It’s My Run, Not Yours
The late morning air was thick and moist, an atypical humidity for Marin County that I never appreciate. I was riddled with lethargy and general grumpiness that I attempted to correct with a strong cup of coffee and a few vertical bounces, much like a football player hyping himself for a big game. My game was big. I had committed to running with a friend at a certain time for a certain number of miles, and I am the worst at fulfilling running obligations. Sure, I like running with friends, but the truth is, I’m terrible at it. I am rarely on time; I feign afflictions or ailments in case I am not performing as they expected; I become resentful when I want to run ahead, but feel the pressure to be courteous and wait; I go too hard on days dedicated to going easy, too light on days intended for pushing it; I become self-righteous and territorial about certain trails. Overall, I feel like I am compromising one of us in some way. But, I really do like running with others…as long as I can control every component to make it my run, not our run. I am fully aware of how selfish and deplorable this makes me, but it simply is my obstinateness and Type-A approach to running, not true misanthropy.
Irrespective of my challenges to make for a pleasant running partner, I usually agree to run with a friend at least once a week. In no effort to conceal his identity, I’m going to call this friend Tim Stahler.
Tim is a great runner with a history of commanding one of the top three spots in any race he enters, but he has poor luck in maintaining health and preventing injuries (clumsy injuries, such as tripping over a penny while walking to his car). I am a mediocre athlete with a potential to be swift, though I usually skip the recovery portion of training, and am therefore imprisoned by averageness. Together, we are like Teddy Ruxpin bears that routinely say the wrong thing–our equipment looks fine on the outside, but once in use, you realize there was a factory error that wasn’t expected. Tim complains too much, I lament about being tired and crabby–our jaunty canter becomes a shuffle and we laugh about being a curious set of determined invalids. It only takes about 15 minutes before this frivolity evolves into something more vexatious. The competitive runner in me emerges and I want to run away from him. I roll my eyes in indignation and snap at him when he fails to recognize a trail I’ve taken him on multiple times before. To be fair, he, too, probably wants to run away from me (and he’s more capable of it), but I am the one feeling the prickly need to govern and regulate: our run is for me, not him.
Having grown up in Mill Valley, CA in a family of hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers, I learned the trails (both marked and unmarked) of Mt. Tamalpais at an early age, and over many years of exploring, I developed an intimate relationship with the mountain. I feel protective and entitled, not that I own the mountain, more like I belong to Mt. Tam and there aren’t many people that can fully honor her beauty and buzz as I can. To me, the mountain is alive and breathing, and I am privileged to be a part of that breath. When I run with others on her trails, I designate myself as the guide, the keeper, the mystic who cannot fully let you in on the secret she keeps. This self-important feeling creates an inequality between the guest and myself and I immediately regret exposing them to something so private.
Tim’s tendency to assert himself as a local and illustrate his knowledge of the trails inspires some contention. I enjoy when his sense of direction is weaker than mine, and I’m downright elated when I get to tell him he’s wrong. I spend at least a half hour gloating and ridiculing him for not listening to me in the first place.
Neither of us is disciplined about eating and we both bonk around the same time, increasing my cantankerousness and his reticence. Rarely, do we ever go the same pace–he has long legs and a quick gait, I usually have a stroller and a big butt to hoist up the hill. If he takes off ahead, the longer he stays up there without turning around to check on me, the more incensed and punitive I become. When we finally reconvene, I’m reduced to a pouty adolescent who is going to sulk until her friend makes her feel pretty again. This, I am aware, makes me appear to be a terrible person. But, rather, I see it as Tim is the terrible person for taking off ahead. I’m a spin doctor.
Psychology is flexible and perception is what matters. Depending on the consequence, each of us has the ability to be viewed as unfair and fractious. When someone is feeling uncomfortable, compromised, or unimportant, the most primitive areas of the brain are stimulated and respond with a hormonal profile that manipulates rational thought. Add to this, the state of being dehydrated, hypoglycemic, and tired, and you have a nice little tantrum waiting to happen. So, yes, running with Tim often turns into a battle of puerile adults bickering about who is right, when the significance of “right” is only dependent on the thinker, not on truth.
Yet, there I was again, an hour late, overly hot, jittery with too much caffeine, and ready to let Tim know he was going to be accompanying me on one of my moody runs. You’d think that I would just run alone and forgo tormenting my friends with my attitude, but it isn’t all about my needing to control the run. It is about the friendship and camaraderie involved. Some days I’m lonely and melancholic. Running by myself during that state is isolating, being alone with my own thoughts is dismal, and I’m less likely to get outside. If I know a friend is counting on me to be there (30-60 min. late), I have to show up. The comfort of their presence keeps me aligned with my own training and shifts my mood from brooding to blithe. I become more cognizant of the consequences of my actions by reflecting on what I actually gain from running with someone. My wrongful demand that a friendly run be dictated by myself changes to include Tim, to share this time and secede from my selfish thinking. Sometimes it takes an active thought to influence my surrender, but much of our behavior takes practice if we really want to re-wire that circuitry.
I’ve observed many friends and couples arguing on the trails when they have the conundrum of rivaling requisites. They blame and scoff, and, much of the time, run in silence. But, I think, once their emotional brain has relaxed, they are happy to have each other’s company. I’d rather get out for a run with a friend and have it not be perfect than to sit inside and kick myself for not getting out at all.
Writer and trail runner