It’s not always a race

I went for a run in the park last week. There’s this loop around, it twists and snakes, with just the right amount of hills. It’s nice, because I can run uninterrupted, I don’t have to worry about stopping for any traffic lights or cars. It’s just pure rhythm, and after a while I can sometimes get into this trancelike state.

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It’s kind of like when I write, or when I’m reading or watching TV. One of my arms or legs will start tapping on the floor or rocking at my side. Eventually the movement takes over to the point where I’m not even thinking about it anymore. It’s just happening, it’s like a clock, precise in its beat. And whatever I get out of tapping or rocking back and forth, I get it to a much larger extent when I’m running, because I can do it for these dedicated stretches of time.

But last week anyway, I was running by myself, my speed is always pretty constant, all of the sudden I heard someone coming up on my left. That’s OK, it happens. It’s a huge park in a huge city and there are tons of people trying to do their thing. My thing is, whenever this happens, my rhythm and my pace can get thrown out of whack.

I heard someone else coming up behind me and my first reaction was to crank it up a notch. Obviously I don’t really want to do this. I’m not trying to make a race out of everybody that happens to be running faster than me at the park. But even though I didn’t see him yet, he was already in my head. My speed and my stride were calculated in relation to my position in a fixed space. Now I had another body in motion right at my side, and I got a sort of velocity vertigo.

I could no longer tell how I was supposed to be running. I wanted to just keep at it the way I was keeping at it, but I couldn’t tell if I was going slower now or faster. Eventually he broke into the field of my peripheral vision. He was running faster, and I might as well have just let him get ahead, far away from me, maybe I’d be able to get back into my groove.

But no sooner did he overtake me than he jerked to the right, so that he was now running directly in front of me. And then, I’m not sure if I was even perceiving it correctly at first, maybe my running was still a little out of whack, but it’s almost like this guy was slowing down. I kind of matched my speed a little bit, so I was running behind him, maintaining a little distance, and yeah, he definitely must have slowed down, because after a quarter mile or so, I was breathing a lot easier, almost like I was cooling down.

And so it’s like, what the hell man? You sprinted in front of me just to slow down? That’s like running rule number one. If you’re going to make that much of an effort to pass somebody, you’d better make sure that you can sustain that speed for a long time. No, it’s not an exact science. And like I said, when people start running close to each other, there’s definitely some sort of a gravity thing going on, people’s speeds get messed up, bodies are pulled toward or backward.

But then to get directly in front of me? I made my own snap judgment. I thought, OK, if I pass this guy, are we racing now? Was he going to try to steal the lead once more? This was all way more than I had anticipated dealing with when I left the house, but I didn’t have many choices. It was either risk a race, or accept my new, slower run, all to avoid a potentially awkward impromptu competition.

It shouldn’t be this difficult. It’s probably not this difficult. I’m pretty sure that I’m making something out of nothing. Not everything’s a challenge, right? Not everything has to be a race.

But as I stole ahead of him once more I had to fight the urge to look back, not all the way, definitely no eye contact, but a kind of sideways glance, a very subtle communication, like nice try man. No, that could have provoked him, maybe he would have gunned it once more, and I still had a few miles left, miles that I needed that energy for. I stared straight ahead, concentrated on my breathing. Pretty soon it was just me again, and then after that I was back in the zone, just the park, just running, until that guy wasn’t in my head anymore, until there was nothing in my head anymore, nothing but my breathing, my pace, the little pulses of pleasure shooting through my body each time my feet hit the pavement.

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