For me running is not about the elites. Never has been. The elites of any sport have never inspired me. That is perhaps an echo of my own youth. I was last picked in gym class. In all sports.
Except the term my high school struggled to newly implement Title IX fully coed phyical education classes. The coaches were unsure how far to go. So in gymnastics class the other male members of the class volunteered me to be the first boy to tackle the UNeven bars. I attempted some kind of flying hip catch, sailing from the upper to the lower bar. Then I fell to the mat, curled up into a ball, and saw the stars.
I was not just uncoordinated. I was a detriment to any team I was on. I did not mind, I disliked physical anything.
Running would arrive later in my life. After the last gym class. Long after.
Organized sports and athletic movements celebrate the sports elite. Fans and spectators celebrate the athletically elite. I do not. The support, the attention, is only on the winners. When an elite of any level crashes down, for whatever reason, there is a brief moment of sympathy for the fallen athlete and then the bright spotlight of attention and support moves on.
Whether the athlete simply stops winning, is permanently injured, is caught succumbing to the pressure to dope to stay on top, or is taken out by personal circumstances, the attention moves on. If this happens early in a promising sporting life, then the soul of the young hopeful can land in a very dark and lonely place.
I was never an elite. Never will be. I am still running. I am inspired by those who have fought their way from a couch to a 21 minute mile and on down to a 16 minute mile, and are still getting out there on the road to run. I am inspired by everyone who will never be an elite, who get no support, no attention, and who slog on. I am inspired by those who have crumpled and fallen, who can no longer even hope to be at the top of their sport, perhaps even feel disgraced or shame, but who pick themselves up and run on.
A successful runner is not one who wins, a successful runner is one who will tie their shoes again on some future day, head out the door, and run again. I am a runner is a present and future tense statement. Perhaps only old runners know that no matter how hard the fall in life, running is always there, the one touchstone.