Sunday, December 19, 2010

Running - a team sport??

One of my favorite things about running is the solitude.  I know some people are social creatures that enjoy a good kibitzing while logging a couple miles.  I’m not one of those people.  I cherish the alone time.  It’s the only time of my life that no one is talking to me, questioning me, telling me to do something, or telling me what I did wrong.  It’s my time to clear my head, daydream, tune out, sight-see, and mentally recharge.  Last month when I started running with friends at work, I was like a fish out of water.  I’m used to being alone.  Suddenly, I had to learn the etiquette of running with others.  I never expected to have to deal with this since one of the best parts of running, in my opinion, is that it is not a team sport.  Somewhere along the line, I started to enjoy the company.  As it turns out, it didn’t turn me into one of those kibitzers and didn’t slow me down.  It prompted a little friendly competition and I actually started looking forward to our club runs.  Slowly, I’m converting into a social creature (against my wishes, naturally).
                Today I had a goal of running my 8 mile loop.  It’s been a while since I did this loop and I figured I better get it in before we get snow.  Most of the day went by and the sneakers remained locked in the closet and I stayed tucked into my bed watching CSI on TiVo.  Maybe what I needed…say it ain’t so…was a little social motivation.  I threw a text over to my friend Ron, a running buddy of mine.  He’s a pretty busy guy and I knew with 98% certainty he wouldn’t be able to meet me for a run.  But by throwing the offer out there, I felt like I had at least attempted to run.  My excuse tomorrow would have been, well I had asked Ronnie to run with me and by the time I heard back it was too late so I just stayed home and ate leftovers, in bed.  To my astonishment he not only agreed to meet me for a run, but named the time and the place.  I was locked in.  There’s no getting around it now.
                The place Ronnie picked was Lincoln Woods in Lincoln RI.  This location is a distance runner’s dream.  There is a winding, hilly 2.5 mile loop that circles a lake.  It’s scenic and the hills are challenging enough to get the legs working hard but they are also short and forgiving.  The best part about it is you can choose your own distance.  Only have time for a short run?  Go around once.  Feel like pushing yourself?  Just keep going around in circles until you collapse at your car.  Take one guess which option we took…
                Ronnie and I suffer from the same condition:  A bizarre euphoria that occurs when running to the point of exhaustion.  Still, we agreed at the beginning of the run that we were going to keep it really slow, chit-chat, and just enjoy a casual winter run.  The 2.5 loop was a perfect option as Ronnie was suffering from a nagging leg injury and I was suffering from the effects of 1+ bottles of wine from the night before.  The run was just as planned.  We started with a slow pace and spent the whole loop catching up and telling stories.  We passed a handful of walkers, rock climbers, and bikers.  The loop went by so quickly, and I couldn’t help but notice that our pace nudged up a little faster the further we ran.  As we approached the parking lot, we didn’t even acknowledge the cars, and headed towards loop number two.  5 miles, that’s a good distance for today considering I’ve eaten nothing but a half cup of cottage cheese all day.  Considering I was going to lie in bed all afternoon.  Yeah, 5 miles is perfect for today. 
                Loop number two passed even more quickly than the first.  Our speed increased, we were in a good rhythm, and the stories just kept flowing.  We passed more runners and walkers.  Some were the same we had seen in the last loop, some were new.  We passed a lady with the same little tiny dog and commented on how she hadn’t gone more than 200 yards since we passed her 2.5 miles ago.  We speculated that maybe she needs a dog with longer legs.  The hills that were a little challenging last time were a little more painful this time, but we distracted ourselves with more stories and chatter.  At one point Ronnie said, “Running with you is like running with a little pony”.  He’s a real charmer.  As we were nearing completion, I casually mentioned that I would need to tighten my shoelace before continuing on.  We paused, I adjusted my sneaker, and just like that… we headed towards loop number three.
                By loop number three, we were in strong running form and very much in synch.  We make a nice running pair because we both seem to naturally adjust our speed, and he commented on how I’m the perfect running partner.  Take that, Todd.  Our stories became less frequent and we both ran in silence a little more than the last two laps.  But always, when we came near a hill, we picked up the conversation again.  It became our survival guide, and it worked.  Before we knew it, we had climbed another hill.  At this point, some of the same people now smile and chuckle when they see us passing them for the third time.  We didn’t say as much, but I’m pretty sure Ronnie was thinking the same thing I was.  Yeah that’s right, we are hardcore distance runners.  Hardcore, baby. 
                Finally, as we headed back to the parking lot after completing 7.5 miles, I thought to myself: We should keep going an extra quarter mile out and back to make it an even 8.  Just as I was about to suggest this Ronnie beat me to it by saying, “What do you think, one more?”  I didn’t hesitate.  Loop number four commenced.  We agreed though that if we were going to do one last loop, we were going to have to at least take it slow.  We slowed down considerably, and I couldn’t help but notice how many cars and come and gone from the parking lot in the time we had gone around and around and around.  This made me happy.  We have outrun everyone in the park at this point.  We continued onto loop number four in more silence, our legs a little heavier this time around.  We passed a couple of the same people again, who at this point must be convinced we are lost or delusional.  The hills were most certainly bigger this time around, and I commented that my legs were hurting making the climbs, although I also noticed that our pace had nudged back up again.  He agreed, and said this was definitely his last loop.  He would never have been able to finish a fifth.  We finished the fourth loop and my Garmin watch clocked us at 9.75.  We figured we should round out to an even 10, so we’d just trot a little past the cars and turn around and trot back.  Then I said, well…why don’t we just run the last quarter mile out, then we’ll walk back a quarter mile.  So it will be 10 miles of running and a quarter mile cool down.  It was settled.  We passed the cars for a fifth time and marched on the final quarter mile.  My body sprang to life with renewed energy and our pace increased once again.  At the 10 mile mark, we stopped.  It was over, and we high-fived to acknowledge a good run.  But I couldn’t help but wonder, what would have happened if he didn’t stop at the 10 mile mark?  What would my response have been if he said, “One more?”  I didn’t have to speculate.  And I’m pretty certain that despite our drained legs, if I had offered “one more” to Ronnie, I know what his response would have been.  This is the benefit of running with a friend.  But for the wellbeing of our legs, we better not start our runs in the morning.

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