March Madness has descended upon us as the joy of non-stop college hoops situates itself firmly between the end of winter and the beginning of spring! Even if you aren’t a fan of college basketball (men’s or women’s), or haven’t had much time to follow the ups and downs of the season, the tournament seems to bring out the fan in everyone. For those teams that earned their trip to the tournament, it’s a chance to showcase their ability and teamwork on a national stage. For the fans, it’s a final chance to cheer on their team, regardless of whether they are a #1 seed or a #16 seed. Outside of the excitement of cheering on my teams (Minnesota and Iowa State this year- Virginia Tech didn’t make the field (Men’s)/ Iowa State (Women’s)), the joy of the tournament is waiting anxiously for the upsets to roll through millions of brackets across the country (how many of you had Florida Gulf Coast in the Sweet 16?!). With each unexpected victory by a lower seeded team, the collective cracking of busted brackets can be heard throughout the land. In fact, we almost expect these upsets to happen. It’s no longer a question of if, but rather of when. At any given time, any player or team can shine.
This sense of parity is not unique to college basketball, however. The current winning streak by the Miami Heat, and the ebb and flow of the college football season is evidence of that. The Olympics always gives us yet another glimpse into the parity of athletics as well. Sure, there are plenty of dominant athletes and teams in just about every sport, but it seems like more and more, any team and anyone is capable of greatness at any time. Perhaps the idea of the “upset” is becoming a bit of misnomer?
All of these ups and downs got me thinking about parity in the running community. Now, when I toe the line for a race, it has nothing to do with a desire to win. Short of lining up by myself, I am always confident that there are plenty of folks faster than me. For me, that has no bearing on my motivation to run in the first place. I’m competitive with myself as I strive to improve, but I’m not making a living based on how well I run. Of course, I certainly wish someone was paying me to train all day! 🙂
Myself aside, the more I read running books and blogs, and more closely follow the more prominent races at various distances, the move I’ve taken note of the athletes involved. There have definitely been plenty of dominant athletes at every distance over the years. However, the number of races, coupled with the number of runners around the world, means there are always quite a few folks capable of pulling off the “upset” at just about every race. It also seems like I read more and more stories about “new” runners (code for “we’ve never heard of them before, but they’ve been running all their life”) pulling off incredible victories in races all across the country. With more and more people running more and more races each year, the parity in the sport seems to be on the verge of bursting at the seams.
In some ways, I think the parity in running goes beyond simply looking at who is capable of winning any given race. Part of the joy in running is the internal motivation that leads you to start running in the first place, keep training, and eventually sign up for your first race, no matter the distance. When I get to the start of any race, I’m completely in my head. I’m thinking about how to stay calm, not go out too fast, make sure I drink enough and take in enough nutrition, and motivate myself if I hit a wall. I’m also envisioning the feeling I get when I cross the finish line. Nobody is handing me a check, and they are giving out medals to more than three people, but it feels just as special. In that way, the parity in the running world is about more than the ever-expanding cadre of elite runners. It’s about the promotion of the sport that comes with the contagious reality of that unmistakable feeling each runner gets when they cross the finish line.