Just one leg in the #RaceTogether

I used to think I didn’t like races. This bias was based on what I understand now were some prejudicial assumptions:

That racing was about winning.

That racers had to be masochists.

That races would estrange me from the love of the run.

Oh…did you think I was talking about a different kind of race?

Today Starbucks launched a much publicized and much criticized #racetogether campaign aimed at encouraging dialogues about race in “third spaces” such as their ubiquitous coffee house.

As I tried to understand my ambivalence about this initiative, my intrigue and my trepidation, I couldn’t help but think about the transformative effect the Baltimore Running Festival had on my preconceived notions about what the race was all about.

The Baltimore Running Festival has been called a race for the everyday runner. There is no large cash prize to draw the internationally competitive runners, so the last two years the race has been won by a local. It gives the race a much more community feel. Despite these positive vibes, I might have lived out my Baltimore days without ever running the festival…if I hadn’t been invited to join a relay team.

Dragon Boat Love.
Dragon Boat Love.

 The Baltimore Dragon Boat Club is a lively mix of good-natured folks. Dragon Boating emerged in China nearly 2,000 years ago and has become increasingly popular and visible on both coasts in the last two decades. 20 rowers, one drummer, one steerer, one boat, some water. It is a sport that lends itself to collective victory rather than individual glory. It’s about balance. It’s about synchronicity. But it is still about the race.

Dragon Boat Season ends on the East Coast in the early fall. This makes the Baltimore Running Festival a great transition into “dry land conditioning” over the winter months. So when a friend asked whether I’d be interested in joining one of four relay teams, I began to reexamine my original prejudices against racing.

 It wouldn’t be about winning.

 These goofy folks were decidedly NOT masochists.

 So, why not race and love?

I signed up. I trained a little. I bought a water belt. I pinned on a number for the first time. We bussed together. We raced together. We loved together.

Leg 2 survivors!
Leg 2 survivors!

As I came down Light Street into the Inner Harbor, I was struck by a number of things:

These crowds with the wonderful and ridiculous signs didn’t care who I was and knew I wasn’t going to win. But they cheered anyway.

Running hurts. Races are hard. People fall. People break. People have to quit. People have to start again. People may barely limp across the finish line. When you see someone struggling, whether you’re in the race or on the sidelines, you feel it. You want them to make it. If they can make it, you can make it.

All this time I never realized that part of what was holding me back was fear of not being race ready. Then I saw people who carried with them burdens I have never known. All body types. All stages of life. Not to mention all the burdens people were carrying that weren’t visible. Weren’t written on their bodies. Despite these, all were determined to finish.

Moving through that race, moving through this city that has been and will continue to be one of my great teachers, I was able to deconstruct (some of) my prejudices.

Moving through this reflection, I am able to deconstruct #racetogether.

Meaningful change and transformation happens in the tangle of ongoing relationships. It’s not quick or convenient. It is hard to capture in 140 characters…in 140 years.

The men and women I ran with that day are from diverse backgrounds racially, culturally, regionally, professionally…

Sometimes we talk about those things directly.

More often we talk about everything else that colors our lives.

 We run together.

 We limp together.

 We love together.

There’s nothing wrong with the idea of #racetogether if you understand it for what it is.

Just one leg of the race…

A very. Long. Race.

We can make it.

All four teams reunited at the finish line.
All four teams reunited at the finish line.
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