The Jersey Shore is a hotbed of New Jersey running and it has been for quite some time. Our miles of scenic boardwalk, numerous trails through woods and along rivers and our wide roads through some of the prettiest towns you'll ever see makes running so much more than a form of exercise. It seems only fitting that our area in southern Monmouth County spawned the iconic "Spring Lake Five Mile Run".
The SL5 was unique in its concept even from the beginning. There were no age-group awards, the T shirt bore no sponsor's names on the back and the focus was always on fun as opposed to competition. While the aforementioned characteristics were planned, the race also benefited from decisions like simply switching the race day from Memorial Day Monday to the Saturday of that weekend thus insuring its title of the "unofficial start of summer".
There's a reason why the SL5 is called a 'run' rather than a 'race'. While a very small group of very skinny fit looking people toe the line looking to win, the vast majority of runners are running for the fun and experience of it. Many a person who is getting up at 5 AM February 1st to register is doing so based on a bet made during the Christmas holidays. It is not uncommon at all to see three generations of family members running together on race day.
I know of no other race that engenders the amount of anticipation as to what the race shirt will look like. From that design comes the logo on the pint glasses given to every runner along with a calendar. It's safe to say that if you visit a runner's home in our area and ask for your beer to be in a glass, it'll be from the race.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Spring Lake 5 is the precision and organization in it's staging. There are still some procedures being used from the first years but it's been an evolving process that is scrutinized yearly with an eye towards constant improvement. Some of the folks involved have either run it or worked on it since its inception and, in some cases, have learned the hard way. What's that old saying?? "Good judgement is the result of experience, experience is the result of bad judgement". I spoke with a runner after this year's race who was staying at the Essex and Sussex which overlooks the heart of the race. She had the unique perspective of watching the whole set-up transpire in the morning, took part in the race and after returning to her room, watching the complete break-down of the area to where Ocean Avenue looks like nothing ever took place. This transformation takes place in a matter of hours.
Next year will bring the 40th anniversary of the Spring Lake 5. I'm sure the race organizers are already planning a suitable commemoration for New Jersey's most iconic race. It's gonna be hard to top what they've come up with for the 39 SL5's be
The question will vary in its wording or in the context in which its asked but the message is the same, 'why'.
Let's begin by acknowledging the legitimacy of that question. Hell, if I wasn't into this stuff, I'd be asking the same thing. Why would someone put themselves through a grueling training schedule followed by an event that can literally bring you to your knees not to mention that the cost of these events has grown to sky high levels. Add the fact that when completed, there is no great reward or acknowledgment other than a medal, a T shirt and maybe a finishers certificate.
I've come to believe that people equate the legitimacy of any extreme endeavor with the reward. Let's say I was at a party having recently completed a marathon and I'm speaking with someone who has asked 'why'. I have two options. I can say "well, I find marathons to be a test of my commitment to push myself to the limits of my physical and mental capacities". Just try and imagine the looks I'd get after THAT spiel. My other option might be "well, I was at the reading of my uncle's will and when it came to my inheritance, my uncle's statement was 'and to my no-account nephew Jay, I establish a trust whereby a payment of $100,000 will be made to him upon the completion of any marathon he does. Maybe this will motivate him to get off his duff and actually accomplish something'. Now THAT would be an explanation someone would understand!
In actuality, it's not really an 'unanswerable' question as much as a question who's answers can't be easily understood. NOBODY is going to set a goal that requires months of training in often difficult circumstances followed by the actual event that you know will push you to your limits without reasons for doing so. Those reasons will often be the only thing that gets you out the door for a 20 mile training run in 15 degree weather knowing that if you blow it off, no body will be mad at you or find fault. It is only for those reasons that you DON'T blow it off. Being able to articulate those reasons to those that don't see things as we do is the challenge and quite possibly, no matter how well you state your reasons, they still won't understand.
Truth of the matter is that there are as many reasons for pushing ourselves in these sports as there are people doing them. We all have our own story that is unique to us and intertwined in that story are the reasons we do what we do.
I've gotten to the point where when faced with the "why would you subject yourself to that kind of commitment and pain" question, I respectfully say to that person "you wouldn't understand even if I told you".
As a footnote to this question of commitment and those that pursue it, congratulations to our own Lisa Caucino who turned in a great Boston Marathon performance. The race conditions were terrible and she had to train through one of the worst winters on record. Maybe she had a rich uncle that remembered her in his will but somehow, I doubt it.