Monday, October 27, 2014


The whole point of going to a running group is being with the pack. Carry on a conversation while trying to regulate gasps of breath. Act as though it’s nothing to sound like a heavy-breathing asthmatic as you talk about, oh, let’s say Seattle rain.

I could have run at 7 a.m. when my alarm went off. I’d looked out the window and the pavement was dry. With rain in the forecast for the entire weekend, this was an opportunity.

Run for it! I told myself. Forget Frontrunners. They don’t know you. You don’t know them.

And yet in my mind I felt I’d made a commitment. It was the only definite part of my Seattle weekend itinerary. 9 a.m., Green Lake Community Center, rain or shine. I am not the flake that all those other single gay men seem to be.

Thirty minutes later, I heard the sound of car tires swishing through puddles. I looked out my hotel window to confirm that my hearing remains entirely adequate. No hearing aids just yet—a silver lining.

By 8:30, I began my walk to Green Lake. The half-hour stroll provided the opportunity for a pep talk. Smile. Be friendly. Listen more than you talk. You don’t like talking while gasping anyway.

My legs were sore from a couple of weight workouts this week and a swim session in which I swam the last thirty minutes with intense quad and toe cramps. It had been foolish. Afterward, I awkwardly limped to the hot tub as the keen new lifeguard chirped, “Great swim!” She had the good sense to look away as I hugged the rail while bent over as leg spasms failed to relent to the misinformed self-therapeutic prescription of hot, bubbly water.

I tacked on a pep talk addendum. Don’t try to be first. Go easy on your legs. Stay with the pack. This is about being social.

But not too social. I paced myself so I would arrive just in time for the group circle wherein everyone says their names. Thankfully, I didn’t have to stand around ahead of time, listening to idle chitchat about, oh, Seattle rain. Wouldn’t want to run out of topics before, “Go!”

I adhered to the pep talk. I smiled. I said my name several decibels above my family’s default mumble. I even said “Hello” and laughed. To someone’s black lab but it counts. That lab was on a leash held by an actual person in the circle. Alas, the dog turned away, resuming squirrel patrol.

Within two minutes of my joining the circle, we dispersed. Having run with this group three weeks ago, I knew which way to begin for the four- or six-mile option. I recognized none of the runners, but I settled into the back of the pack, following someone else’s pace and pretending that jogging in the rain is pure joy. Or mildly tolerable. That’s as upbeat as I could muster after I sloshed right through sidewalk water that I dubbed Wolf Lake.

Yes, that’s it. Stay with the pack. Your pack.

The woman beside me said nothing. I could have introduced myself and asked the only non-weather icebreaker I could think of: “Are you running four or six miles?” But after three hundred yards of silence, the moment had passed.

One guy broke away, setting a faster pace, one that I wanted to go. No! Be social. You run alone all the time back home.

ALL the time.

The men immediately in front of me talked about Halloween plans. They seemed engrossed. One looked over his shoulder briefly, perhaps annoyed that the woman and the new guy were on his heels.

By the time we’d gone half a mile, the cracks in my pep talk became unsightly. They’re not going to include you. Their backs are boring. Stop listening. They’re not talking to you.

I could have imposed myself. I’d given up a few miles of dry running for this. I should make the sogginess mean something.

But I knew I was done. The fast guy was getting away from us and I could not recall the zigzagging route through streets and park trails. I needed to make a quick decision: stare silently at these backs for the next fifty minutes or catch the lead rabbit.

And so I bolted. Social experiment over. I knew the lead guy wasn’t social either. That’s why he’d set off on his own. I caught up but then gave him a five-yard gap. I’d get lost if I passed and I didn’t crave another round of awkward silence.

But he cut off for the four-mile run and I veered to the right and uphill for the six-miler. The rest of the pack was out of sight behind me. I’d have to wing it. Run what I could recall of the route, take a fateful wrong turn, wind up hopelessly lost and then stop and ask a police officer or a kindly homeless man for directions once my shoes became intolerably drenched or my feet returned to their painfully blistered state of being.

A heretofore untapped sense of direction kicked in. I continued to jog familiar terrain—the street with roadside cement barriers that resembled mini tombstones, the museum that I surmised was loaded with hokey dioramas, the University of Washington’s big fountain and the forest trail that paralleled a highway. I even made the correct meander choices through the ravine trail, jogging under bridges I recognized.

And then when I knew I was back on the leg of the run that was a retread from the start, I turned back in the direction of the hotel. I’d pushed myself to a better than expected pace and I’d successfully navigated a route that I could have sworn I would never be able to do solo. Still, I knew I’d failed.

Specifically, I’d failed to register. At all.

Let them forget me. Let us start again next time I’m in Seattle. I’ll refine the pep talk. I’ll get my teeth whitened. Superficial confidence! Maybe someone will include me from the start, posing his own safe introductory question: “Are you new here?” Yes, I’d say.

Maybe Miley or Lindsay or Britney or Justin will do something incredibly stupid again, providing more innocuous fodder than the weather. I’ll find a way to fit.

Or maybe I’ll bravely set off on my own trail, get lost and finally meet an incredibly cute police officer or homeless man. As long as it’s in the future, anything remains possible.

No comments: