On races run long ago and lessons learned at Penn

April 23, 2012
Penn relays website

of the past come into view this week

I don’t often wander off the topic of public relations and communications on Gregarious. But hey, it’s been a long winter, and here in Philadelphia it’s a special week. Penn Relay week, a time when the track nation comes together to renew old acquaintances, lie about times long since run, and celebrate the magic of young muscles still supple and twitching with speed.

In high school, I ran Penn every year, among seas of young kids, all anxious and eager, naive in our belief that our race held some greater meaning than that of the 20,000 other contestants. We readied ourselves in long lines that stretched out marathon doors onto Philly’s busy city streets. Stressing, hoping, praying that our run would end quickly and the pain would be lessened by the eyes upon us. It never was.

I ran just fast enough that the school itself took pity on me. Penn recruited me to run against the ancient brick walls of Franklin Field. And while I never competed as strongly or valiantly as I could or should have, I never forgot those races. And I trail back every April to reconvene. At the relays. On sun-drenched, brilliant days. Along with some 45,000 frothy track fans who obsess over the simplest of sports, where victory comes to someone whose only talent is placing one foot in front of the other.

Such pacing benchmarks my life. In April 1989, my son was born on Penn Relay Saturday. As a master, I once embarrassed myself, rupturing an Achilles during a silly corporate event at Penn, something I should have known not to contest.

And then, there are my daughters, fine runners in their own right. They gave me what Bruce Springsteen contends was his greatest solace in life: to see his kids walk the same streets as he had as a young person in Asbury Park after he moved back to New Jersey from L.A.

So this week, I will look out over the paddock at Penn. And I will watch as my child fights the doubts and uncertainties of Penn. They are the same monsters that haunt many of us over a lifetime. Am I fast enough?  Am I good enough? Will I persevere? And ultimately once the race is run, will I have achieved all that was possible?

Somehow, they all get answered in that 400-meter oval, touched by the greats, the goods, and those just pulled from history class to fill out a 4X400 relay. It’s all good training for life’s deeper questions.

So the trees on 33th Street in Philadelphia have greened again. The boys and girls of the relays are off and running. Most races will finish in less time than it takes to text a friend. But the lessons? They will forever linger.

I swear, it’s now back to PR and communications.

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Frank Freudberg
6 years 10 months ago

Hi Greg. What a great blog post! You do a great job of presenting a deeper, richer meaning of not only the Penn Relays, but also of personal commitment to excellence. I found your piece to be inspiring, especially the line that begins "And while I never competed as strongly or valiantly as I could or should have…" It makes me think about all those many times that I, as a writer, might have worked harder and with more spirit. Thanks for the thoughtful and insightful post.
— Frank