17 November 2012

I Know Everybody!

One of the best aspects of the running community is that it is truly a community. Most runners are highly social beings, and within a certain radius that tends to expand the longer you run, you find that you have a good chance of either knowing that runner you see heading down the street, or have enough common running friends that it’s easy to enter their circle. It’s like LinkedIn without the hassle of spam and invitations from people trying to sell you insurance.

Better, even if you don’t have any common connections, typical runners generally won’t care if you join their parade; indeed, they’ll welcome the company and invite you into their mobile coffee klatch, resume unseen. When I came back to the sport this was one of the first good memories to come rushing back, and now, years later into that expanding radius, it’s truer by the day.

With a big race tomorrow, yesterday’s plan was easy miles, and so it was, at least for the first two. With that widening radius, it was really no surprise yet still an unexpected pleasure to have run into a favorite training buddy. Hey, like the title says, I know everybody, right? Serendipity struck, we linked up, and so much for easy miles! We hammered the next six at a hard tempo pace (midway through meeting yet another club friend, we know everybody, right?), at least until we backed it off a bit on the final hill. I may pay for this in tomorrow’s race, but who can refuse the mutual drive that partners like him offer? And there was more to come.

Less than sixteen hours later, having foregone the usual Saturday morning local club donut run in order to transport Darling Daughter the Elder to a school function, said school being twenty miles away, I was debating the morning’s strategy. Run from the school (being dressed and ready to go), then wait, mildly damp, till she was done? Drive home in-between, wasting an hour and fuel but having the option to sneak in the run and shower? Or just hang out with a good book in a coffee shop, knowing the afternoon’s slate might make getting the run in a little tricky? None seemed optimal.

Like manna from Heaven, the answer was given. Navigating Worcester just a mile from her school, we started passing voluminous clumps of runners out for a casual Saturday morning slog. As we drove by I scanned for familiar faces without obvious success, but I had a suspicion of who they were. To Darling Daughter, wondering if I really knew these people, it was easy to say in jest, “Sure, I know who they are, after all, I know everybody!” I didn’t really know if I knew them, but I knew it would be easy to know them. Seven and a half years of running will do that to you. Now the choice of when to fit in my run was easy. Drop daughter, run from school, find runners.

A half mile from the school I found them, turned onto their route, and started having a ball. Chatting up the first guy I met, my suspicion was confirmed that this was indeed the training group out of the Worcester Central Branch YMCA that I’ve known of for a few years since they sent a large team to my local club’s Wolves 10K a couple years back. This isn’t your typical Couch to 5K program, it’s a Couch to Marathon, and it succeeds. These folks aren’t fast, but they sent forty-two people to the Marine Corps Marathon three weeks ago. I’d guess that was a significant chunk of the group, almost all of whom tackled a major race this fall. Impressive on all counts.

I proceeded to hopscotch forward, gabbing a few minutes with individual runners or groups, then moving on to the next batch, getting great stories and making connections along the way. One lady had just completed her first marathon, experienced the not-unexpected dread that she’d made a big mistake somewhere around mile twenty, persevered, and a few weeks later was already revved up to do it again. Another turned out to have worked for my daughter’s school and had a niece there who, as luck would have it, parks her coat every day in the locker next to Dearest Daughter the Younger. More proof: it’s not just me, she knows everyone too!

My plan was to hang a right and head back – after all, there’s that race tomorrow and while this was an uber-relaxed pace, I had no intentions of great distance – but said plan was foiled, having linked up with about the sixth group, this time three ladies, two of which (if my memory serves me right) had run our Wolves race. Jabbering away, the planned right became a left, and before long I found myself at the Worcester Y, the termination and gathering point for those finished with the mobile portion of the coffee klatch. My three companions-of-the-moment quipped to their gang that they’d picked up a boy, a rather amusing thought that I hadn’t heard come my way in, oh, decades? And there in that gang was none other than their leader Andy, who did in fact know me from our team-captain-to-race-director chats from that Wolves race. I was greatly amused at the thought that what I’d said to my daughter had pretty much come true.

After a few minutes of friendly chit-chat, I extricated myself before they proceeded to the sit-down phase of their coffee klatch, knowing that without a cent on me I’d be at their mercy to beg a cup of tea and not wanting to imply the need for such generosity. The slog back up the hills to the school was solo and non-social, but carried the glow of what the running community can deliver. What started as a morning missing my local gang, wondering when and where to get my run in, was instantly transformed into a great day by the welcoming community of runners everywhere.

But it’s not just me, it’s you, too. Whether you know them or not, when it comes to runners, you really do know everybody. Go out and enjoy their company.

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