For a few hours last Saturday afternoon, our Island embraced the Shelter Island race.
Everything else dropped off the radar. The rest of the world was delightfully abstract as we concentrated on getting ready for a race whose scale is reflected in back-to-back buses dropping runners at the school steps.
Mary Ellen Adipietro’s vision, combined with Julie Bliss’s energy, produced obvious success. More than 2,000 runners ready, willing and (mostly) able, said the “hell with the rain” and turned out for the 36th running of our races. In today’s culture of big data, mega-mansions and CEO salaries, 2,000 seems a trifle.
But, when I crested St. Mary’s hill, where the drizzle magnified the repeated gong of the steeple’s bell, 2,000 took on a different meaning. Looking forward and back, multi-colored runners filled the road, moving as if a single giant caterpillar. Anyone associated with this race would get goose bumps from the scene.
People run for many reasons, maybe unique to each runner. But how they run shows how equal the sport is for the athletes. The playing field could not be more level. Every runner faces exactly the same hills, flats and curves.
There are “no gimmies” for gender, race or age. In truth, we run with each other far more than against each other.
For all but 30 runners, the real competition is only with ourselves. Think young people are not competitive? Come out next year and see for yourself. Here is my personal story. Plodding along in Dering forest, I passed a 4-foot youngster running about a 9-minute-a-mile pace. As I slipped by, I encouraged the young man, saying, “Good pace!” This same little precocious urchin glided by me during the last 100 yards to the finish. Energy and youth are indeed wasted on the young.
I do want to especially recognize the energy of the spectators. You certainly made up with noise what you lacked in numbers. The rain brought out world class cheering, horn-blowing and bell-ringing like I have never experienced in my many Shelter Island races. Thank you. And don’t let your more reserved cohorts quiet you down in 2016.
Finishing the race puts you in a special place. I was O.K. with my time (everybody wants to be faster, richer, younger, right?) As I staggered in the space just past the finish line, someone kindly put a bag of ice on the back of my neck. I didn’t see who.
Just one tiny example of what makes our race different. While getting a bottle of water might be standard race fare, here we pass out thousands of quartered oranges and bananas, all distributed by folks who are actually enthusiastic to be helping.
Finally, Meb, his wife and family: What an addition you are to our race. Celebrity runners sometimes populate races. But never do they become part of the community. It is a special credit to Mary Ellen, Frank, Vanessa and Janelle to have made Shelter Island home to world-class runners.
The race is a happening that draws in all of us — spectators, volunteers, participants and residents. Let the 2016 training begin — you only have 360 days to get ready.