Running is a Team Sport
September 09, 2015 at 11:18 AM
On a cool Sunday morning in September 2012 I lined up at Howard Wood Field to run in my first Sioux Falls Half Marathon. I had run a handful of halves by this point and growing up in Sioux Falls I ran countless miles on the bike trail greenway and lap after lap around Howard Wood’s track while competing for Washington High School and later Mount Marty College. As the gun went off and I settled in near the front of the pack I was a bit alarmed as each mile clicked off at a pace a little faster than I thought I could sustain. Luckily, it was one of those days that only runners can describe, where everything feels fluid and effortless. It is the type of day that is rare in training but you can only dream of having during a race. I never slowed from the early faster than usual pace and crossed the line with a three-minute personal record, running the 13.1 miles in just over 1:18 to place 10th out of over 1,000 runners. I had won races before and since, but that performance three years ago is still something I am trying to return to.
Fast forward two years to September of last year and I competed the half for the second time, nearly 50 minutes slower. I could not have been any more thrilled with the result.
That is because last year I completed the Sioux Falls Half Marathon as part of a two-person team with my young friend Karl Madsen. Karl and I met a number of years ago when he was a family camper where I worked during the summers throughout college at Lutheran’s Outdoors camp near Custer. Although his mobility and speech were hampered by a traumatic brain injury he suffered as small boy, Karl is full of life and is more active and enthusiastic than almost any other middle school student you’d meet.
The idea of pushing Karl in his wheelchair throughout the half so he could join me in the competition was something born out of the legendary Team Hoyt from the Boston area. I had seen some videos and read stories about the father and son duo and their running and triathlon and other athletic accomplishments. Knowing how vibrant Karl is and how strongly his mother Anna advocates for her son’s inclusion in “normal” events (although a half marathon might not be considered all that normal for some) I figured they would be open to the idea of Karl and me running the race together.
So that is exactly what we did. We did not use Karl’s normal wheelchair but the chair we had was not exactly made for running either. I knew we could survive 13 miles; I just wanted to make sure that Karl would remain comfortable and that we would stay out of the way of other runners.
We lined up towards the very back of the pack – a welcomed change from my usual up-front “sizing up the competition” ritual. Once the gun went off we slowly made our way around the 3/4ths of a lap before heading out onto the streets and bike trail of Sioux Falls.
Immediately numerous other runners and spectators were offering Karl and me encouragement and kudos – with many other runners coming over to give Karl a high-five or pat on the back which he was loving. We were able to see friends and family and familiar faces throughout the course – including my high school and college coaches - and although downtown Sioux Falls is much hillier than I previously remembered, we were making decent time and staying competitive in the back half of the pack.
Aside from keeping a slower pace than normal I really did not notice any differences in running the race with Karl aside from the fact that I was getting the greatest core workout of my life. My midsection was absolutely searing throughout the final 2-3 miles of the race but there was so much crowd support and the excitement of fellow runners knowing how close to the finish we were made those final miles fly by in an instant. At last we were crossing the finish line and as I gave Karl the race medal and bib number his ever-present smile that morning grew even larger across his face. There was no question that we would try this again sometime.
I guess the next logical step for me was to see if Karl would be interested in giving the full marathon a shot. Sioux Falls is his home and where I grew up and the fact that the city has this growing and well-run event (no pun intended) made it an easy choice to decide for our first full marathon together. The plan once again is to survive the distance and to make sure Karl remains comfortable and gets to let his competitive side take over for the morning. Running with Karl is a terrific escape for me from the “train to win” philosophy that we can get so wrapped up in and is a way for me to bring the joy of running back to the very basic reasons that I love to be outside and active and among like-minded people.
If this is your first half marathon or marathon just know that no matter what, keep moving! I’ve had some great races and I’ve had some horrible ones and everything in between, but all races will come to an end, but your feeling of accomplishment and achievement will stay with you forever. If you are a veteran runner, stay within yourself but at the same time get after your goals. As a former coach would say, “ride the roller coaster” out there. The lows might be bad but nothing in the world can match the feeling of the highs. See you on the run!