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March 9, 2013: Will You be My (Running) Friend?

March 9, 2013

I have run exactly ten times with another runner.

1.)

When I lived in China, a lovely South African woman was one of my neighbors. She and I passed each other every so often in the cold, shadowy stairwell of our big concrete building, and once we met as each of us was returning from a run, our clothes equally wrinkled, our faces streaked with sweat and soot. “I didn’t know you were a runner!” she called out, appreciatively. She invited me to run together the following week. “I go so slowly,” she said, her accent melodic and, as I would decide later, deceptively relaxed. “And I only go about five or six kilometers.”  It would be my first time running with someone.

So we met up on a Saturday evening. And we ran. We ran across busy intersections. We ran through the smoke of temple incense. We ran past hundreds of tiny open storefronts where women and men stood eating noodles, or visiting, or bouncing babies in the air, or, in the spirit of a hot Saturday night, drinking beer and smoking. My fellow runner kept a quick, confident pace, high-stepping over the tilting, broken sidewalk tiles and bolting in between taxis. I rushed awkwardly behind her, thinking not so much about running as about hiding my panic (“What the —-? How much farther?”) and maintaining a mature vigilance that completely baffled my characteristic heedlessness (“What if she gets hit by a car? I don’t even know her last name! What if I get hit by a car?”).

I was used to running in the quiet, dark mornings, all alone.

After nearly an hour and a half, we looped back and arrived at the heavy black gate of our apartment building. The tiny, wrinkled gate man stood slowly, set his bowl of noodles on his chair, and opened the latch. He smiled at me and shook his head. I shook my head, too, but I didn’t smile.

It was very satisfying to run so far and so fast, to run with the clanging sounds and smoke and steamy food smells that make nightfall in China.  But it was not fun.

2.)

In Seattle, I ran a number of times with a dear friend -and a similarly stressed-out, jittery grad student- through the Washington Park Arboretum, one of the dreamier places I’ve known. We always met very early, and as our feet moved us steadily through the darkness and up the long hills, we talked animatedly about the places we’d lived, our families, Giorgio Agamben, and human rights. (Again: grad students). Our time together was made even sweeter by breezes rich with witch hazel, flowering cherry and magnolias, blossoms that lined the arboretum paths and were somehow extra vibrant in the deep, dark morning. Those were some of my favorite runs.

 

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3.)

In Seattle, I also ran in the arboretum, and sometimes through our neighborhood, with my husband. This did not always go well, most generally because marriage, I think, makes for a strange and sometimes uneasy mix of friendship, tenderness, mismatched goals, and high- perhaps unreasonably high- expectations. All of these things become very real when you run with your spouse. I’ve been running since I was thirteen; he started a few years ago. He is tall and slender, with a natural runner’s gait and a careful, steady pace. I am shorter than he is and not nearly as graceful. According to my sister, “Statz women are not meant to run. We’re meant to carry things, like mules.”  When I run, I charge full-steam for as long as possible (which is usually a pretty long time). He only runs as far as it is safe for his body to run. I like to run in places that are not necessarily easy, and where there may be snow and ice, or damp, suffocating humidity, or mountain paths riddled with jagged rocks, or bees. This is exciting to me; to him, it is not fun.

I think this means we’re actually a very good match in life. But it also makes for some trepidation in regards to running, especially after our earliest runs consisted of my motivational lies (“Just one more mile!”), not-very-tender encouragement (“Come ON”), and the complete lack of a runner’s high when it was over. He was left feeling exhausted and stressed; I, disappointed and ashamed.

4.)

My husband and I have since had a few very good runs together, but in Evanston I usually run alone or, sometimes, like today, with the dog. I’m trying very hard to muster up the courage to join a runner’s group, but not without some reluctance. Is the point of a running group to socialize, to have so much fun that you don’t even realize you’re running? Because truthfully, I want to know I’m running, to know I’m pushing hard and sweating and clearing my mind and strengthening my heart. But then, given the relative lack of comaraderie in my current little corner of life (namely, the lonely grad student/over-extended college instructor corner), some socialization would be welcome.

5.)

Stay tuned.

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