For our Sunday morning run, we traveled over to a facility called The Labs where a bunch of our friends meets each week to train. Some of them are former teammates from triathlon clubs to which we no longer belong. Others we knew from Master’s Swim and cycling rides. But those weren’t the reason why we joined the Sunday morning six-miler. We simply wanted to run with others.
The six-mile out and back loop was all on sidewalks and trails. The pack sorted itself out into pace groups of one form or another. The leader of the group, Mike Behr, ran back and forth between pods of people checking to make sure everyone was doing just fine.
Along the way, Sue and I partnered up with a runner named Penoi, a mechanical engineer whose mission is to run marathons in all fifty states. He’s only got ten to go, he informed us. As we ran, he related that he does most of his training alone. We compared and shared locations where he might like to train, especially the trails along the Fox River where we often run. “Are there water fountains?” he wanted to know. We assured him there are.
“This is my first time running with a group,” he told us. That made me snap to attention. It’s hard for me to imagine a running career without ever having run with others. How does that even happen?
I thought back to all those miles run with teammates through high school and college. I even joined and trained with teams well after college. Sure, I did plenty of training on my own as well. But the benefit of running in the company of others I always took for granted. It was part of the gig.
Penoi seemed glad for the company in any case. We talked and joked about the vagaries of running. He related that he has trouble keeping his hands from getting too cold while training in the winter. He hails from India where the weather was typically hot, yet here in the Midwest he trains with no hat and was not wearing running pants or tights on the thirty-one degree morning on which we ran together. But he was wearing gloves.
I suggested that rather than wear gloves, he should get himself a set of running mittens. “That way you can curl your hands up inside, like this,” I showed him by pulling my hand out of a glove to make a fist. “It can really help to warm your fingers.”
A few years a go after surgery on my middle finger, that digit had poor circulation and would turn ghostly white during cold runs. I had to do a ton of maintenance to keep the finger warm enough for safe travels. I also related to Penoi that back in college a teammate once had to run with his hand stuffed down the front of his pants to keep his crotch warm because he’d worn cotton shorts underneath cotton sweats on a day where the temps dropped below zero.
We chuckled =about that, and cruised along just under 10:00 pace. That’s what Sue and I typically run together, and I’m happy with that. On harder days I’ll drop down to seven or eight-minute pace for speed. And if I’m really gassing it on the indoor track, I run intervals in the six-minute range.
While out with a running gang I don’t really think about any of that these days. I’m content to run with whoever fits the pace of the day. My era of leading the pack is long gone.
After the run we all laid around stretching and rolling out the kinks back. The guy next to me was groaning and grimacing as the black foam roller did its nasty work on a tight hip. The gals leaned into the same task, often lying on top of the foam rollers face-to-face with each other. They looked like they were flying over the floor as they talked about what the world has to offer.
I walked over to lie down with Bailey, the dog of a friend who ran the six miles with us. He was at the end of his leash the whole run, a short-legged wonder with big soft ears and a sweet heart to boot. We were running in good company all around. Even the dog knew it.
Sue and I will be going back every couple weeks. There is something good about running in the company of others. The loneliness of the long-distance runner has its purpose, but the good company of others sustains us through many thoughts and journeys.