Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Running; It's Never Boring

A few days ago; we received a break in the Ohio weather. It was above freezing and raining. That is, it was about 35 degrees and sleeting. I sat inside and waited for a relative break in the frozen pellets so I could pound out a few miles. In celebration of it being a bit 'warmer' than usual, I decided to ditch the running tights and go with shorts.

The rain finally dissipated enough to run without getting totally soaked and so I headed out on a route I have run, literally, hundreds of times. My expectations for the run were all-in-all, normal. North on High to Henderson, make a left at the light, turn south onto the bike trail and head home. Nothing exciting. For the most part, my run would conclude with my expectations met in their entirety. However, there were a few out of the ordinary events that made this 8-mile workout blog worthy.

Event #1:
Now anyone who has been a runner for any considerable amount of time has become acquainted with the ritual of greeting any fellow, random runner that they may encounter while out on their route. Acceptable gestures consist of the following 3 techniques:

1) The nod. More often than not, the simple combination of a transient moment of eye contact with a barely noticeable head nod suffices to convey, "Hello. Yes, we're both runners. I see you. You see me. Now let's both get on with our workouts."

2) The wrist flick. This is probably my personal favorite. When out in public and you see someone you know, you generally wave to them. That is, you raise your hand, forearm, elbow, and proceed to physically acknowledge that you know they are there. This is far too much work for runners. The wrist flick consists of (with a split second of eye contact) the flicking wrist's arm swinging forward and the hand's index finger pointing to the sky at the hand's foremost position in the swing. It's a technique perfected over time and a one that clearly speaks of your vast running experience (insert semi-sarcastic tone). If you lift the entire arm and give a full, legit wave the only other gesture that screams 'noob' louder would be to the wear the t-shirt from your first 5K which you ran just last weekend.

3) The "how ya doin'". Second only to the wrist flick, this is a personal favorite of mine. (Possibly because it allows me to say the line with a nice tint of Jersey accent.) There's not much explanation needed for this technique. The only thing which must be noted is that whatever you do, do NOT sound out of breath when you offer this most superficial of all greetings to your fellow runner.

And so now that I have pointed out the three acceptable gestures in the running world, you can understand the significance of what I was about to experience. As I was headed north, a man in a full-out 1970's sweat suit with big, clunky snow gloves comes running toward me on the same side of the road. As the distance between us quickly disappears, I hear it, "high five!" I looked up to realize what this rogue runner said with only enough time to get my hand barely high enough for my fingertips to barely graze the outside of his palm. Not only did I just high-five some strange man running in a retro sweat suit, but it was potentially the most awkward high-five I've ever experienced. I spent the next 3 blocks trying to figure out what just happened. "Did I know that guy?" "Who high-fives total strangers?" "What WAS he wearing?" "Maybe I should have looked at his elbow to make better contact." Regardless, it was a moment in running history where all my norms and runner mores were greatly threatened. But fear not, I'm alive and well.

Event #2:
As the initial shock of my high-five experience wore off, I began to regain focus and was nearing mile 5 of the run. I turned south on to the bike trail and turned a corner after nearly a third of a mile to be reacquainted with one of my worst foes on any running route I've traveled; geese. Like sumo wrestlers and sky-diving, runners and Canadian geese don't mix.

Now I have had run-ins (pun fully intended) with geese before. Many years before when I was still in high school, I went out for a run early in the morning on some nature trails near my home. I came around a corner on the wooden pathway to find a mother goose and her goslings minding their own business. Sure that I was there to devour her entire family, the mother goose proceeded to chase and hiss at me. I was altogether obliged to evade the situation and run like I had never run before. Add to that the loudest scream you've ever heard a 15 year old boy yell and you can probably paint a pretty accurate mental picture of the scenario.
Fast forward 9 years and here I am, once again, face to face with one very grouchy goose. The sound of that hiss was all too familiar to me, but what was not familiar to myself was how I would react in the coming seconds. I didn't scream. I didn't jump. I didn't even change my pace. I barely even changed course.

I hissed right back!

I think the goose was as stunned as I was. After running another 100 yards, I realized that I just matched a goose's greeting. This clearly had not been an average run.

I was more than happy to make it back to my house where a hot shower was waiting. As I walked in the front door, I realized that running is, as I have correlated in past posts, much like life. While a lot of the day-in-day-out routine is planned and predictable, there will be "unexpecteds." There will be men in vintage track suits running at you wanting awkward high fives and there will be irate momma gooses ready to hiss the hell out of you. And the point isn't that you avoid these unknowns, but that you'll learn something about yourself in said circumstances. You might just hiss back.

PS Don't wear shorts when it's that cold. When the blood starts to flow back to your thighs, they'll itch like an itch you've never felt before.

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