorite running events, today’s Mountain Goat 10-miler in Syracuse, NY.
After moping about this for a couple of weeks, I decided to suck it up and get out there on the course to cheer on my friends and other participants in this challenging, hilly race that attracts more than 2,400 participants.
I positioned myself at the top of the toughest hill on the course, a long, steady climb at the 6-mile mark. Cowbell in one hand, camera in the other, I offered as many encouraging words as I could while trying to find familiar faces among the runners struggling up the hill.
The older this once-competitive runner gets, the more I realize and appreciate just how much I have benefited from race volunteers and spectators alike. I tried not to take them for granted all the years I was running seriously, but I’m afraid I did. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve volunteered at races as often as I enter.
This kind of payback feels good indeed.
As much as I wish I were out there wearing a number today, I was quite content to be on the sidelines. The weather was more conducive to running than standing around — 40s and windy — but each time a runner thanked me or smiled at some of my supportive commentary, it felt damn good.
And when I spotted my friends, or they spotted me (a couple of them handed me a pair of gloves and a sweatshirt for safekeeping) the chill in the air didn’t feel quite so bad.
I’ve run “the Goat” probably 15 or 20 times in its 36-year history, and I know all too well how much it hurts to charge up the hill where I stood. If there’s a spot on that course where runners need encouraging, that’s it. That’s especially true for the slower or newer runners, for whom the hill can force them to a walk.
I was hardly alone on the sidelines. A few fellow runners chose the same spot to cheer on their friends, and a coach of some YMCA runners waited there for her team members, exhorting them to keep on keepin’ on.
The highlight may indeed have been the sight of three young women cresting the hill, hand in hand and all smiles. The photo of them below is what running is all about. See you next year, Mountain Goat.