Last week, over 130 members of the Oiselle community converged on the Chicago marathon. While many of those 130 came to run, almost as many came to cowbell – transforming Mile 17 of the famous course into a living illustration of the power of community.
I didn’t run that day. While the marathon is certainly my drug of choice, I was there to meet the team, learn from our Chicago community, and pick up everything our birds came to throw down that fateful Sunday.
Standing on the corner of Mile 17, shaking that cowbell, watching runners work their way through the unique hurt of that leg of the course … I learned a few things.
So with that, I present to you, 17 Lessons From Mile 17:
1. There is no such thing as a ‘runner's body’. A three-hour marathon is represented by a huge range of body types. So is a 3:30 marathon. So is a four-hour marathon… and a five … and a six. Different ages, genders, heights, weights, ethnicities, nationalities, and more show up at all paces and places on the course. There is no runner’s body. If you run, and you have a body, you’re it.
2. 100 cowbells on a dog leash sound awesome. If you ever have the chance to leash up 100 cowbells and shake them as hard as you can, I highly recommend it.
3. Women are strong. Very strong. Physically strong. Emotionally strong. Strong enough to help themselves through their own pain and suffering. And strong enough to simultaneously shepherd others through theirs. To run together is to woman up.
4. Quitting is very real, and very scary. Mile 17 is a place where the pain of the distance, and the desire to finish, begin to spar. Where hurt meets want. Often, hurt wins. To watch people quit at mile 17 is to relive all the times in your life you’ve quit something. It is very human, very familiar, and very frightening.
5. Persisting is (also) very real, and very scary. I can say confidently, from standing at that corner, want is the reigning champion of that duel, and 9.2 miles is a long way to go.
6. BQs are BS. I know, it’s easy to say that if you’ve run one. But I saw so many incredible performances on the course that day that were experienced by the performer as a failure – only because they didn’t hit a somewhat arbitrary time defined by the folks at the Boston Athletic Association. Goals are so powerful. But perspective is too. It’s okay to be proud of progress, or the bold act of toeing the line and trying your abilities. I’m certainly proud of everyone I saw on the course that day. Keep doing the work, and your day will come. Also remember that legend has it, the first bro who did it died. So yeah, self-five for surviving.
7. Be inspired. There are few things as inspiring as watching someone complete their first marathon. Or PR. Or finish a tough race.
8. The distance between expectations and reality can be an uncomfortable place. Try not to travel it alone. Share that experience with your teammates and friends. They will help you break it down, and begin the process of building you back up.
9. Take pictures. Your future self with thank you. A plane full of people who must listen to you laugh until you cry on a flight home to Seattle, may not though. #notsorry
10. Laugh. Laugh like Erin Kelly actually. The universe needs more joy echoing through its chambers.
11. Energy is a force, and it’s contagious. Put yours out there deliberately. Place yourself among others with the same degree of intentionality.
12. Everyone does team differently. Some attend all of the events in person. Some tweet from the sidelines. Some race in the singlet. Some race in Spandos. Some shout from the rooftops. Some shake a cowbell, or sport a sign, in silence. However you do team, is the right way to do team.
13. Listen. Be open to feedback. Listen hard, and take it all in. But be wary of, someone else telling you how to ‘do you’. As the Dude famously said- “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
14. Be brave. Say yes to running with people faster than you are. Say yes to running distances that make you uncomfortable. Cool stuff happens in those moments of vulnerability. Bravery is a muscle – keep it strong with continued use.
15. Make your own movement. Don't wait for someone else to start the party. Pass out cowbells. Get people pumped. You are your own personal hype train. Rally your people and let that thing leave the station.
16. Hardship forges friendship. Friendships are built over early mornings, long days, hard work, and tough circumstances. 5am alarms. Trips to the emergency room. The moments when few things are going well, or according to plan. Be thankful for adversity - friendships are often the lasting outcome.
17. Mile 17 is a metaphor. For every time you’ve wanted to quit, but kept going. For every time you’ve shown up for yourself, or for others. For the power of friendship, and community. For the sisterhood. For feminism. For the transformative power of sport. I’m so grateful to have been able to learn these lessons and share this experience, with all of you. Thank you for teaching me so much.
Head Up, Wings Out.