A Run Down Memory Lane, Part 3: Super Fans

We’ve all got them. They’re the people who are almost as crazy as we are—sure, we do silly things like go out and run (13.1 miles) (in the heat) (up lots of hills) for the fun (fun?) of it, but these are the people who will come out and watch us run…any distance…in any weather…at any venue. These are the SUPER FANS. My absolute favorite form of super hero.

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for awhile. Partly because I know that after the “I ran my first track meet when I was 6” post and the “I started running when I was 10” about me page, people are bound to be thinking that I have those parents. Those crazy, living vicariously through their kids, lost-all-touch-with-reality parents. You know the type. A blog-pal and real-life pal of mine has also written this really great series on friends and her countdown of “warrior friends” got me thinking about my super fans. I’ve tried to capture the essence of some of the super fans I’ve had at each stage (or every stage!) of my running career. I hope every runner  has enjoyed similar support. It’s been a huge blessing.

All-Time Super Fans: Mom and Dad
In my experience, encouragement and a low level of competition can help the “running bug” grab hold, while pressure, discouraging words, and an excessive amount of fierce competition can suck the joy right out the sport. My parents are great at the former. It’s kept me running for over 15 years. Dad can be loud, yes. His voice can carry across a track in a stadium filled with people if need be. The amazing thing, however, is what  he says. Being a runner himself, he knows just how to help someone in a race. My dad doesn’t say, “they’re right behind you!” He’ll say, “you’re pulling away” or “they’re 10 meters back.” If he says they’re 10 meters back, they are. He’ll never say, “you’d better speed up.” But if he says, “you can catch them,” it’s more than just encouraging words…he means it. He believes in you. I’ve had so many of my teammates tell me that they love when my dad cheers for them. He’s never negative, and he’s always smart.

Another thing Dad likes to do is “grade” races. This may sound a little harsh, but for my dad the lowest grade to give is a C. What I would consider the worst race of my life—C. When I had to drop out of the KU Relays—C. Anytime you step on the starting line and put forth effort, you deserve a passing grade. That’s my dad.

My mom is the greatest non-runner running fan ever to walk this earth. She let my dad take her on a honeymoon in Eugene, OR. That pretty much says it all. She went to his college races, his post-college road races, our road races, our track meets, our cross country meets…she’s always there, with a cooler of water, gatorade, and running-friendly munchies. I think our losses hurt her more than us because she wanted so badly for us to succeed. It wasn’t that she was obsessed with winning, she just didn’t want to see us disappointed.

High School Super Fan: D
My oldest friend is my high school era super fan. D and I met when we were 3 years old. I still have the letters she wrote me before every single state meet…letters full of encouragement, designed to motivate a timid heart and instill confidence in a girl who often had trouble standing fearlessly on the starting line. Once the race starts…well, that’s a different matter. I used to have serious bouts of pre-race jitters.

I eventually convinced D to join the cross country team, and she continued to be a source of motivation from within our ranks. She is one of the most dedicated, hardest workers I’ve ever come across. If she had a tenth of the natural talent that I’ve seen other people waste, she would have made varsity easily. The great thing about running,  however, is that there are still feats to perform and accomplishments to be made no matter which team you’re on. I remember one year at Rim Rock, after I’d finished my race I ran another two miles cheering for D. When she made it all the way up Billy Mills Hill without walking, I felt a greater sense of accomplishment on her behalf than I did for my race…and I know I had a good race that year. (Sidenote: Rim Rock’s landmarks are named after National Champions from the University of Kansas. John Lawson Hill and Billy Mills Hill are the most memorable to runners…they prove that Kansas is definitely not flat.)

College Super Fan: Kristi
My college super fan is Kristi. A pole vaulter by trade, Kristi had run cross country in high school so she had a deep respect for distance runners (as well as a keen understanding of the discomfort we can inflict upon ourselves). She’s also about the sweetest person you’d ever want to meet and usually had a lot of downtime between events, so she would roam the track cheering during a 7.5, 12.5, or 25 lap race. It happens so rarely that it always amazes me when those with “interesting” events take an interest in the long, the (supposedly) boring distance races. No one beats Kristi at this.

Post-College Super Fans: The Okies
I thought that my post-collegiate running ventures would be devoid of super fans. Mom and Dad aren’t even in the same time zone, and it’s not like I’m posting fast times or a front runner any longer. This is where I underestimated this particular breed of super hero. We have some friends, fellow midwest transplants to the Upstate. We casually mentioned that we’d be running a race in January. They wanted to know what day, what time, where it starts. I thought that 8:00am and a forecast of cold would keep them at home. It didn’t. As soon as I crossed the finish line, theirs were the first faces I saw.

The particularly amazing thing about these super fans is that they’ve never been involved with running. Not in any capacity. Not a casual runner, like D was before she joined the cross country team. Not a former runner and current field athlete like Kristi was. Not even related to runners. For whatever reason, however, they have no problem waking up early in the morning and standing in the cold to watch us run. How amazing is that?

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7 responses

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