Monday, November 1, 2010

Running into People

Running, like alcohol, can be the great equalizer.  Let me explain.  Just as a few beers can make us suddenly more social and perhaps remove that oh-so-puritan-filter, so too can running.  Take my running partner and I for example, by run number two (so to speak), we'd already dived into each others, err, daily evacuation schedule and how crucial this act is on race morning.

But, it translates in others ways as well.  I love that great epiphany when you're in a (insert forced-socialization situation here), and your ability to nod and smile is waning, when suddenly, someone utters something to the effect of, "I have to get my long run in tomorrow," or "Just tackled a 10K last weekend."  All the sudden, your interest is piqued, you swoop in, and next thing you know, you're breaking down paces, comparing interval workouts, and spouting whatever the advice du jour coming out of RW for that month.

I bring this up because I've had three synonymous encounters like this in the past week that have made me go, "Man, I really love the running community."

Mattie wins for most adorable dog.
Episode 1 - Taking on a particularly grueling hill workout (10x300m up Ox Hill...killer trust me), I jogged to a near stop on my downtime to see a an older gentlemen standing at the edge of his driveway, arms crossed, beagle at the end of a leash.  I've seen him before, but I identify him more by the white Ford Explorer in the driveway because this tells me it's time to start climbing.  We exchanged nods, and I turned to head back up the hill.  On my return trip, he was still at the bottom of his driveway.  He mouthed something, so I plucked the headphones from my ears and leaned in closer.

"Where's your dog this time?" he repeated, disarming me as I felt some slight irritation creep in at my workout's interruption.
"She doesn't do the hill workouts with me," I replied, heart rate returning to resting.
"You just running up and down this hill?"
"That's the plan."  
A beat.
"I see you out here all the time, you really are just killing it.  I actually tell a girl who works in my office about you, how I see you running up and down these streets everyday.  She's running a 10-mile race soon.  What about you?"

Consider me charmed. It's not everyday you find out you are the topic of a stranger's inter-office conversations.

"Training for the Boston Marathon, I guess.  That's the next big race I have."
"Lots of hills in that one, I hear.  This hill thing makes sense now."

And we went on like this for a few more minutes.  I returned to the workout with an extra tingling of adrenaline having known that someone was out there watching, and not just watching but getting it. 

"And I got to run with Ryan Hall..again."
Episode 2 - Last Thursday, my friend Sarah (new to the Loop, check her out) and I met up in D.C. to do a fun run with Ryan and Sarah Hall.  As I've had the fortune of running with them before, I'm lumping this post together.  Following a satisfying three mile run through the Dupont Circle area and a couple minutes of one-on-one time with Ryan, Sarah and I departed and went next door for some dinner.  With my dog, Mattie, along for the trip, we sat outside in a cramped little restaurant that didn't exactly inspire private conversation.  

Mattie turned on the charm to try and steal some of this man's pizza crust.  While I corralled her, the man leaned in and said, "So, what did you think of Boston?"  My eyes widened.  His wife, sensing my apprehension, followed his remark with, "Your shirt.  Your Boston Marathon shirt, honey."

"Oh," I said, smiling now.  "It was hard.  It was real hard!"
"Sure is.  I don't have the knees for it anymore, but I remember those hills.  What'd you do to qualify?"
"3:08:41 in Vermont.  No one told me until afterward that Vermont is the Mountain State."
"Ha!  I'll show my age here, but...I qualified when the standard was 2:50."
(Insert high-pitched whistle)

Sarah and I spent the next 15 minutes talking marathons with them until they paid their check.  What marathons he'd done, why he liked them, what were his favorites, should I do NY next year, what does he do now.  They walked out, two people we'll probably never see again, yet I felt like, through running, I'd gotten to be near friends with them in those 15 minutes.

"We all arrive at the starting line for different reasons, from different corners of world, but with a common goal in mind.  It's nice when we can take a few minutes (or miles), to share those stories with our fellow brethren."
Episode 3 - This past weekend, two of our running friends got married, and in our good fortune, we were sat at the "runners table."  Several of them I'd met at the recent bachelor party so the ice was somewhat broken.  This is a group that's been running together (and running marathons together) for more than 10 years.  

My wife and I were welcomed with open arms.  It was as if they'd been given our bios before the evening began.

"So, you're the one running Boston.  And you, you're the one who's running Philly this year.  How's the training going?"

No excuses had to be made as to why we were hydrating because everyone was.  Each person had their own long run to complete the next day, and there was no awkward, "Oh, no thanks...I have a run in the morning" excuse.  

Again, we swapped war stories from marathons past.  One guy at the table covered 28 states worth of marathons.  When asked what his favorite was, he said, "They all have their own way of being my favorite."  Ain't that the truth. Then he regaled us with miles in the snow of South Dakota where he got lost and added 6.2 miles onto his trek, how NY beat him up, the unexpected beauty of the Steamtown Marathon, and on and on.  

Beyond fast times and achieving PRs, these are the moments that make me appreciate being a runner.  You realize in these everyday exchanges that you are part of something larger.  

Nothing is reinforced like this anymore than being at the start or finish of a marathon.  My wife and I weaved through the exodus of Marine Corps Marathon finishers pouring over the Key Bridge yesterday. Some hobbled, some cried, others chatted as if it were a Sunday stroll.  We shared a knowing nod with them and offered congratulations as we went by.  We'd been there before and surely would be again.  

We all arrive at the starting line for different reasons, from different corners of world, but with a common goal in mind.  It's nice when we can take a few minutes (or miles), to share those stories with our fellow brethren.

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