The True Runner in You

Left to Right: Lauren Steele, Ayelen Costa and Meghan Turner before the annual True Life Run during the True/False Film Festival in Columbia, MO, on March 2, 2013.The 10th annual True/False Film Festival began its engulfing of downtown Columbia on the last day of February. The weekend dedicated to films fans, documentary directors and hairy hipsters had commenced—and like any good journalist does, I found my angle. And my angle is running. Always. Out of all the things that this festival brings to Missouri, such as Oscar-worthy documentaries and Oscar-worthy actors (hello, James Franco!), I sniffed out a 5K. Cue the 2013 True Life Run.

The last race I had run was the Roots ‘N’ Blues Half Marathon in September, which left me with a top women’s finish and a time of 1:30. Since that fateful day, I have found myself stuck with the “serious runner” stigma. Every time I would ask a running buddy to join me for a workout, I would almost always hear a resounding, “Sure, but I can’t run as fast as you.” Phooey! I had always just enjoyed running—no matter what the pace, what the race, or what the route. Had I really become a competitive, intimidating, race-mongering runner? In the soft spot of my heart, I wanted to say no. And I was going to prove it. As runners, we are always up for a challenge, right?

The True Life Run was my perfect platform. This film festival’s last priority is competition. The proceeds of the race went to the Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues Fund (helping out my fellow journalists!) and the Milton Margai School for the Blind in Sierra Leone. The online description of the course promised silly obstacles and “hair-brained” challenges. Oh, I could feel myself getting less competitive and more philanthropic/carefree by the minute. By the time I finished doing recon on the race, enlisting two of my Columbia comrades to join me in my fun-run endeavor was easy as pie.

As it turned out, among us we had a textbook representation of three distinct running characters—the rabid runner, the relaxed runner and the recent runner. For the last of these aforementioned typecasts, 3.1 miles was a barrier yet to be broken. More of a downward-dogging yoga lover than a miles-logging Vibram-wearer, this was to be her inauguration into the world of running. As she put it, “I always wanted to try a 5K.” Add some slight change to my, “I always wanted to run a sub-18 5k,” and you get a world of difference. The innocence of a running newbie is a thing of sheer beauty. My second recruit was one of my regular running buddies. She is fit, happy and the epitome of moderation. She is the one that I have the best, most relaxing conversation-filled 8-mile jogs with. She races for the sheer joy of running—and actually jumped on to the half marathon wagon before I did. She is the relaxed runner. And I am rabid runner. After those 8-mile jogs, I go do 200-meter sprints.

On the morning of the race, no matter what kind of runner you were on the inside, you were a cold runner on the outside. At about 15 degrees with 15 mph winds, I learned that even the parts of your body that do not have nerves (i.e. fingernails), can feel like they have turned to ice. The three of us got our packets and together, relaxed runner and I showed recent runner the magic of the timing chip and bib. There were about 80 runners in total, with about 25 of them in ridiculous costumes and one single man with a banjo. At this moment, I got that itch. I knew I could win. But if I won this race, would I be losing that bet I made with myself to just run a race for the fun of it? It came down to which kind of losing I wanted to do. Or as an optimist would put it, which kind of winning I wanted to do. My two friends couldn’t miss the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other as I suggested we line up at the front of the start line, instead of the back.  Prophetic-like, they both told me that I should try to win. Green light! Always keeping good running manners in mind, I assured them that if they wanted to run as a group, I would completely oblige (and I was sincere in this, pinky promise). This was recent runner’s day, her first race! Besides, it was more of an obstacle course than a 5K and therefore wasn’t even officially timed. I wrestled back and forth, angel and devil. I didn’t decide my course of action until the gun went off.

Banjos blaring, I surged forward—leaving my friends to their own race. I jump-roped, climbed parking garages and spurred through snow-mazes until 3.1 miles later, I was named “female champion.” The title almost felt silly. Yes, I had won, but that wasn’t the highlight of my race. Standing at the finish line, I waited anxiously. When relaxed runner rounded the bend, I was excited for her, but wondering where our other friend was. She told me that recent runner was still back at the last obstacle, the snow maze, and was well on her way. When I saw her and her Nike-clad feet turn into the homestretch, I cheered like a soccer mom. And I was as proud as one, too. I didn’t care that I had won, that was the furthest thing from my mind. My friend just completed something that she never thought she could do.

These are the real wins in races. Not the prizes or the place, but the perseverance. I would watch her “just finish” a million times over my own “sub-18 minute finish.” So maybe I didn’t have my own fun-run, but I learned a lesson in a different way. Getting caught up in our own goals and races and training sessions can really put a fog over what the sport we love is really about. Sometimes as runners, we need to watch someone else’s finish to put our own in perspective. 


Lauren Steele is a fleet-footed runner, a journalism student at the University of Missouri, and a guest columnist for the FLEET FEET Flyer.

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