Due to some personal matters, I've been in a rather reflective state of mind these past few days. As part of this mindset, I've been thinking about some of my running. Not my performances but my inspirations. When I speak of inspirations, I'm not talking about anyone we might put in the category of 'running superstars'. (Which for the record for me would be Pre. I know so original.) I am talking about those people who have directly influenced me whether they know it or not.
First and foremost is my Uncle George. If it were not for the photo in his house growing up of him finishing the NYC Marathon, running would have never been a blip on my screen. In fact, he was the person who got me interested in sports. He taught me baseball and I recall the first football game I ever watched was the Fog Bowl in his living room. When I was a freshman in HS, he came to several of our championship XC meets. Never telling me he would be there but surprising me. To this day is is supportive of my running. It begins with Uncle George.
You could say that my coaches in school would be my next inspirations but you would be wrong. Yes, they helped encourage me to go out for the sport but their lasting impression is not so lasting. That is not say I did not have some good coaches. Just mixed reservations.
Next actually is my stepdad. He inspired me by telling me I couldn't do it. He wasn't been malicious when he said it. Far from it. He knew running was something I had a level of talent in and was really supportive of it. He also did what he could to make it possible for me to compete in 3 national championships during my HS years. Much of the man I am is owed to him. But that is way bigger than this posting.
While this next part may be a bit sacrilegious to some, I would collectively mention the Raritan Valley Road Runners. During my college years, I did not run for Rutgers but ran. And a lot of the people I met through the central NJ running scene were members of this club. Sure, during their summer series, as a founding member of the Middlesex Momentum, I wanted to beat the pants off their club for the overall title but the bounds formed by the post race BBQs were something I hold dear. Their many members became familiar faces for me and people I wanted to run like. Having a good time while running well. What RVRR showed me is something beyond running as they inspired and taught me the true social aspects of the sport. (Also, for the record, Gene Gugliotta from this group was barefoot running WAY before Born to Run came out. He inspires many of us in this area.)
Since leaving NJ, I have settled in Philadelphia where I have gotten the pleasure to be involved with the Philadelphia Runner Track Club, a collection of post-collegiate runners who performed at a level I wanted to push towards. From Ross Martinson to Ryan Fennell and Ted Callahan among others, I was in awe of what they were able to do from a performance perspective. Just being amongst this group was inspiring. To be surrounded by Olympic Trial qualifiers in the marathon and train with them, has pushed me to new levels. I would say that the big gains I have made as a runner is something I owe to this group.
One member of the PRTC, I would like point out specifically, Matt Byrne. Matt is the one person I can think about and say, 'he is the reason I trail race'. Much of my racing had been road based or some XC, but Matt was the first person I knew that was doing real competitive technical trail races. He was going all over the country. Trail racing began to pique my interest. Now for the past few years, I have been building a bigger and bigger portfolio of trail races. But I do not know what my relation to them would be without Matt. His performances at mountain racing just amaze and inspire me.
Last on this list from a running standpoint but certainly not least: Mike Dixon. Mike is a contemporary of mine. Not much of an age separation and we both ran together with the Middlesex Momentum and occasionally with RVRR. (Him more than I.) Because of Mike's inspiration, I now race ultras. Just hearing about his achievements caused me in look into the 'subgenre'. And that curiosity led me to taking the plunge. Of course, I fear having to race him head to head. This is clearly his wheelhouse. Plus, he is much more seasoned. Let me also give one more nod to Matt because without trail racing, ultras would never have been on the table.
There is one other individual, I want to take the time to note as a huge inspiration. In the 7 (or is it 8 now) years I have known her, she has gone from being 'just' a marathoner to being a world-class triathlete. I am speaking of the sole Canadian to make the list; Rachel McBride. She is truly amazing and to be along the ride (sort of speaking) to witness her growth inspires just not myself but others too. Of course this doesn't mean I'll necessarily do a triathlon but any thought I have given in the past or will give in the future is all Rachel. Granted she'd crush me head to head because I could never be in her class.
Those are my inspirations as I see them. Am I missing some, at a different point in time, I may say yes. But for today....these are ones who hold a place worthy to note. Remember this is about inspiration not necessarily those who are my supporters. That list....I could not give enough kind words to each and everyone of them. They keep me going strong.
Before I go, I must mention snowshoe racing and stair-racing are of my own zaniness. So I can't give credit for their inspiration but hopefully I can help inspire others.