Once upon a time in a different era, all of two weekends ago, back before our simply cold winter world was transformed into the Great White North following the Blizzard of ’13 (I steadfastly refuse to use the Weather Channel’s goofy storm names), an interesting event occurred, quite unexpectedly. That particular Sunday I headed out with Joe the Plumber, one of my Greater Boston training buddies, for a sixteen miler. Determined not to hurt ourselves too badly (which we invariably do when we run together), we went out deliberately slow, and were pleased to see we’d barely broken seven and a half minutes at the mile mark. Very shortly thereafter – translate, we still hadn’t really picked up the pace yet toward the frenetic finish we’d pull off a hundred minutes or so later – we approached an intersection where a runner came at us from another direction.
I’ll pause here to note how surprisingly rare it is to encounter other runners. You’d think with our numbers, we’d be tripping over each other, but it generally doesn’t happen. I’m convinced that eighty percent of them do a couple laps around their neighborhoods and never venture onto the roads that are long enough – read, more or less main roads – to actually cover any distance. Since those are the roads I frequent, well, you can see the connection here – or lack thereof. As such, events such as this I describe are unusual enough to make themselves instantly notable.
That being said, along comes said runner, approaching from the right. A young ‘un, he was, daring enough to be out in shorts on a chilly winter day, that being a characteristic of youthful exuberance, or perhaps foolishness, but now is not the moment to examine that aspect. What was notable was that to our appearance, he looked like a rocket: fast, smooth, just plain smokin’ it down the road. Not the jogger type whatsoever. Neither of us said anything as he passed through the intersection just ahead of us, where we made our planned turn seconds later which converged our routes, dropping us perhaps fifty feet behind him. And then a funny thing happened. He didn’t get away.
Our routes converged for only a quarter mile or so before he took the next right while our plans carried us straight ahead. But when he turned, he was now perhaps only forty feet in front of us. And recall, we weren’t really up to speed yet, this being early on, with fifteen miles in front of us. The implication was obvious and intriguing.
To that point, neither Joe nor I had spoken about our wordless interloper, which made it even more amusing when, shortly after his departure, we simultaneously over-spoke each other with almost identical comments of, “Do we really look like that?”
The literal answer was, of course, no, since we had twenty to twenty-five years on the kid, and no sweet teenage girl would ever ask us to the prom (and we’re both thankful for that). But aside from our, let’s say, mature features, the meaningful answer was, wow, perhaps we do.
Now and then I’ll hear from someone in town that they saw me run by, and I’ll usually think about how pathetic I must have looked at that point. A few weeks ago it happened as I was struggling up the final climb of another long one, trailing my training partner of the day by a decent margin, utterly spent while trying to pull off a major effort while enduring a major cold. I was ratted out the next day, and instantly wished my espier hadn’t seen me then. But inevitably those viewers have no such impression. Even when that person is another runner, their assessment is almost universally positive.
I’m not commenting on my svelte form here, but making a general statement. It’s easy for us to form a less than optimal impression of ourselves based on our struggles on any given day compared to our ideal vision of what we’d like to be. It’s equally easy to look at others and marvel at how smooth, how fast, how good they look, and compare ourselves negatively. What’s hard is to put those two together and accept that you, no matter your pace, your form, your style, probably look pretty darn good to the casual observer, and as I’ve often noted, just by being out there, you’re setting a great example. Look at that guy go! Man, I oughta’ do that, too!
Our encounter with the fast-looking guy lasted all of about a minute, but the lesson learned has stuck around now, more than a week later, when I think back about it. The real trick will be to pull that memory out when I really need it, like today when I found myself struggling uphill into stiff wind, body sore and tired after several straight days of ten-plus-milers following the dig-out from our blizzard. I didn’t think about it today, but I should have.
Give yourself credit. You look better than you think, even when you know you don’t look so hot at the end of a hard effort or race. Feel good about it, you’re sending the right message.
Meanwhile, about that blizzard: Yup, it snowed, and it snowed lots, somewhere between two and two and a half feet. I’m thankful I don’t live on the coast, suffered no tidal surges, didn’t lose power, and live in a neighborhood of great people who all pull together at times like this. My snow blower consists of two arms and a shovel, accompanied by six more arms of my family, whereas all of my neighbors utilize fossil-fuel-driven mechanical means. I’m not complaining, there are places and needs for both methods. We dug and blew and heaved and dug some more, helping each other for hours upon hours until the multitudinous mayhem of moguls had been transformed into a pretty patch of paved pathways. I do think they get the short end of the deal, as their machines need a lot more maintenance than mine and they miss out on the best upper body workout known to man, but I’m glad they’re there. And after all this? Well, what would you expect? Went for a run (carefully) of course!