Yesterday I ran my fourth Philadelphia Broad Street Run which is a 10 mile race through the streets of Philadelphia. I had decided not to run this year because the organizers had made the race a lottery with so many people trying to enter it. There's around 40,000 people who run the race and this year was no exception. With my mind set on other races, I decided that I did not want to run Broad Street and deal with a lottery and then the Boston Marathon bombings happened.
I admit that I became swept up in national pride. I wanted to run Broad Street, wear my red socks, and help raise money for a charity. Within 12 hours of my posting an "Anyone know how I can get into the Broad Street Run?" message on Facebook, I had my bib to get into the race and a spot on a bus that took me down to Philadelphia and back.
What I saw in yesterday's race gave me hope. I saw thousands of people wearing red socks in memory of those injured and who died in Boston along with people wearing shirts representing major charities. I also saw people out in throngs in North Philadelphia standing on the corner giving high fives to the runners as we went by. One black woman, in her 60s, stood on the corner breathing oxygen from tubes under her nose. She wore Mickey Mouse hands and gave high fives to people as they passed. I saw many such things that choked me up as I ran, but the biggest heart wrenching moment for me had to be running past one of Temple University's medical buildings.
I heard runners ahead of me on the left starting to clap and cheer, but I couldn't see what they were cheering for so I ran faster and then saw a nurse standing next to a boy in a wheel chair. He was bundled up in light blue hospital blankets and had tubes all round his nose and mouth. He did not seem to be able to speak, but he watched and, in his way, cheered us on. Tears came to my eyes and I just kept running knowing that I still had 7 or 8 miles yet to go.
I could tell many stories about Broad Street, but want I most wanted to share with you are some data and to share with you my "secret" to success. Below are my times for the last four years I've done the Broad Street Run:
2010 Time: 1:50:37
2011 Time: 1:41:02
2012 Time: 1:37:10
2013 Time: 1:35:19
That's four years of me running, training, getting injured, coming back and trying again. Those times represent hundreds of hours of running, pushing myself harder to be stronger, faster and a more efficient runner. But for me, running is a symbol for living life. Running takes practice and hard work. Running is also not always a straightforward progression. If you were to look at the data above, you might simply see how I have become faster over the last few years. And, yes, I am extremely happy that I can continue to become a faster runner.
What the data do not show though is the real story: I have also run races in which my times were worse than the year before. I have run half-marathons and two marathons. Several of those half-marathons were extremely difficult races and I did much worse than my previous year. But I don't give up. I work harder, practice more and try again.
To me running is a great way to look at much at what I do in life: I run, write novels and work extremely hard in all I do. I am driven to succeed. Not for money or power (though it's nice to pay bills!), but to become a better person.
If you are at a spot in your life in which you are facing a problem (or a whole host of problems), they can be overcome. You can succeed, too. How? It's simple, but not the answer that you might want.
Hard work, determination and practice are the tools I have used to succeed. And if you're about to hit the back button and shake your head in frustration, think on this: I am 42 years old. I only started running back when I was 37. I went from only having run 2 miles once in my life to now having run two marathons (and a whole bunch of other long distance races). Does this make me special or better? No, it doesn't. The success I have achieved has come from working hard and surrounding myself with good people (loved ones and solid, trusting friends).
And when I fall, as I have with running and in life, I get up. You can get up, too. What it takes to succeed is simply believing that you can and then taking that first small step. No matter if your goal is to run, write, lose weight, or whatever it all starts with believing in yourself. The next step is trying and failing then getting up and trying again. For me, I have friends who can support my successes in running and be supportive when I'm injured. We are not alone and if a sick boy in a hospital can ask his nurse to bring him outside so that he can cheer on runners at a race or an older woman with Mickey Mouse hands also breathing from an oxygen tank can give free high fives at a race when it might be easier to sit at home on a sofa, then I can see my dream and follow it. I ran yesterday and did achieve a personal record for a 10 mile race, but I could have easily not have achieved that record. In the end, it's all about hard work and perseverance. Might not be much of a surprise, but that's what it takes to succeed. No magic pill or special secret. It's what we have inside. It always has been.
Ron Vitale is the author of the young adult fantasy novel "Cinderella's Secret Diary: Lost" and a runner since 2008.