Who have you met on a run? What have you learned about them? Yourself?
I have a regular running partner who I’ve been running with for about 10 years or so. It’s a partnership I take for granted, but one I’ve come to rely on. We have an incredibly satisfying non-run kind of run. By that I mean no talk of PR’s or speedwork or anything to do with running at all. Just the kind of meandering conversation that goes on for miles without either one of us really noticing how far we’ve run. Familiar, comfortable and the foundation that helps me do other, more intense kinds of training on top of it.
Over the past couple weeks, I got the chance to run with a few people that I had never run with before– which is pretty rare for me because of the patterns I’ve set in my training.
Since it was running that brought me to meet these new friends, I knew we’d end up talking about running, and I found it curious to see where the conversation ended up with each of them.
I’ll just refer to them as The Trail Runner, The Yogi and The Surgeon. And no, we did not run into a bar, although if we did, I’m sure The Surgeon could get a pharma company to pick up the tab if the Obamacare website isn’t quite up-to-speed yet.
With The Trail Runner, whom I met up with during the Runners World Half 10K road race, the talk was mostly about the companionship and therapeutic benefits that running provides. Whether it’s on a long run through the woods (she does 50K runs for fun. Yes, I said fun) or just a run up Main St., she reminded me of how social this sport has become. With big races, meet-ups and such a variety of running-related events, we don’t have to be lonely long distance runners unless we really want to. And when we want to be alone, running is still there for us, as the healing value shifts from talk therapy to zen.
The Yogi was the youngest of my newfound companions, in her mid-30s. She reminded me of how a runner’s competitive nature can lead to a mindset that brings on injury. She considered herself a reformed runner in that she no longer pushes herself to run through pain at the cost of her health. She works with runners and athletic teams now and offered a very keen observation about why yoga can help runners live better lives. Runners too often try to disassociate themselves from their bodies in the push to run through pain, whether to hit training goals, just to be stubborn or because of something closer to addiction.
As runners, we are set up to be “versus” our bodies, trying to push them beyond where we are comfortable. Yoga also pushes us, but it pushes us into our bodies.
Yoga puts us back in touch with our bodies by helping us understand our contours, strengths and resistance. I’ve done both and believe that the best of both worlds is to approach the excitement and competitive spirit of running as a way to better understand my body, not to try to impose some kind of domination over it that leads to a breakdown. And yoga helps me do that.
The Surgeon was perhaps the most humble about running’s role in his life– as he was just thrilled to have the time on a Sunday afternoon to take to the trail as our kids rode their bikes ahead of us. Even though he had to carry a backpack with his phone and supplies because he was on call for surgery, he ran with ease and relaxation. He took whatever running had to offer and made few demands on it, maybe because there were so many other demands on him and his work.
Our talk veered into healthy habits and eating and he expressed how difficult it is to watch his patients fail at making relatively simple lifestyle changes that could ward off life-threatening concerns like diabetes and heart disease. “I’m good for another 60 years, right doc?” was the kind of thing he’d hear when he was doing bypasses and putting in stents. That kind of attitude might be good for his business (if the afflicted can get to him in time), but he was still sad and perplexed about seeing that kind of attitude keep people from living full and active lives.
I’m grateful for the chance to get such an interesting collection of people to run next to and reminded of what a great venue that a run can be to get to know someone a little. Better than a cup of chili or a glass of gin (you know who you are), in my humble opinion. But then, as a running author, maybe you’d expect that from me.
Yet The Trail Runner, The Yogi and The Surgeon each found something in the runs, too, I’m sure. And I hope to be able to share more from them and others that I happen upon during my runs.
Running can be an awesome power in our lives: to help us connect to others, to help us connect with our own bodies and to help us connect to health and longevity. May we not only manifest that power in our own lives, but serve as ambassadors of the sport to whomever we meet one-on-one, run-by-run, at any speed.