Back On the Rock

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Running Mates

Running is a lot like dating. It’s all about the pacing, the practice, the partner. My track record in running and romance are surprisingly similar: a few, unimpressive sprints; lots of solid middle distance efforts and the best of intentions to go the distance. A marathon, like a marriage, is high on my wish list, but somehow I don’t seem to have the knees for either.

I am not a sprinter. I warm up slowly. My heart races. My legs make their own plans. And just when my brain seizes control of my body, it’s all over and I’m left breathless and panting. My sweet spot is the 10k – a breezy 6 ¼ mile run that’s long enough for me to find my stride, but not so long that it feels like work. I love the idea of endurance, the commitment and discipline it requires. But there always comes a point when the pain exceeds the pleasure and I haven’t quite learned how to tough it out to the finish. My instinct is always to save myself for another run, another day.

My only endurance event to date has been a triathlon, but that’s three events, not one. (The potential parallel for my personal life disturbs me.)

Over the years I’ve tried to find a running mate to help me go the distance. Usually, I find myself with sprinters who try to force the pace and bail out early when they run out of steam. But there also have been a few who couldn’t keep up with me. There was the man who was too thin. He had no sweat to spare. There was the one who was too fat. His heart was willing, but his flesh – and there was a lot of it – was weak. When I first started running, I ran 10-minute miles to my partner’s 8’s. We ran at the same time, but never together, and eventually we followed our own paths. Today, we are great friends. But now I run the 8’s and he runs the 10’s so we still can’t run together. Timing is everything.

It’s not surprising then that I’ve learned to love running solo. There is a freedom in setting my own pace and charting my own course. But every once in a while the urge to match my stride with someone else’s sends me in search of a running mate.

Recently, the itch has reared its head. After a long layoff to rest a weary knee, I’m craving a good run and I’m thinking this just might be the year I learn to go long. Right in time, a new friend has come along to pace me. There are pros and cons. He likes to run first thing in the morning. I like to run at night. He runs 10 minute miles, 2 minutes slower than mine. But he runs a lot of them. He’s not afraid to go long and horror of horrors, he’s convinced I’m capable of the same.

He invites me along to a 10 mile run at an ungodly hour on a Saturday morning. I’m not sure how fast or how far my newly recovered knee will go. I haven’t run in nearly two months, and it’s been more than two years since I’ve run longer than a 10k. But I am curious.

I warn him that I will bonk at mile 6, but he ignores my protests.

“I’ll stay with you,” he says. “We’ll take it slowly. We’ll go at your pace and stop whenever you need to.”

The first mile we trade pleasantries. The pace feels frustratingly slow, but I notice that with it and the easy conversation, my usual early awkwardness has disappeared. By the two mile mark I have borrowed his stride and made it mine. We are easy, unhurried, comfortable.

The third mile takes us uphill and my legs remember why I love to run. I pick up the pace a little, slowing at intervals to check in with him. Sometimes I hang back behind him. He points out potholes and passing cars, prompts me when to cross the street. I am not used to being led and I like it. But my legs like the open road more. By the 4 mile mark I am torn between the man and the run.

“You’re doing great,” he says when he catches me at the mile 6 water station. I stop worrying about bonking.

I keep a few metres ahead of him. I am used to running alone and when it feels good, the urge to run ahead is too strong. But I find a strange comfort in knowing that he is somewhere close behind me. So I push it as far as I can and rest with him when I am tired. He doesn’t seem to mind.

At the 8 mile mark I know I have the run in the bag. I am much slower than my usual pace, but further than my usual distance. My brain starts to worry I won’t make it, but my heart and legs reassure me. I check in with him one last time at mile 9 and run ahead to the finish.

We share mimosas and the newspaper over breakfast. Easy, unhurried, comfortable. Maybe there is something to this endurance thing after all.

Maybe I’m ready to go the distance.


Post a Comment

<< Home