What I love about the Falmouth Road Race

Submitted by Nancy

Event: Falmouth Road Race
Date: August 10, 2008
Weather: Sunny and warm, light breeze
Miles: 7
Course: The race begins in front of the Woods Hole Community Center, near the drawbridge on Water Street. The first three miles are narrow, hilly, winding tree shaded roads, while the last four miles are open on the flat right next to Martha's Vineyard Sound.

Our bodies know they belong; it is our minds that make our lives so homeless.
      John O'Donohue

What do I love about the Falmouth Road Race? I love that it is overflowing with joy. Yes, really. That's what it feels like to me. From the moment we arrive in Woods Hole. One of the first things we see is a man playing an electric piano and a woman singing the blues on a microphone from their second floor balcony. They are serenading the racers as we arrive. The couple is oozing with joy and they are sharing it with us. I feel it. The singing duo is our first introduction to the people of Woods Hole, giving us a hint about how some residents feel about the race. You know, they could all be out of sorts, angry that 10,000 runners have besieged their community, stopping traffic and any normal activity in their tiny town for an entire morning. But I don't think that's the case. I get the feeling they are proud to welcome us to Woods Hole.

Races kind of freak me out, especially one I have never run in. I am anxious as we wait amidst thousands of others for the race to begin. I feel like I don't belong here with all these REAL runners, skinny fit people decked out in their matching sleeveless tanks and running shorts and Adidas shoes. I feel like an imposter. But if I were to catch my reflection in the harbor waters I might notice I look a lot like everyone else. Actually, I have proof that I do. My racing bib has MY name on it - Nancy Sporborg, # F4615! I love having our names on the bibs. I am so tempted to call out people's names - Hey George, how are you? Kathy, good to see you! Tabitha, it's been forever! -- but my anxiety keeps me reserved and quiet. Maybe everyone else is anxious too...maybe I just manufacturer this anxiety around a false sense of difference to keep myself apart from everyone else - to protect myself.

We stand in line to go to the bathroom. There are port-a-potties everywhere. Huge long banks of them. But here's the problem. Pat and I arrive in Woods Hole two hours before the race begins, like many others. Everyone wants to go to the bathroom, and everyone wants to go at the same time - right before the race. The port-a-potty lines stretch down streets and around corners. But we meet some really nice women in the potty line who share their past experiences in the race and give us some tips about the course. I am touched by their support. It feels like a sisterhood has just been formed. Now Pat and I have four women friends in the race of 10,000 and we don't feel quite as alone.

We fly out of the port-a-potties just in time to hear a horseracing bugle call signifying the race is about to begin. We join the masses with the purple bar on their bibs signifying the slowest runners. We can't even see the start line from where we are. We hear the starting gun and imagine the elite runners from Kenya taking off. There are staggered starts, so we start 10 minutes or so after the official beginning of the race. All I know is the sea of people in front of us begins to move and Pat and I follow. Helicopters are buzzing overhead and music is blaring from speakers all around us, pumping us up. We are off. We cross the start line but we are still in a very congested group of runners, pacing ourselves so as not to step on the heels of the runners in front of us. Eventually it loosens up a bit, but for the entire race we have runners all around us. I am surprised at this. Other races I have run in eventually free up and I can run my own race. But today the entire race remains congested requiring us to carefully negotiate around walkers and slower runners, while many others are negotiating around us. Looking back, I see only the beauty of being a part of something larger than myself, happy to be among instead of alone. This race is truly a race we run together...we are one. We are all the same.

I am still trying to deal with my anxiety when we crest the first small hill coming out of Woods Hole. What I see blows me away -- a half-mile stretch of road pulsating with runners, throbbing with vitality. I immediately whoop with glee. Even my uneasiness can't hold me back, it's too awesome a sight and I erupt. The race, that I am part of, is a ribbon of life running from my feet all the way around Nobska Light House. It is so exciting to be one person in something this big. I feel a sense of belonging that reaches way down deep in me and tugs hard where feeling lives, loosening my reserve, breaking down some of my unnecessary protection.

The race spectators are awesome! The road is just packed with well-wishers, lining both sides of the street. There are people clapping and ringing cowbells the whole seven miles. Supporters are holding signs for their loved ones or their favorite charity and shouting encouragement to all of us -- Looking good! Great job! Way to go! Residents are spraying water from garden hoses on racers, cooling us off. There is a man playing the banjo, another guy further along playing his guitar and singing. We pass home speaker systems blaring bee-bop music, and people cheering non-stop. There are lots of children with their hands out to the runners, hoping for high fives. I just can't resist and give as many high-fives as I can. The sun is out, the skies are blue, and we are running right next to the ocean. What a feeling!

As we run by the Flying Bridge Restaurant we see Kelly, my daughter, and Don, my husband, cheering and clapping as we run by. It's so cool to have our own personal cheering squad! We have a mile and a half to go and I know we are going to make it. As we run up the last steep hill, I consider walking. But I just can't let myself do that. I am incredibly thankful to see the huge American flag that signals the finish line. Pat and I cross the finish line, placing 7,279 and 7,280 in the race, out of about 10,00 runners. YES! We high five, hug, and walk onward, toward our bottle of water reward.

I love writing these reports because it seems that if I ruminate long enough, I find some buried gem that expands the experience into something deeper and bigger for me.

Back to the anxious feeling of not fitting in. The people in Woods Hole and Falmouth, as well as the officials running the road race did everything in their power to show me I fit in, from transportation to the starting line and a bib with my name on it, to cheering me on every step of the way, and providing bottled water for me at the end of the race. If I am looking outside for validation that I fit in - I have it. So the uneasy feeling that I don't fit in comes from inside of me, even though I have no evidence it is true. Huh...I am my own worst enemy sometimes. Really, why do I do that? Rather than choosing to celebrate the ways I fit in, I let myself feel different. When I really think about why I do that, I realize that focusing on being different provides me with an imaginary boundary that keeps me away from other people. But I am not different. I have a heart and lungs and running shorts just like everyone else. And I have the desire to run 7 miles from Woods Hole to Falmouth Heights in this race and I have an official bib. That's all I need to fit into the Falmouth Road Race. If I could let myself know that at the beginning of the race, I would have way more fun!

But there is an even deeper message in this for me. Yes I fit in because I run, albeit very slowly. But in a broader sense, I fit in because I am a human being. We all fit in because we are human. We are all the same and we can either choose to celebrate all that we have in common living together on the same planet, or we can put our differences first and foremost and stay apart, disconnected and alone. We can make our differences so important that we never venture outside of them, or way worse, hate, even kill to protect them.

But here's what I know -- every human being wins when we put aside our differences and focus on all we have in common. Every human being wins when just one of us rises up and meets a challenge, or when someone overcomes difficulty, or when we participate together in a celebration of life, like the Falmouth Road Race. Think about all the good karma generated by the 10,000 runners, 2,000 officials, 75,000 spectators and all the Woods Hole and Falmouth residents. Did you feel all that positive human spirit rippling your way last Sunday? We all fit in, we are all the same and that is what connects us. When we figure that out, our lives will be more full of love and the world will be a kinder gentler place.

Next year my plan is to run the race knowing and celebrating the fact that I fit in - that I belong in the Falmouth Road Race. Until then, I will celebrate how good it feels to be a part of the human race.