I’m a runner. No, that’s not quite right. I’m more of a running enthusiast---this doesn’t imply that I’m good while the former does. I’m currently training for my first marathon so I find myself on runner’s blogs and watching documentaries all too often. I’ve learned how to take care of your sports bras without losing elasticity, that recovery shakes are a real thing, and that the best kept secret of the running world is a little something called Body Glide (it helps to prevent chafing).
A few weeks ago I watched a documentary entitled Run for Your Life by Judd Ehrlich and was introduced to a man by the name of Fred Lebow. Fred started the New York City Marathon in 1970; a race that started with 55 runners and now boasts over 45,000 runners and is one of the biggest and most prestigious events in the running world. Fred challenged the running community to think differently about running in three significant ways—all of which have created a culture which allows me to be the running enthusiast I am today. The first was challenging New Yorkers to allow the race course to touch all five Burroughs in NYC. There was a lot of crime in one Burroughs during that time and runners were not interested in risking their safety in the name of fairness; but Fred challenged this mentality proving to everyone that avoiding dangerous neighborhoods would not grow the sport.
The second was the introduction of the first ever all women’s running event, the Crazy Legs Mini Marathon, in Central Park. When businesses heard about Fred’s courageous attempts with the marathon they wanted a piece of the action. Women’s distance running was unheard of in these days. I recently read a story in Runner’s World (RW) magazine about Katherine Switzer, the first woman to enter and complete the Boston Marathon. Katherine recounts to RW that in the late 1960’s when she started running she used to get stopped by the police when out on runs—they had assumed there was no reason for a woman to be running unless she had broken the law. Fred not only created the Mini Marathon for women only but he also allowed women to enter the NYC marathon as equals with men.
The third thing that Fred did was probably the least significant to most but it spoke volumes to me. When Fred began running, he ran a mile and a half in 20 minutes. That’s 13.20 minutes per mile. Most able bodied college students could walk a mile in this time. Fred finished the first NYC marathon in 45th place out of 55 runners. Fred didn’t seem intimidated by his lack of speed at all. He courageously pursued his dream of growing the running culture in as many ways as possible, despite the fact that he couldn’t keep up with any of his friends let alone the running greats of that time. How did Fred do this? How did he get two Olympic marathoners to agree to run in the first 5 Burrough NYC Marathon? How did he generate a buzz about the race that encouraged exponential growth each year? How did he serve as the race director when he was consistently a few steps ahead of the slack wagon (a vehicle which follows the last runners in a race and picks them up if they’ve decided to quit or have become incapacitated)? It’s Fred’s slower speed that is the biggest takeaway for me. I’m not good at many things; if I were to compare my ACT scores with my friends and students I’d be at the lower end, if I were to prepare a meal some part of it would be over or undercooked, and if I were to run a marathon (hypothetically in Lincoln, NE this May) I can guarantee that I’ll finish in the bottom half. But I’m gonna try. I’m gonna lace up every other day for the next 2 and a half months and I’m gonna chip away at this big goal. In the spirit of Fred Lebow, what goal are you courageously pursuing regardless of your skill level?
Resident Director, Kiewit Hall