This morning was the last of Mary's Run, the 5k race held every year in our town to commemorate the early death of a young girl from cancer. This was the eighth edition of the race, and the last, as the scholarship fund set up with the proceeds, to benefit graduating seniors, has enough money to run into the foreseeable future.
It was pouring with rain as we gathered in the community school gym, three hundred or so of us, and then exited for the final instructions out on the road before the gun sounded and off we sped. It was a slow pace this year, no serious rabbits in the bunch. Still, the winning time was a respectable 17 minutes. I always like beating a few of the high school kids and then joking with the people manning the final chute about the location of the ambulance. "Right around the corner," they always say. "Keep on going."
My daughter asked me before the race what you get if you win. "A gold medal?" she asked. Then the older one said, "Yeah, but it's not real gold." Then why do it, they wondered, much more pragmatic in their wise young years than I, ostensibly the adult in the bunch.
I do it for the fun, supposedly, and it supports a good cause. And it makes me feel young. That's the important point, I think. The road race has become a continuation of communal rituals, like Morris dancing or religious parades, that used to make people feel part of something larger than themselves, something alive. We justify it as some sort of self-realization, bettering our performances measured in minutes and seconds, but it's got to be more than that individual goal. There's got to be something social going on that makes us come out in a rain and run around the town roads in a pack of heaving, sweating bodies.
It's especially fitting that these events commemorate someone young, whose death is not allowed to mark some absurd injustice but instead becomes a rallying point for health and wealth, the real kind that makes a place liveable and not just a random collection of shops and houses. I hope someone finds another cause to take Mary's place and we can have a race again.
(Photo by Kathryn Hayes, The Villager)