Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Partner Up

It's a mystery how and why certain people come in and out of our lives.  I'm a firm believer in the notion that things happen for a reason.  Last Monday, during a bout of point-to-point Yasso 800s in my neighborhood, I kept leap frogging another runner on the main drag.  Immediately recognizing that he had some zip in his step, my first thought was to size this guy up.  Imagine my surprise when my legs started turning over a little faster and the pop that seemed to be sucked out by the oncoming humidity was suddenly snappy.

Perhaps deeming each other worthy adversaries, we finally stopped one another and began chatting, and it turns out we have a similar racing history, and more importantly, times.  We swapped e-mails, vowing to "give it a try," it being a training run here and there.  I mentioned earlier this week that I turned him down for a 10-miler this past Sunday, not wanting to rise early and slog through a double digit run after grinding out Saturday night's 5K.  Of course, I ended up getting out with my wife, but that's neither here nor there.  

What transpired was a Tuesday morning meet up at *gasp* 5:30 a.m.  The night before, feeling the strain of Monday night's interval workout, a small pit grew in my stomach.  Was it work?  Was it simply anxiety?  No.  I was actually nervous meeting up with him.  I had that back to school feeling in my stomach.  Sort of a nervous excitement.

I've put off joining a running group for some time.  For the last few years, I've used running as my own outlet, a way to burn off steam after work, or simply retreat into my head and have some "me time."  Even when I've tried to go out on group runs, I've gotten strung out, trapped between two paces, and end up running alone.  My dad has offered the racing advice of settling in with a group and letting them carry me along.  The only time I've pulled this off successfully was for about 10 miles during the Vermont City Marathon.  But, ultimately, I end up running solo.

Questions flooded my head while I laid out clothes for the morning (still running with the back to school theme here).  What pace will we run?  Is he going to run me into the ground?  What if I have an off day and have to walk?  At long last, I set the alarm for the dreadful time of 5:20 and let the exhaustion from the day wash over me and take me to sleep.

Until 1:30 a.m.  Then 2:30.  Then 3:45.  Then 4:50.  And finally, at 5:19, I decided that extra minute of sleep wasn't worth it.  So I slung my legs out of bed, popped in my contacts, pulled on my running shorts, and trotted out to meet my new running buddy.

The sun had just started to break.  It was still too dark for sunglasses, and somehow the air was still a little thick.  I rounded the corner and saw a figure leaned up against the lamppost in the classic calf stretch position.

We shook hands.  "Ready?" he said.
"Sure." (beat) "You thinking 5?"
"Five sounds good."
"Cool.  You got a route or you want to do one of mine?"
"Let's do yours.  I'm bored with mine."

We set out up the hill and onto the main road to face the armada of garbage trucks together.  The pace came easy and we fell into an even cadence.  The conversation flowed like our strides did.  And the funny part was, there are patches of the route I can't even remember.  In fact, five miles has never past so quickly.  We chatted the entire time about our running, about jobs, family, upcoming races, and finally, what time to meet up the next morning.

When we got together today, the conversation continued to flow; however, I felt I was having a so-called off day.  Combining long days at work with less sleep is not my kind of recipe for a good run.  But as we ticked off the miles today, I finally got what my dad had been talking about.  I simply fell in with my partner and let him carry me the final mile-and-a-half.

I huffed to the finish then wished him luck on his 10K this weekend.  

"We've gotta race together," he said.
"It could be dangerous," I said.  "If we're pacing each other, that's some serious age group damage."  
He laughed.
"We'll just start running races and cleaning up the prizes.  We're in different groups right?  I'm 30."
"I'm 29 until next March."

And so, we broke there.  For now.  He continued down the main street and disappeared over a hill, while I turned left to head back to our townhouse.  

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