Saturday, July 19, 2008

Running Solo

God created man and, finding him not sufficiently alone, gave him a companion to make him feel his solitude more keenly. Paul Valery

Running can be a lonely business. The bemused looks from the morning masses may inspire me to run faster. But they do not share my thoughts nor otherwise detract from the solitary path I tread each morning. Only someone by my side, matching me stride for stride, can provide such companionship. Finding that someone, however, is no easy task.

For starters, I am not the best of running companions myself. Running for the sake of running bores me. If I am not at the point of exhaustion, unless every stride leaves nothing in reserve, then the idea of running in circles for forty minutes strikes me as inane at best and demeaning at worst. The problem is complicated by the fact that frequent runs have set my ideal pace past the point of the casual runner but nowhere near the speed of anyone with real experience. Though worrying about the pace is really besides the point: like most things, the toughest part of finding a running companion is discovering someone motivated and willing to match their interest to the reality of lacing up sneaks and hitting the road at seven am each morning.

Perhaps my expectations are too high. If so, there is one person responsible—and I will not take the honest yet simple route on this one and look in the mirror. Last summer an incomparable classmate woke me each morning with a soft knock on the door. As I put aside my tefillin, he finished brushing his teeth and together we would set out to explore the winding roads and musty canals of Suzhou. Perhaps it helped that my classmate was an all-everything track star back at his small college in Pennsylvania. Fortunately for yours truly, my classmate’s blistering pace was exceeded only by the joy and dedication he displayed for our daily runs.

No one this summer can possibly compare to my friend of yesteryear. The best replacements I have found are any of several long legged female classmates who ever so rarely join me on runs in the park. For your average local, a girl zipping by in tight running shorts and a sports bra is far stranger than a half naked guy with a watermelon on his head. My female fellow runners soak up the stares, allowing me to run in relative anonymity. Perhaps that anonymity is what having someone by your is partly about—ironic in a way, that a benefit of not being alone is the ability to melt into the crowd. I imagine that the Olympics will rob Beijingers of their na├»ve fascination with spandex clad girls, though I am sure by then someone or something else will emerge to alleviate the solitary nature of running in the capital.

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