Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Kindness of Runners

When I emerged from the woods I started searching. I gave my water bottle a quick shake, frowned, and dropped an eff-bomb at no one in particular. The temperature hovered in the low 80s and hung there courtesy of the late summer humidity. Seven miles into a scheduled 12-miler, I hummed along at marathon pace but knew I still had work to do in the form of some serious climbs.

For the past two weeks, I detoured to the local pool, dodging the curious eyes of the lifeguards to duck into the bathroom to refill. But since Labor Day had come and gone, the pool closed and with it my refilling options.

With the knowledge of my depleted reserves, I became quite aware of my tongue and went to work expelling the white fluffs of spit that had built up at the backs of my cheeks and in my throat.

I hooked a left and started the first serious climb out of what Mrs. Onthebusrunning and I had cleverly dubbed “the pool neighborhood” (see paragraph 2 for explanation). I tried to focus on keeping my form neat, pumping my arms, and relaxing my shoulders…but all I could think was “WATER!” I scanned yards for sprinklers, kiddie pools, buckets of used car-washing water…anything!

I'd already given the "WTF" arms at one car, having to point to the "walk" sign, and didn't have much hope in my fellow man helping at this point. I let the thought of knocking on someones door quickly come and go.

Half way through the hill, with the false plateau in sight (the stretch that seems flat because of all the climbing, but really is just a less severe grade), I spotted him. A goateed man with a slight paunch and birkenstocks walking down his driveway, with…could it be…yes!...a garden hose in his hand!

The water seemed to spray from the nozzle in slow motion, like [insert summer beer commercial here].

“Excuse me!” I shouted to him. He looked up and smiled. “Would you mind refilling this for me?” I asked, trying to strike that balance between “I might pass out, you must help me” and “creepy desperation.”

He sprung to action. “Yeah, yeah! Of course. Hold on just a second,” he said. “I just turned it on, so let me get it cold for you.” He aimed the nozzle at the grass and let fly.

“How far you goin’ today?”
“Twelve,” I breathed at him. Sweat dripped from my arms and the back brim of my hat making small puddles on the ground. Had I seen it before, I may have tried to drink them. “Five to go,” I said.
“Nice! I was up to five every other day for a good while. Man, I miss it.”
“What happened?”
“Back surgery,” he said, shaking his head. “Now…” he trailed off and started patting the paunch. “I’ll get back to it soon, though.”

A fellow runner. Had to be given the gleam of excitement and exceptional willingness to help. It was so refreshing to *ah hem* run into one when lately it seems I’ve had to run more defensively, dodging cars not stopping at crosswalks, at lights before making right turns, or people simply walking three across the trail (can’t we share!?). And to finally have someone who gets it and not give me that, “I only run when I’m being chased,” line.

We traded a few more stories before he finally gave up on the hose. “Gimme a second,” he said, darting for the garage. He came back with a bottle of water, cloudy from the humidity. “Here we go,” he said dumping it into my bottle. “You want the rest?”

“Maybe just a sip,” I said playing it cool. I swished the cold water in my mouth and felt it travel the length of my torso after I swallowed. “Thanks,” I said. “Good luck. Hope you can get after it again soon.”

“Me too!” he said, as I turned and headed back to the task at hand, a smile on my face, a full water bottle, and a renewed faith in humanity.

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