Saturday, January 7, 2012

Running Friends

I was invited out for a run with three of my friends this morning and it reminded me of a couple of things. For a moment last night, thinking about it, I was considering declining the offer. Lately, I've been running alone and loving the solitude and meditative nature of it. I've gotten used to the sound of my feet on the pavement and the quiet in my mind as I let myself be in the moment. But I know that I'm all too drawn to being by myself and that getting out with people is almost always worth it.

It sure was today.

I ran with three women. My wife and I are friends with them and their husbands. Our kids go to the same school and are within a year or two of each other in age. We have a tremendous amount in common not the least of which is that we all run. I left the house a few minutes early and took the long way to our meeting point. The first few blocks were a challenge. My calves were tight. I've run more in the past week than I did either of the past two months. It took me a while to have my body understand the basic mechanics of one foot in front of the other.

At Barry Park, our traditional meeting place, two friends were already waiting for me. We chatted about the run their husbands had taken this morning. I was running later, with the women, because I wanted to sleep in, run slower than the guys, and wanted to try out my new pink running skirt. I look beautiful in it. The third friend joined us and we all headed out together.

I used to need a group or at least a partner to push me past the first couple miles. I was the type of runner who could be easily talked out of a run even when I was in the middle of running. I would just fall to walking without much thought and then have so much trouble getting started again that it wasn't worth the effort. I've gotten past that and can run as far as I want to now. Well, not as far as I want to, but as far as I need to.

The group serves a different need now. I find that when I run with a group I have to be present in another way. I'm not listening to my feet, I'm listening to conversation. That's another thing I've had to train myself for. I have had a habit of being a one-up conversationalist. Someone says that they remember a time when they had the flu. Oh yeah, I'd say. I remember when my mother had shingles. It's an annoying habit and comes out of anxiety.

Today, running with the group, I found myself paying attention to the conversation and to the feel of just listening. I wasn't silent (I'm not often silent), but I focused on trying to listen and, when I spoke, I tried to be sure that I was adding to the conversation, that I was being generous. I'm not sure how well I succeeded, but the effort alone is a success for me.

In many ways, having a four-way conversation, being part of that, is like being part of a four-person running group. I very rarely took the lead in our run and when I did I was careful to make sure that I didn't push the pace too hard. We weren't out there to leave it all on the streets and go home wrecked. We wanted to get out and move and we wanted to do it together. At one time or another I was in each of the four places (front, back, and the two in between) and each time I was aware of the runners around me.

I suppose this is all a matter of audience. A writer's first audience is himself. If the writing doesn't entertain me, then it's no good at all. But a writer who stops there is nothing much. Even the most obscure or difficult writers are constantly working for the audience. It's not a matter of catering. It's a matter of caring.

In thinking of that, I will spend the next week looking back at the writing I've done to see what has most interested people (based on comments and the like). I'll try to return to some of those ideas and also find new things to talk about. I would like to be working for you, my audience, as I write on.