I had a relationship with running when I was a young man. We flirted at first but that was soon replaced with awkward first dates and eventually, awkward make-out sessions. We parted ways when boyhood freedom and dreams morphed into adult responsibilities and enough Bar-B-Que belly to make running impractical.
We met on a crisp morning when I was a boy of five. A light mist was slowly dissolving in the orange light of the rising sun. I was surrounded by a surreal number of people, bouncing from running shoe to running shoe, keeping warmed-up in the cool air. The excited energy was more tangible than the ethereal mist. I wasn’t old enough to understand love, but I was old enough to feel it.
My Dad stood next to me among the herd. It was 1977 and I was at my first organized running event. I’d never been to a real race, but since I was almost done with Kindergarten I was an expert in most things. The object of the game was simple: run faster than everyone else, win the race, and get carried around on everyone’s shoulders. There is a very good chance that my father had given contrary advice before arriving at the starting area, but that was 35 years ago and I’m lucky to have this wisp of a memory in the first place.
A hush fell on the crowd as a man with the starter pistol stepped up on a podium. The only noise that failed to take notice was the morning birdsong that came from the woods on either side of the road. In the fractions of the second just prior to the pistol’s report, even the birds seemed to sense the strained anticipation in the air.
Then, a crack of thunder signaled the beginning of the race and the thunder rolled as running shoe met road again and again.
Being small gave me the immediate advantage. I was able to dart through the jungle of legs and other runners. After a short amount of time, I was able to see open road through the last few layers of people I had to pass. The smell of victory was heavy on the air.
When I burst through the mass of runners and had the open road to myself, I felt like a super hero. The other runners seemed painfully slow compared to me. A lot of them hardly even seemed to be trying! It was very clear to see that I had been put on this Earth to run.
I did not pass out completely, nor did I vomit on the road that I found myself kneeling on. These were two points of pride I clung to as hundreds of people slowly thundered past me. I’m sure the comments directed at me were caring and supportive suggestions on how to successfully run more than 50 yards. Unfortunately, the pounding in my ears made it impossible for me to hear the runners I had so recently bested.
Before too long, Dad was there helping me to my feet. He probably had some sage advice that used the race as a metaphor for life or at least explained the concept of pace. I still couldn’t hear what was being said, but I knew for a fact that my Dad was walking the rest of the way with me, and that spoke volumes.
It was a rocky beginning to a fairy tale romance that lasted almost 15 years. There were fun runs, 5Ks, 10Ks and once when things were getting serious, a 15K race. We built our relationship on trust and mutual admiration. Like all good relationships, ours took a lot of work and I feel responsible for not trying harder to save it when things started getting complicated.
It ended badly. I was inattentive to running’s feelings and even started messing around with fast food. I’m not proud of how I acted, especially considering how important running had been in my life. It was years and years ago. I’m sure it’s all water under the bridge, but I still feel bad about how it ended between us.
It has been a long time since running and I have had any serious feelings for one another. However, lately we have been making eye contact and sharing knowing glances from a distance. There is a future for us, dammit, I know there is. I just don’t want to mess things up again. I am committed to taking it slow this time, and making it work.