Community races bring people together

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I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I agreed to run the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon.

It was an unassuming day in March, I was sitting with a friend – a country-folk music artist from Lakeside – drinking coffee in front of the Starbucks between Main Street and Magnolia in downtown El Cajon, when suddenly she said, “Let’s sign up for a race.”

And that was that. 

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I agreed to run the San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon.

It was an unassuming day in March, I was sitting with a friend – a country-folk music artist from Lakeside – drinking coffee in front of the Starbucks between Main Street and Magnolia in downtown El Cajon, when suddenly she said, “Let’s sign up for a race.”

And that was that. 

It had been a while since I had done any kind of extensive running. I injured my shin (stress fracture on the right leg) during my last college track season and even after rehabbing it, I was hesitant to get back into the game.

But a half marathon seemed like a good excuse as any to get to know East County’s running and hiking trails a little better – remember, I am a South Bay native – and I have genuinely enjoyed running my way through East County this spring. 

No amount of preparation, however, could have prepared me for the experience that is the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series.

My friend and her family are all over-achieving race addicts, and this was not their first rodeo, so to speak. They woke me up at 3:30 a.m. to get us to Balboa Park just before five o’clock. Thousands of San Diegans and out-of-town race enthusiasts had collected into the old park by the starting corrals. 

We were running into friends all morning long, a happy reminder that East County folks are part of a larger community in San Diego. 

And what a community! 

Running through the neighborhoods of North Park and Normal Heights, families lined the streets with supportive signs, handing out high fives, pretzels and the occasional donut. Someone even had a table with beer. The atmosphere was friendly and fun – unexpected for a 13-mile run through a hot morning on pavement.

The pavement is what got to me in the end. I did all my training on the soft hills of East County’s gorgeous trails. Easy on the ankles, easy on the shins. 

Around mile five, I could feel the old wound flaring up and I asked my comrades to go on without me. I spent the next seven miles stopping intermittently to stretch out my calf and give the shin a rest. 

The change of pace gave me time to take in the scene a little better.

The world is a contentious place these days, but this race brought out the best in our cities and its communities. 

Easily, the most memorable section of the run was the Blue Mile.

Winding through Normal Heights, the race course was suddenly lined by blue posters memorializing fallen service members, their names and pictures smiling up at runners as they passed by. What a humbling sight, to see these brave men and women who were willing to dedicated their time, their futures, their very lives to our country.

I have thought about that mile a lot in the days that have followed. I am sure I will be thinking about it for weeks to come.

You could not have convinced me in March that a race would be such a grand example of community. I would never have believed you if you told me people would be sitting in lawn chairs on sidewalks in front of their houses to watch us run by. 

Perhaps I need to update my idea of what community looks like, what helps it flourish and where our investments of energy, money and time will make the most difference.

And maybe the introspect was actually my reward for months of training. After all, no medal can replace the revelation of learning something new.

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