Thursday, June 19, 2014

I Passed a Runner Today...

I passed a runner I admire while driving to work today.

I approached a runner, and eventually we passed. He was clearly a runner. Quality shoes on his feet. Proper body position. Head up. Technical sleeveless top drenched in sweat from the morning’s humidity. Lean body.  Drive in his eyes.

And then I passed the runner I admire. 20 feet behind the other runner. He was bigger in both height and weight. He had standard shoes on his feet. A cotton t-shirt. Normal gym shorts. Thick cotton socks. His gait was slower, lumbering a bit under each step. His head was down. Focused only a few feet ahead of him. Avoiding the passing cars. I never saw his face.

I thought about two main things. First, how much I admired that runner. In many ways, the challenge of that humid morning run was far greater for him than for the other runner. Everyone who passed the first man would think, “Yes! There’s a runner.” But they would probably pass the second man with a disparaging thought, if any thought at all.

My first, most immediate thought though had been, “That poor guy was just passed by the faster one.” Because it had to have happened. Based on the location on the sidewalk, and the distance between them. Sometime shortly before I reached that scene, the runner had to have passed the “runner”.

I am not fast. I’ve known many, many times that demoralizing feeling of the runner who passes you and the distance that they so quickly put between you. I admire the runner I saw this morning because in my own mind, I AM that runner. I will always see myself as someone who doesn’t look the part, who isn’t built like a runner, isn’t fast enough, isn’t slim enough.

I admire the Shalane Flanagans and Meb Keflezighis of the world. I admire the Boston Qualifiers, and the front-of-the-packers. But I admire the back-of-the-packers more. The ones like the man I saw at my first marathon. Heavyset, slow, large feet plodding along. But moving. Always moving. He never stopped running. Even as I eventually gained on him, overtook him, and left him behind. I saw in race photos that he never stopped running.

I think that even those of us who are not competitive are still comparative. We all are. We compare shoes, styles, form, weight, and especially distance and speed. The distance seems addictive. We always want to go further and further, and then faster and faster. And in some ways this is good. Use comparison to drive, to push yourself. But there is the side where we, or at least I, can’t stop comparing myself. “Why is she faster?” “Why is she skinnier?” “I must look awful to people who pass me while running.” “I don’t look like a runner.” “WHY are all my race photos full of awful, red-faced, pudgy, not-impressive me??”

I’ve talked before about the Jerk. The nagging thoughts that follow us and tell us we aren’t good enough.  I imagine some volume of the Jerk even follows the Shalanes and Mebs. But the size of the Jerk following some of us, following those people who “don’t look like runners”, must be astounding.  But some runners get up and go anyway. Some runners face everything they see in the mirror, every person who ignores them, or worse, every heavier-than-the-runner step, every rubbing spot, every deep, desperate breath.  Some runners ignore all the doubts packed against them, and yet they run.

Those are the runners I admire. Don’t let your head hang down. Don’t stare at the ground.  I might be faster. I might manage a bigger smile when I pass you on the path. But we are all facing doubts, and I am so inspired by your determination. You, the one who “shouldn’t be a runner”, the one who “doesn’t look like a runner”, the one who’s fat, or slow, but still running. You ARE a runner. You are my inspiration. And that smile when we pass? It’s genuinely for you. 

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