Running is generally a solitary pursuit for me, both by circumstance and by choice. I run without headphones or a companion, and by the end of a good seven or so miles, my sanity is temporarily restored to me, my anxiety and obsessive disorders quelled for a day. On the rare instances when I get to run with a friend, most notably my dear friend Ali, it’s invariably delightful, as we gasp out a fragmented conversation and slog up and down hills. On occasion I’ve run with other people too, and I generally enjoy it. But circumstances conspire against it, so mostly I bolt out the door alone the moment my husband comes through the door to take the kids.
Last night, I was out running by myself when I heard footfalls behind me. By their speed and force, I guessed the runner was male, though I did not turn around to look. I strained one ear toward him and began the usual planning: “If he is a rapist, should I bolt into the woods? Or chance that the people in that house are home? If they aren’t, will I have time to bolt for the woods then? How fast is this guy? How fast is he in the woods?”
Of course, the vast majority of people are not rapists, but on a quiet country road, with footsteps unnervingly close behind, a girl has to make some plans.
Finally, he ran up alongside me on the opposite side of the road, bellowing, “Beautiful night for a run!” He was a tall, older guy, and a talker, as is turns out. He ran beside me for a mile, talking about an injury he’s just coming off of, and what sort of cross-training he does. He’s run the Boston Marathon eight times, as it turns out, and I puffed up a bit with pride as I matched his pace stride for stride.
We got to the end of the road, and he said he needed to turn back. He asked how far I’d be running and I told him ten miles. “Good for you!” he bellowed. As I wished him a good run and turned the corner, I realized I was about a minute and a half under my usual pace. It had felt easy, running with this guy, a Boston qualifier and, therefore, serious runner. Given, he’s coming off an injury, and he probably did slow to run with me, but I was feeling a swagger I don’t get when I’m running all alone. He’d known I was a real runner too.
When I was down on Cape Cod last month running on a sweltering day, I passed a middle-aged couple out for a walk. We smiled and waved, and then I passed them again on the way home. The man smiled and waved again and then yelled out, “Jeez! At least make it look hard!” My stride lengthened and I stood up taller as I thought, “I make this look easy!”
I’ll continue to be a solitary runner, if only as long as my circumstances dictate. But what I discover at these unexpected moments of human interaction is this: there’s nothing so favorable as wind at your back, unless it’s a boost to your vanity.