It’s a broad stereotype but I think there is a dramatic difference in the outlook and attitude of runners depending on where they line up to start a race. Those near the front tend to be more serious runners who are concerned with their splits and running to achieve a certain time. Those near the middle or back of the pack may be more recreational runners who desire to run with their friends, get a cool t-shirt, and are ok just finishing the race and making it to the food tent without injury. I have been in both categories and marvel at the difference in approach to running the same race.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in a 4th of July race that I ran with my uncle about 15 years ago. He is the type who speaks to everyone and cracked jokes, screamed, and cheered during the entire 10k. Rarely was there a moment of silence. Rather than get annoyed and either speed up or slow down to avoid him, the other runners joined in the banter. People made jokes about their training and outfits, discussed where they had found parking spots downtown, and even held a discussion about running with their dogs. This lasted at least a mile! There was a real sense of camaraderie and I could not help but think that birds of the same feather truly flock together. Like the V-shape formation of migrating geese is used to conserve energy and help the weaker birds, perhaps this group supported each other through the repartee. They contributed to the conversation because they needed support themselves. What a contrast to the front of the pack where the only sounds were breathing and the pounding of footsteps.*
In most parts of the United States, religion is considered a topic that “polite folks” don’t talk about publicly. It is seen as a private decision and the desire to avoid offending another person or proselytizing keeps honest and serious discussions about faith issues out of the public square. Those who feel comfortable expressing their faith are often labeled religious nuts and ignored completely. The challenge is finding the balance, that is, witnessing to one’s faith in a manner that is not condescending and is respectful to others. Why even bother? Simply put, a person of faith believes that their religion holds the keys to salvation and naturally wants to share that message with the world. Ideally, the faithful should assist everyone in finishing the race. It is hard to keep quiet when we know what is at stake.
*Where is the convergence between the serious runners and the recreational runners? It is as elusive as the line between the drunks and early birds at the “24 Hour Donuts and Liquor” store near my house.