Monday, March 28, 2016

Thursdays

When I was at the run last Thursday, a newcomer commented to me that everyone in the group was so fast. Later, she asked how long I'd been coming to that run, and it was with mild incredulity that I heard myself respond, "Almost six years."

"But most people haven't been coming that long," I assured her, thinking back to her earlier statement about the fast people. I looked around the room and saw very few fast people. Most of them are gone now, so it's not really a fast run anymore, though I didn't want to tell her that; even after six years, I haven't forgotten how big of a step it was for me to show up to my first Thursday night.

For a couple of years prior, I'd been running with Breakaway on Saturday mornings, with their full and half marathon training group for St. Jude. I had some tough years in there socially, and for a long time, those Saturday runs were my primary means of interacting with people outside of the older women I worked with. When I lost my job and no longer had even those women, Saturday mornings were sometimes the only times I saw other people all week outside of strangers at the grocery store. Strange as it sounds in hindsight, I had a very real and true fear that I was legit turning into a recluse.

That's why I started going to Thursday nights in August of 2010. This is what it was like back then:

Unlike the Saturday morning crowd, where any interaction I had was brief and with runners of my own pace/level of fitness, Thursday night was a mixed bag – a place where men and women with magazine-worthy bodies stood half-dressed next to people who looked slightly more mortal, all equally part of the group and all glowing with the success of a hot summer run. Everyone had worked hard; everyone was enjoying the alcoholic celebration of his or her success.

There was a lot of laughter, and the picture as a whole offered a glaring contrast to the dark world I was living in, where most of my free time was stuck behind a computer, looking for jobs or trying to promote my book via a blog that was testing my psychological limits.

The obvious outcome is that I soaked it in, loved it, and came back with fresh determination the next week.

A big crowd at the old store on Union
Except I didn’t. In reality, I was almost paralyzed by the feeling that I didn’t belong. I went home overwhelmed. A runner who talked to me that night had given me incomprehensible advice, still ringing in my ears. He’d told me I should start coming to the Tuesday night track workout at the University of Memphis to work on my speed. As if that was something I could just do. As if it were nothing to show up to yet another frightening group run full of people I didn’t know, except this time in an arena that broadcast my primary shortfall as a runner (speed), and which had no beer afterward to dull to the blow. There was no way. It had been hard enough to get through what I’d just done.

I came home, and I processed, and I wasn’t ready to try that again by the next Thursday.

But I was by the Thursday after that.

The crowd changed over time, because the crowd was always changing, but when I started, the majority of the people I was running with were hardcore. I wasn’t just at the back of the pack; I was substantially behind the next-slowest person. There was a mental aspect to Thursday nights, too, because everyone started out on the same path and that path looped back on itself; i.e., roughly two miles into the run, everyone saw everyone else and could gauge how fast they were going and how many people were ahead or behind them.

Though our speeds and abilities may have divided us during the run itself, back at the store we were all equals in the eyes of the beer. There was a keg every week, and a donation glass nearby that never had quite enough money in it to cover the cost. The regulars all had glasses that they brought in and left at the store, and though it felt like I had walked into a long-standing tradition, the popularity of the run was new, and coincided directly with alcohol being offered at the end of it.

It always seemed to me like the store was overflowing with people. I’d guess there were thirty or forty runners each week back then, and I was in awe of every last one of them. They all seemed to do not only running but life better than I did. There's a vitality that emanates from people who are committed to an athletic lifestyle, and they were radiant with it. Not only that, everyone appeared to be financially successful, professionally accomplished, and more emotionally level than I was.

Impressing them was beyond the scope of my imagination - me, with my atrophied social skills, cotton T-shirts, and slow, over-pronating gait. They all seemed so far ahead of me in so many ways I couldn’t fathom a scenario in which “impressing” was a plausible outcome.

But I did see them as people to observe and learn from, for they all seemed to be good at exactly the things that I wanted to be good at.

3 comments:

  1. So my hero-worship of this group didn't last long (what do you know, turns out even people who run fast have tons of flaws!), but they did teach me a lot. That is probably the thing I miss most about the very early days: the knowledge I had when I nervously walked in each week that I was going to learn something about something before I went home that night. :) Aw, Breakaway...

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  2. Interesting. I went to a kick-boxing class tonight which was an overwhelming experience, totally different from what I've been doing this past year. Going to try and write about it.

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    1. You should! I wrote this about two years ago, but based it on things I'd written at the time. You never know when one little thing is going turn into a big thing in the course of your life.

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