10 September 2008

Who Knew?

Would you recognize Robert Cheruiyot on the street? How about Ryan Hall? Or a past champion like Boston Billy Rodgers? (Past? No, always a champion in my book!) How about Salazar? Even having just seen him in both a Runners’ World advertisement and a commercial during the Beijing Olympics, I probably wouldn’t pick him out from a lamp post. OK, maybe a lamp post, but not a crowd. And these are the faces we know and have seen. On the race course they perform, then they put on normal clothes and vanish into the crowd. What about the more ‘normal’ runners? Would you spot them? The city has a million stories, and if you’re lucky enough, you just might catch one or two. If you only knew they were there.

Ordinary day, ordinary run this morning. Just underway, I was thinking about working my schedule to get that last long one in before the marathon – you know, the one that didn’t happen Sunday. About a half mile in, I pass an “older” gentleman whom I’ve seen walking the neighborhood in the past. Nobody you’d take any special note of, so I just toss out a simple, “G’mornin,” as I pass, as usual, which serves two purposes, the first being general pleasantries, and the second being myocardial infarction prevention when running past someone from behind. I get the usual, “How ya’ doin’” in response.

And it should end there. But Runners’ Tourette Syndrome is powerful. Don’t fight the force, Luke, just go with it, feel the power. So almost without thinking, I bark back not just the standard, “Pretty good,”, but also, “Four weeks till my next race.” This is, of course, a lie. My next race is Saturday, a local 5K with my local running buds, with local beer and local burgers and all that wonderful stuff and we’ll have a grand time. But Runners’ Tourette’s thinks only of the big things, because we want the world to know, but we won’t go so far as to actually tell them. We just drop the hint. Four weeks to my next marathon. But even I won’t say that, it’s just too, well, boisterous.

He gulps at the bait. “About time to taper down, then, eh? Which one are you running?” Whoa! It’s like a long fly ball to left, just outside the foul pole. Hasn’t changed the score yet, but sure makes you take notice. He knows about tapering down? He wants to know which one? Not, “What are you running?” but, “Which one?”

Runners’ Tourette’s has just scored! This guy opened the door, I get that chance to say, Marathon! Not just a jog around the block! As I’m heading around a corner, I shout back, “Wineglass, a small marathon in Upstate New York.” And that’s that.

No, it’s not. He sends the next pitch deep, way back, way back, over the Green Monster entirely: “That’s a great race!” he shouts back.

What? He’s heard of a 600-person marathon 350 miles from here? I mean, had I said, “Boston!” (yeah, never mind that it’s September), or even “Hartford!” and gained an ounce of recognition, well, that’s plausible. But this guy has heard of Wineglass?

I rarely stop on a training run. I’m stopped dead in my tracks, circling back. Game, set, match.

Turns out Claude is recently retired, going a little stark raving mad since he’s now got the time but can’t run due to a back injury and a foot problem. Turns out Claude was at one time a sub-3 hour marathoner and from the sounds of it has run at least 20 of them. Turns out Claude has some great racing stories: classic tales of mis-routed races, his pursuit of sub-3, the many different marathons he’s run. No, he hasn’t run Wineglass, but knows about it, and speaks well of it. (Gee, nobody in my running club had even heard of it.) Turns out he was just as pleased to get ten minutes to tell his stories to someone who would appreciate them as I was to sneak out the fact that yes, I run marathons. All this, contained in a discreetly wrapped package that you'd never suspect. Runners’ Tourette’s is a beautiful thing.

We probably could have shot the bull for a couple hours, but I had miles to cover and work to get back to. I’ll probably see him around again, but now his secret is out. A million stories, and some great ones too, if you only knew they were there.

Who knew?

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