Saturday, May 7, 2011

Howdy Stranger!

Strangers are friends you have yet to meet

Last time I was in Boston, I was running on Beacon Street, and noticed a runner on the other side of the road. Now, I always hear about (from non-runners) that runners are always serious and never seem to smile. Personally, I think that's a lot of bunk - there have been many times, running with my buddies, when we actually had to stop running because we were laughing so hard. I mean, stomach-hurting laughing. Sure, huffing and puffing up an 8% grade for a mile probably isn't going to get many yuks out of me, but generally, I'm in a good mood. OK, to get back to Boston. So, I see him coming, he sees me coming, and as we get close, we cooly give a wave and a smile. Do I wave at folks walking on the street? - no! How 'bout people sitting on park benches? - maybe a quick nod. But another runner is a bond formed in the netherworld. I don't know squat about him, he doesn't know squat about me, but when two strangers discover the other is a runner (on the road, at a party, after you rear-ended him, etc) they instantly share a connection. Think about when you're at races and in the starting corral. Do you stand there in your own little world? Are you plotting out your pace or your aid station stategy? Probably not because you've struck up a conversation with a total stanger. You could be at your hometown 5K, getting ready to tackle Boston's hills, or staring at Pikes Peak. We are wishing "good lucks" to others that we know have trained like us, nursed their niggles and knacks like us, had those same ups and downs. They probably cursed getting out of bed in the dark to train and overdressed on cold mornings...just like us. They've had their runs that have been so bad they felt like they had never run before and they've had others that were so good, they wondered where the heck that came from. We don't know them...but we KNOW them! This is more than mutual support and encouragement. There is an acknowledgement of shared passion and drive. No matter if it’s a 5K or a 50K, a 2:30 marathoner or a 4:30 marathoner, we are all there for the same reason. We love to run.

When doing a long run, one where you can actually breathe enough to a half marathon, marathon, or ultramarathon...9 times out of 10, sometime during the run, you're going to talk to a total stranger - "how's it going?", "more hills than I thought", "pretty hot, eh?", "you're looking great". It will usually strike up a deeper conversation. When I was running trail ultras, you could practically learn another runner's family tree you have so much time. If you've run several endurance events, the percentage is pretty high that the stranger you've started yakking to has done some of the same runs as you in the past. I absolutely love this - you're running in California, start talking to some guy from Wisconsin, and find you both did the same race in Tennessee the same year! Instant bond.

Do other sports have this bond? I don't know. I don't do other sports. I guess cycling might be close. They seem to bond to each other, but there still seems to be more "singleness" to it. And it seems with biking, they're always talking about gear ratios and seat hieghts and the technical side of their sport. In running, as soon as we finish a race, we will turn to the closest finisher to us, stick out our hand and shake theirs - "good run". We've both been through the same battle, slain the same dragon. Yep, good run, my brother! It's more than mutual support and encouragement. It's that bond to what drives us. We share in victories and defeats. The lonliness of the long distance runner is not really ever that lonely at all.

Whether you are my best friend that I've known for a hundred years, or you're one of my future connections to the six degrees of separation, I hope to see you all on the roads - AL

"One child lost is too child saved can change the world"

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