Participant, Competitor, Fan, in Harmony. (and the cocky jock phases that preceded)

Nancy Kerrigan was the first athlete I remember pretending to be in our living room. I’d stare wide-eyed sitting on the floor watching her performance, and jump up pretending to triple salchow on the carpet. Then there was Kenny Lofton, Lisa Fernandez when softball went pro, Shannon Miller and at least one gymnast from each of the following Olympics, Misty and Kerri…

I’d beg my parents for any piece of gear with their name on it, rock screened tees with their faces blown to 10x life size, and shamelessly stand in autograph lines (only to inevitably become shy-paralyzed at the front) for ages to get the chance to meet my idols.

But somewhere along the road, it became “uncool” to be a fan of things that weren’t boy bands or cheesy big screen actors. High school probably, where all the best things in life became “uncool” – naps, the library, being single, hanging out with your grandparents, and bangs, to name a few. So I put my collection of idolized athlete memorabilia in a box under my bed, pitched the wall posters, and focused on being an athlete myself.

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from the glory days scrapbook

Back in high school, playing sports meant being competitive, and being competitive meant being an asshole. I went to a pretty small school, but we always had great sports teams and some righteous rivalries. The only things I was better at than sports were being cocky and shit talking. Pitcher death glares? Spikes up into second? Telling freethrow shooters I could see their polka dot underwear through their white shorts? Did it all. A lot of girls didn’t like me (shocker), including some of my own teammates, but sports were about winning, not making girlfriends! Who cares if the Firelands girls key my car on their way out to the bus? They just mad cuz I’m better than them!

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true: I keep this pic on my phone so I can re-read how I once was awesome when I’m not feeling so awesome

Each summer I played competitive travel softball, which served three purposes: 1) to not get fat and rusty over break 2) to be seen by college recruiters and 3) to check my outrageous ego a little. I was a mid-packer on a nationally-ranked team, learning how to scrap my way around to keep up instead of being the star. It was tough and not always pretty, but it was fun. Because we won, and winning is fun.

From there I went to college and had my first experience being on a bad team. Losing sucked, we sucked, and for some reason nobody really seemed to care. Going hard at practice brought resentment, dedication was confused with cockiness, and showing any passion garnered chuckles and “sit down, freshman!” Softball wasn’t fun anymore, and it wasn’t just because we lost so damn much. My competitive edge floated out the window as the team’s ambivalence took over, and I found myself giving equal amounts of fucks about winning, losing, and sport in general = zero. Do you know the only thing worse than hating something you once loved? Suddenly feeling NOTHING towards it.

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So my (realized or not) peer pressured self let the coolness of competition go the way of that rad Lisa Fernandez bat and beach volleyball poster hanging on my wall. I found other things to care about – school, internships, Brian – and didn’t step on a court or field again for many years. Sayonara, sports. Maybe we’ll meet again someday…

Somewhere around here I started running. Just to keep in shape and clear my head of all the upcoming graduation and “what am I doing with my life?” drama (<—- hahaha, irony.) When I signed up for my first half marathon in May 2009, I still didn’t think of running as a sport – old Competitor Sarah was still fully vested in retirement thankyouverymuch.

Around the beginning of 2012, just when I started training for the Eugene Marathon, I felt the spark come back. Not the death glare smackdown, “I won you lost” competitor I used to be, but something new.

I hungered for challenge, fed off improvement, got high off success. Good workouts excited me and bad ones gave me determination. I finally felt like an athlete again, but instead of facing opponents across the court or at the plate, the only one I was battling was myself. Is it really a game if you’re the only one playing? I never set out to run races with the intention to win – hello I’m not delusional – but once I realized how much victory could be found in my own sole performance it opened a whole new world of sport to me.

We could stop here, sign off as a real narcissistic look at my turbulent journey through sport and how I got to be the runner I am today. But where I meant for this post to go before straying off course is back to those young days of fandom. When running started being more than just exercise, I slowly fell more and more immersed in the community surrounding the sport – digitally and in real life. Fellow marathoners, newbies just getting started, people faster than me, slower than me, more dedicated than me. People who ran for fun and who trained like the Olympics were coming. And eventually, some people who actually were training because the Olympics were coming.

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with my training partner, Kristina, after her first marathon (CIM ‘12) – I’ve never cried at a finish line of my own, but shed some tears here

I’d found this seemingly never-ending support system to draw motivation, knowledge, sometimes empathy, and always excitement from that totally changed my attitude towards sport. Sure in softball every play has a winner or loser – the pitcher and batter can’t both succeed in an at bat – but in running, we can all win our own race. Case in point: Shalane got beat by six other runners in Boston, but set a huge PR and executed her race plan perfectly. Her 2:22 is the fastest American time for the course, and would’ve won every single year since 2003. No, she didn’t leave with the laurel wreath, but you’d be a real jerk to call that performance a total loss.

*sidenote: this is very much not a “you’re all winners!” pitch. I don’t agree with that way of thinking at all, but for adults past their prime who literally have 0.1% chance of being an outright winner at a race… I think you get my point

For everyone 1% of this communal mojo I take in, I feel it spilling out of me 50 times over. Never was that more apparent than while I sat glued to my computer on Marathon Monday for hours stalking, cheering, and heartbreaking for other people’s races which I had literally no direct connection to. The happy tears and chest bursting with secondhand pride would’ve seemed totally moronic to any non-runner, but I know everyone “in the tribe” has felt that exact same way before.

The point is, online or in person, training partner or celebrity crush, it feels cool again to be super geeked out about other people. To be a fan of the sport, and a fan of the people in it. Hang posters of your idols on your wall, stand in line for autographs, and wear someone’s name on your shirt like a total groupie. Your high school peer pressure isn’t working on me this time, universe.

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Oiselle Team clan posing with (then new) teammate, Lauren Fleshman at the Eugene Marathon expo 2013

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Oiselle’s calling it the “Rise of the Fan Girl” — I’m on board. I’m also definitely dying my hair back to blonde.

  • Who’s racing OC Marathon? Not running but looking to cheer? My cowbell and I will be at mile 11.5 near Upper Newport Bay – let me know if you want a yell or to join the fangirl’ing.

Sarah OUaL

** I’ve been blogging at Oiselle as the “Evolving FanGirl”, trying to shed some light on the professional side of running and how it can totally be a sport you participate in at one level, and follow like a crazed animal fan at another. They may not serve hot dogs and plastic cup beer at track meets (yet), but maybe someday those grandstands will be the hot tickets in town and ESPN will mention track & field more than once every four years. Anyway, related-but-random interjection slash selfish plug. **

How Can I Love You, I Don’t Even Know You

As someone who has never run the Boston Marathon, who doesn’t know first-hand the magic of Marathon Monday and the rush of the finish down Boylston Street, I sometimes feel “unqualified” to feel for the race like I often catch myself doing. No, I don’t have a connection to the city that those who have run it do. I can’t pretend to understand the cursories towards the Newton Hills or the elation the Citgo sign brings. I haven’t sat in anticipation during registration week wondering if my qualifying time was fast enough, or felt the camaraderie of boarding a flight at Logan International with dozens of people wearing the same jacket as me.

(I haven’t let myself daydream hard enough to decide whether I’ll be “one of those” people or not yet)

Millions of people have more of an earned love than I, yet I still feel a little piece of my heart is colored blue and gold. Why do I care so much?? Is this desperation or obsession – claiming to love something you don’t even know? The only other time I’ve felt this way was about Ben Affleck after Armageddon and come to think of it… if Pinterest is today’s taping Teen Beat pullouts onto you bedroom wall, then yeah actually this is kind of the same thing.

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“2 years ago” – have I been a delusional masochist that long?

Like many others, I set out after last year’s race with a renewed vigor to train hard, qualify, and stand at that damn start line in Hopkinton. I wanted to pin that “2014 Boston Marathon” bib to my race singlet, stick my fist in the face of last year’s terrors, and prove first-hand just how resilient and damn proud runners are.

My anger and scorn towards the 2013 attacks seems a little surface-oriented, since I was thousands of miles away watching from the safety of my office, well out of harm’s way of the bombing. But as I sat in front of my computer streaming the live coverage this year, just as I did last, I felt all those helpless emotions rise back up. Only this year instead of fear, worry, and concern for everyone in the city, I felt excitement, gutting disappointment, and long-awaited satisfaction.

Yelling at the screen hoping Meb could hear, “he’s closing! Keep pushing!!” Hearing the gun announcing the start of the age group waves. Crying when Shalane told reporters that she wished her best was better. Wondering what it really felt like to run an entire 26.2 miles packed with spectators, like a home stretch crowd the entire course. Seeing paces creep higher and higher late, worrying a million worries and hoping it was “just” that their legs were shot from the hills. Staring un-blinking at the live finish line feed searching for triumphant friends, swelling with happiness for them and even the complete strangers distracting my view.

And wondering what it’d be like to cross that line some day.

I realized then that while being a participant is obviously the highest of regards, just being a runner is so much bigger than it seems. This bond, the community – the one you see when a cramping runner is carried across the finish line by fellow finishers, when your Twitter feed blows up with hundreds of fellow virtual cheerleaders completely immersed in the event, when you care so deeply about someone else’s day it feels like your own – that’s fucking special. One of the most individual and lonely sports is surrounded by so much support the minute you look out from within, and it just blows my mind.

I don’t know if I’ll ever make it to Boston or not. Lord knows my stubborn side will give a few more hacks at a qualifying time – cursing the whole way I’m sure – but I’d be lying if I said it was my main focus. Yes, the allure is there, so much that I’ve put myself on a one week “holding period” to try and avoid any secondhand endorphin highs instigating decisions I might regret a few months from now. But I’ve had my share of ups and downs with this maniacal hobby, and through them I’ve learned that the relationships rooted in the miles are what matter most. The training partners, mentors, converted friends, all of you!, and mostly, the relationship I’m building with myself. While I think we’ve debunked the claim that running is the “cheapest” form of therapy, there’s no denying that the best place to find yourself is a few miles into a therapeutic run. And that’s what I want to focus on.

I know earning one of those Adidas finisher jackets doesn’t define me as a runner, that I’m no more or less a part of this community with or without one. But as I strive to keep bettering myself and maintaining these healthy relationships I’m rebuilding with running, I hope someday it does take me down a path that has an April stop in Massachusetts on the itinerary.

I’ll keep avoiding the jacket-on-the-plane theoretical scenario until then.

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If you’re wondering whether I ran in an obnoxiously “Boston from afar” outfit Monday anyway, Flat Sarah has been resurrected from the hamper to tell you, you’re fucking right I did

Sarah OUaL

“It’s Time” (christian bale batman voice)

“Do you want a beer?”

“No, I’m going running”

I wasn’t planning on running again last night, and actually I’m not sure what prompted the quickfire “no” to Brian’s beer-proposal, either. A beer sounded delicious. But I lost track of time earlier and missed Spin, and couldn’t find a yoga class with a teacher I liked, so if I was going to work out, an 8pm neighborhood run was going to be it.

I laced up, pulled on a dirty sports bra (laundry day), and since it was dark and, again, laundry day, some compression shorts. Aint nobody need to see 5’9” thunder thigh jiggle if they don’t have to. But under the safety of the moon, my hot pants and I headed out for a yet-to-be-determined number of miles.

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chicken is to the egg as stride shorts are to fast runs? I didn’t take the SAT

The first few steps were a little creaky and stiff per usual, and I waited a few more strides before deciding whether this was going to be a crapshoot and racked my brain for what I could blame it on: late night, no warmup, ran hard yesterday, fish for dinner, white socks… you name it, I had it ready for excuse doling. That old saying, “never judge a run by the first mile”? I really should start remembering that.

As luck would have it, my legs warmed up and turned over with ease, I felt light and springy and my breathing was freaky smooth. I waved at other runners and bobbed my head to my music. Garmin – we’ve rekindled our love affair but are taking it slow – beeped at mile one and I felt like I’d found that magical stride, where it feels fast but manageable. I suspect that’s what tempo pace is supposed to be, but it’s been so long since I’ve done a proper workout I can’t recall.

Another mile ticked and the fatigue started slowly creeping in. I still didn’t have a mileage plan but a few minutes later found myself at the 2.5mi turnaround.

“5 miles yesterday, 5 miles today? Might be pushing it… But I feel good… OH I LOVE THIS SONG!”

Without intention I kicked it up a gear, and again at the next mile split, and again one more time for the final stretch home.

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return of the garmin screen shot! rejoice!

I’ve been very hesitant in these past few weeks to read too much into good runs, thinking they were just a fluke and an injury set back could be just around the corner. That coupled with my overly-cautious “comeback” plan had me thinking it’d be 2019 before I finally got the balls to start pushing and really running hard again.

But with the positive progress I’m seeing from the body work with Dr Dreyer, and likely the couple pounds I’ve dropped (amazing the correlation between good food in=feel good on outside) I’m feeling great and maaaaaaaybe ready to start putting stuff on the calendar. Oiselle Team Camp is mid-August, so right now that’s my only focus – hello no one wants to get dropped in front of their idols – but if I know myself and Oregon running at all, I’ll be all hyped up and chomping at the bit for a big fall race.

Let the scheming begin. Where are you racing this fall? Any big-time recommendations?

Sarah OUaL