Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Running Bond

I've decided to recycle something I wrote in January 2005.

I ran a ten-miler in Spencer this morning. Four men who have run together off and on for almost ten years met at six o’clock a.m. on a Saturday, setting out on a route lit by streetlights. One of the runners is almost definitely middle-aged; the other three, to be determined. We’re slower now, a little heavier, less fanatical about speed, but our passions for running still thrive.

One member of the group pointed something out to me. He said he sees people every day, but he wouldn’t care or have much to say if he didn’t see them for five years and then ran into them somewhere. In contrast, he cited an old running friend and noted that after five years they picked up as if they hadn’t missed a day. So it is with this group of four.

It should be that way. After all, we’ve spent hours close together, with nothing to do but run and talk. I may be wrong, but I think it’s different from golfers and bowlers and participants in other sports. Golfers, bowlers, periodically step away from their group to do their own thing. It might be fair to say they don’t actually exercise together, because they have to do it separately. The constant interruptions are not conducive to the types of conversations runners can have. The rest of the group wouldn’t be interested in bringing each person up to date about what happened during his absence. Besides, then John or Mike or Nancy would be gone, taking another turn, and it would be necessary to update another person.

There I go, you may say, doing what you hate to see people do – setting their own choices on pedestals, superior to those of other people. Like the violinist who insists his instrument is the hardest instrument to learn, or the football coach who argues it takes a better athlete to run eighty plays of five seconds each than it does to play a nonstop game of soccer. Let me clarify. I’m not claiming long distance training is the ideal sport. (I could, but I guess I’m willing to admit we’re extremists.). I’m simply suggesting our training is more conducive to a certain type of conversation.

And what type of conversation might that be? Deep-thinking, deep-feeling discussions of useful things. We find answers to the world’s biggest problems in our long conversations. We learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses and may even become fairly adept at predicting the weather within the other runners’ marriages. (Dan Chaon in his short story, “Passengers Remain Calm,” denies this possibility. “Never assume that you know what goes on inside a marriage,” he says. “Because I’m telling you, no matter how close you think you are, you will never know those people like they know each other. It’s like a closed system. The weather inside a marriage is always different from the weather of everything around it.”) (Keep reading. I’m pulling your leg here.)

What goes on between us runners stays between us. Like physicians and lawyers, our conversations are almost confidential. A privilege against disclosure should apply to runners, too. Besides, what we discover while running is notoriously unreliable. When our dopamine wears off, we’re back in the real world. It is, indeed, a different world.

For me, the Spencer run was almost like running a race because I seldom run with a group any more, except at races. I could blame it on our move to the mountains, but that wouldn’t be entirely fair. On New Year’s Day, near our home in Virginia, an SUV passed me and idled at the next stop sign. Something told me it was another runner and not a weirdo waiting to do me in. Sure enough, the driver rolled down his window and hailed me over, “I thought I knew every runner in the valley. Who are you?” This led to an extended conversation, and we promised to call each other. Neither phone has rung, yet. I think I’ll call him, but what risk am I taking? Could this lead to another congenial group like the one I know in Salisbury? Will new friends become relaxed and natural together ten years from now? Will we learn everything and know nothing? Like a teenager contemplating a first date, I’m waiting for the phone to ring.

"You've run with that fellow, haven't you?" asks Virginia.

Yes I have, several times, but I still haven't found a group like the one in Salisbury.

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