There Are Good Runs, and Then There Are Exceptional Runs

This summer has been a bit of a running renaissance for me.

I got my latest start in running a little over two years ago, flew a bit too close to the sun back in January, crashed and burned at the beginning of the year and have been clawing my way back, clutching at gnarled roots and jagged cliffsides ever since.  Today, I went for my first “relaxed” 10k run in more than a while, and I’m happy to say that I feel damn good afterward.  But it’s not the run I want to talk about.  Er, rather, it’s not the distance.

In trying to get myself out of the injured dumps, I’ve been running this summer with a mind toward becoming more complete: running more trails, especially, but also varying my workouts and working to stay healthy rather than just trying to spin the wheels on the odometer.  I think it’s paying off, but more importantly, I think I’m really getting to enjoy my runs again, rather than facing each one with the fear that the next step is going to injure me again and set me back for a couple months.

This morning found me on the Atlanta Beltline, a series of paved “trails” that wend through and around downtown Atlanta.  It’s been much-touted by colleagues of mine and runners I know in the area, but is one of those things I just hadn’t gotten around to doing (man, that’s a long list).  Mainly I’ve avoided it because it doesn’t jive with my minimalist philosophy of running to drive half an hour just to go on a leisurely run; I prefer to just step out the door and go.  But a facebook group of local runners scheduled the event for this morning; said group is composed of some folks I know from high school and some others I’ve not met yet, so it seemed a good time.

Just by the by, does anybody else have horrible luck when signing up for casual “events” on facebook?  I’ve tried this one or two other times and everybody seems to bail at the last minute.  You see where this is going.  I pull up to the meeting spot at five minutes til the start time and I see a big smiling crowd of zero people.  Yep, ten people signed up as “definitely going” and I was the only one.  Except for my pal from high school, J.  He hops out of his car and hits me with a warm grin and a hearty handshake and a “great to see you.”  We chat for a few minutes about how pitiful it is that nobody else has slogged their butts out of bed on a Saturday (seriously, what are you doing that you can’t get up at 5:45 to go for a run??), then, after allowing enough time for any reasonable latecomers to show up, we’re off.

We set an easy pace — J’s a lot faster than me, but he’s logged a lot of miles this week and wants to relax a bit, and I’m a bit jangly over attempting my first six-miler since a race I ran (and probably overran, to be honest) a month ago.  And my first six-miler ever in my Vibrams, for that matter.

A lot of people, when recounting their runs, like to give a breakdown of each mile, the highs and lows, the hills and the hurts, but that seems silly to me.  I could no more recount each moment of a good run — let alone a good long run — than recount every bite of my breakfast this morning, and it wouldn’t be good reading besides.  (Now, whether the alternative makes for good reading…)

First, a review of the trail.  The Beltline is a very long series of trails, I found out, but we ran a stretch of it from Piedmont Park East over to Ponce de Leon, then doubled back and took a tour of Piedmont Park.  The line is a very well kept, spacious jaunt through residential areas and commercial developments, under overpasses and through great sweeping vistas of the Atlanta skyline.  Nearly every overpass or concrete wall is adorned with the sort of tasteful graffiti that almost feels like an art exhibit.  And the line is so popular that it’s absolutely bursting with runners, bikers, walkers, rollerbladers.  We must have passed or been passed by a hundred people or more in our four miles on the line.  I’m sure that’s nothing new to regulars in the area, but for a guy like me who runs out in the burbs and, on a good day, glimpses maybe three or four other runners in my heavily trafficked zones (none at all otherwise), it was a welcome sight.  Made me feel less like a lunatic on an island and a little more like maybe a guy in a bodysuit at a convention.  Still not totally normal, but at least at home among the other freaks.

Then, the fact that I was running with a guy I’ve not spoken to in any meaningful capacity for oh, about fifteen years (please kill me).  We ruminated a bit about running, a bit about life, a lot about people and marriage and kids and pop music and only a little bit about work, with the kind of easy, unhurried conversation that would have been impossible to achieve otherwise.  You bump into somebody in line at the DMV or at the grocery store, and he’s got someplace he’d rather be, something he’d rather be doing, and he doesn’t want to waste time getting there and doing it.  You settle in for an easy six miles and you find there’s no need to rush things, you let the talk drift where it will.

To top it off, as we hit the turnaround and headed back for the trailhead, I look up and see my young Padawan cruising toward us.  This is a guy who saw me start running and lose thirty pounds two years ago, then took up running himself and has since lost in the neighborhood of one hundred pounds.  He now runs races about every other weekend and is a big contributor and participant with running groups in Atlanta.  Unfortunately, he lives on the opposite side of town from me, so we’ve never actually had a run together — and we didn’t today, because he was hustling along, late for a meeting with his running group.  Still, seeing him in action was just another shot of good vibes on an already good morning.

An hour passed faster than it had any right to.  The run finished, we headed back to our cars and agreed to try and meet up again soon.  I like to think it was the sort of agreement we’ll follow through on — it’s hard to lie and be phony after you’ve just run six miles — but whether we do or not, I’m thankful for the time we had today.  Running is one of those things that binds people together in ways that don’t even make sense a lot of the time, and it certainly brought J and me together today.  I’m one of those hippy-dippy people that thinks there is no such thing as a bad run; that every time you lace up you accomplish something.  But even if there are no bad runs, certainly some runs are better than others.

Today’s was exceptional.