It took a long time for me to think of myself as “a runner”.
I wasn’t a runner.
Real runners were fast.
Real runners ran distances.
Real runners ran distances fast.
And I just didn’t see myself as part of the club.
But then one day, while moving out of a gazelle’s way, something happened that had never happened to me before.
As he passed me, the gazelle turned, smiled, and gave me the “runner’s nod”.
And, finally, I felt like I was in the club.
A few weeks ago, I found out that a race was happening in my neighborhood. Two races, actually; a 10KM and a 5KM, and the 10KM would follow part of my weekend LSD (Long, Slow, Distance) running route.
It was too late to register, but I still wanted to join in the fun.
So I decided to interlope.
The morning of the race, I laced up my shoes about 15 minutes before the gun time and trotted out in the direction of the start line.
It wasn’t long before the first gazelle pranced by on the road while I jogged on the sidewalk. Then, over the course of the next kilometer, a full herd pranced by.
I knew I had to maintain a slower pace on my LSD run but, lion that I am, I wanted to chase the herd. So, in an effort to hold my pace, after about 3 kilometers I broke away from the pack and changed my course.
After a few lonely kilometers, I decided to change direction again, and turned back towards my neighborhood. As I did, I approached an intersection.
I looked right, and looked left.
To my left, the 10KM herd was approaching, so I stopped and let them pass.
And, as they did, a familiar face glanced my way.
She turned and glanced at me, and I blinked back at her.
I smiled and gave her the “runner’s nod”.
But, wait. Was that a smirk? No, it couldn’t be.
It had been years since our last encounter, and I was a runner now. Surely she could see that.
Failing to return the nod, she just looked away, and increased her speed.
I crossed the road and continued on my LSD run, thinking of nothing but Gazella.
I watched as the last of the 10KM herd disappeared over the hill up ahead.
I wanted to chase them.
I wanted to beat them.
I knew that I could.
I was about to speed up when, suddenly, I noticed the road had become crowded.
I was so focused on my thoughts, I didn’t see that I was overtaking the back of the 5KM group.
Many of the runners were fatigued and slowing to a walk.
Some had even stopped.
I looked up at the hill.
There was still time to chase the herd.
But, then I looked at the tired faces around me, and remembered a kind face and a friendly nod from long ago.
I knew what I needed to do.
I let go of Gazella.
“You’re doing awesome! Keep going!” I said to the first runner I passed.
I repeated the phrase to each person I saw who’d slowed to a walk.
When I got to the crest of the hill, I looked back and smiled.
A few had started jogging again.
I crossed the road to get out of the way, and watched as runners from both races approached the finish line.
Some devoured it at a sprint.
Some comfortably trotted their way through, enjoying the warm sunny morning.
Some crossed it in agony.
But they all crossed it.
They were, all of them, runners.
And we, all of us, were in the club.
Interloping complete, I blinked back a few sweaty tears, nodded to them all, and jogged happily away.
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