My son tagged the wall as he came in second in the 50 meter race. As he surfaced, the first place finished gave him a high-five. Both of the swimmers beamed with energy and shared excitement. On the sides of the pool their teammates cheered the one-two finish.
As the racing day progressed parents called out to the their children to push harder or to swim just a little bit further to reach the wall. Parents cheered and celebrated. And when one very young swimmer, alone among his age group, chose to swim the 100 meter butterfly solo – four laps of the 25 meter pool, everyone around the pool was cheering the little fellow on. I think he thought it was a two lap event as a timer had to tell him at the 50 meter point to do two more lengths of the pool. Which he obediently did.
I walked along the side of the pool saying nothing, taking pictures. I suppose I should have been cheering as my son and daughter racked up first, second, and third place finishes in their age group. When my daughter was the only female swimmer to join the open 200 meter individual medley, that was exciting. Her team really shouted encouragement to her. Even my wife, normally rather placid and reserved, shouted “Go!”
I was proud of both of them, and I said so, but I realized I was a terrible fan as I was not much of a cheering sports enthusiast. I enjoyed seeing the camaraderie among the swimmers, the group support. In the water or by poolside, the competitors were never alone.
Later that day I hit the road for a one hour run out into Nett. I am trying to get my legs back around to half-marathon endurance condition. I know that I will be at the back of the pack running alone. I am almost always alone. A road runner practices alone on a road and then races, around here at least, alone on the road. There is no cheering from the pool side, everything is inside one’s head.
The half will be in 32 Celsius heat at 4:00 in the afternoon, humidity at 80% or higher. Heat index of 42 degrees Celsius or higher. Tropical sun or possibly tropical rain, but likely both. Conditions that would likely halt a modern big city American marathon length race. If the day is sunny, the race will devolve into a heat survival sweat house grudge match. Runners not against runners, but the runner against the insane heat. Those races are purely mental. Mental plus swimming pools worth of water and electrolyte fluids.
And the cheerleaders are only in your head. The road, around here, is a quiet place. Running is a different sport – little wonder it is not a multi-million dollar mega-machine sport like American football, European football, American basketball, or American baseball. There is no one place one can go and see the entirety of a road race. One cannot sit and watch the whole thing while enjoying beer and hot dogs. On an out-and back half, the runners disappear from the starting area and reappear well over an hour later. Not much to watch.
So I stood by the pool and watched as all the kids swam, proud of their efforts, knowing they too are wrestling with their own mental race in their own heads. Pushing their own limits and discovering they too can break through and do things they only hoped that they could do. Or for the little guy who did the 100 meter fly, do things they never imagined they could do.