Monday, October 26, 2009

A Running Story . . .

Although my left foot -- heel, left instep, ankle, probably Achilles stuff which has happened before and which probably relates to a long-ago broken leg -- has been bothering me lately, I haven't yet felt the need to give up my long Saturday runs (or my heels, for that matter, although I'm putting days of flats between the days with heels). With life being so busy this weekend, I thought I might give the foot a break and skip my run this weekend, but Sunday morning the rain was still holding off, and I decided to head out for a seawall run. I generally walk for at least five minutes to get well warmed up and after that I quickly settled into a really comfortable pace, and I realized how strong I felt, able to float in and out of awareness of my body while my mind sorted through the week's activities, then on to a longer time frame. (Let me qualify: I'm not a particularly strong runner; I'm not athletic, although I work to stay fit -- but I felt strong on Sunday's run, and I savoured the feeling!)

This is what I love about a long run -- for me, nothing else quite provides that balance between mechanical physical effort and free-range thinking. Thinking, truly, is too strong or specific a term for what I do -- while I sometimes deliberately think through an issue (perhaps a bit of pedagogy -- how to design an assignment or how to introduce a text, or perhaps a problem with my own writing -- should this argument be introduced before that evidence?), I will often only be aware of deep oxygen-grabbing breaths and hard-working quads and suddenly realize I'm remembering an incident from my childhood or wondering where a friend from decades ago has ended up. Walking can also have this effect for me but not quite as quickly or effectively -- there's something about the elevated effort that makes a difference. Obviously, I won't be able to keep this up indefinitely (although this woman is an inspiration), but I'm glad every time I manage another single long run.

A little anecdote from my run:

Somewhere about 8 Kilometres into my run, I could hear someone close behind me, but to the side, on the bike path. In fact, I saw several cyclists have to swerve to get around this runner. I heard whoever it was with the breathing and the slightly heavy feet hang just behind me -- within twenty feet -- for about 50 metres or so, and then the runner -- a very muscular, solid man -- passed me, rather awkwardly if not rudely, on my right, so that I had to move since I was running next to the curb. Not a big deal, although a bit irritating since there was so much space to my left. But then this runner maintained a pace that kept him within 20 feet or so ahead of me. Sometimes he would push himself a bit and achieve a slightly greater distance from me -- perhaps up to 50 feet -- but then he would fall back so that I would be almost on his heels. And although my natural pace was faster than his natural pace, so that I could easily have passed him, every time he suspected I was close, he'd give another spurt and move ahead a bit.

Because I had a water break planned for about another kilometre along, I didn't want to deliberately overtake him (only to then have to stop for water-- eventually catching up to him and do the whole thing again), so I put up with running in his wake. But then it began to get amusing. First, as another runner, passing us from the opposite direction, said "Good morning," I answered "Hi." Hearing me, realizing I was right behind him, Muscular Runner sped up, putting 50 feet between us. But as he couldn't maintain that pace, and I was keeping mine steady, I was soon closing in on him again. I got a bit mischievous and coughed -- sure enough, he sped up. I caught up again, then brought one foot down a bit heavily for an audible footfall. He sped up. Again, I deliberated passing him rather than playing cat-and-mouse. But I'm quite sure he'd originally passed me because he was sure he could overtake a woman -- even though he must have known he wasn't that strong a runner. So I was also sure he wouldn't easily let me run past and not only was I not interested in an out-and-out race, but I was also a bit concerned about what he would risk in order to win -- I'm not up on my CPR!

Anyway, by this point we were both approaching a water fountain, having run in each other's company for a kilometre or so. He got there first and took his time, filling his water bottles before yielding the fountain to me, but since he made a point of then saying "hi," I greeted him in turn and then commented that I seemed to be setting a good pace for him. Normally, I wouldn't be so bold, but I was a bit irked by a) his near-rudeness in passing me, on the right, pushing me out of my path, b) his obvious assumption that he could easily pass and keep ahead of me because I was a woman, and c) his competitive male need to stay ahead of me even what it was obviously a real stretch for him.

He agreed that my pace was giving him a good workout. I couldn't help adding that, after all, it was only the pace of a 56-year old woman. I know, I know, mean of me, but remember: a, b, and c. Really funny, though -- he answered "Well, I'm 52!" Pater cracked up when I told him that. Mind you, Pater was really amused by the whole story although he couldn't quite understand why I wouldn't just have overtaken the fellow right away and left him behind.

In retrospect, I suppose I was almost as childish as my running partner. Still, the little interchange at the water fountain gave me a few chuckles throughout the day. Needless to say, perhaps, our friend headed off in a different direction once we'd filled up on water, and I continued with a satisfying run.

So how mean, silly, childish, or, perhaps, justified do you think I was? Does that kind of uninvited male competition ever bother you? As a non-athlete (other than running) I rarely experience this, but maybe you do -- tell me what you think . . .

A funny addendum -- I wrote this post this morning but didn't hit the "Publish" button (a bit afraid of revealing my pettiness?). Telling the story to some young (30-somethings) running friends on the ferry this morning, I learned that they have a term in their circle (of athletic, quite competitive young women) -- apparently what I'd held back from doing, what my male running "companion" had feared me doing is a phenomenon known as "chicking" -- as in "Hey guy, you totally got "chicked" by that girl!" or even, with a high five, "Hey Girl, you totally chicked that guy -- look how pissed off he is!" So at least my buddy escaped that fate -- being chicked by a grandmother!


  1. I have never heard the term "chicked" before and I certainly have never chicked a guy in any athletic endeavor. In academic endeavors I have chicked a guy or two and even gloated over it. I can be pretty competitive if pushed and that is why I do better exercising on my own rather than in group settings. I quit paying attention to my own pace and range and look to see what others are up to. Not good for me.

  2. I've never heard that term before either and I can't think of any athletic endeavor where I've even been close to considering the possibility. But like Belette, I have chicked quite a few guys in academic and professional endeavors and gloated as well.

    I have experienced this kind of thing sometimes, and I always feel annoyed, but not enough necessarily to "chick" the offender, or perhaps I am afraid I can't live up to the faster pace. It would probably be better just run ahead than waste energy being irked. I sometimes wonder if it is a generational thing, something many of my female friends seem to share, but which never occurs to our daughters.

  3. LBR/Mardel: I feel I quickly need to repeat that I'm not athletic beyond running and even there, I'm pretty mediocre. Interesting that I feel that need to be modest, part of all that cultural baggage around female roles, etc., Anyway, I'm like you and much more experienced with academic or professional competition than anything athletic.
    And Mardel, I think you're right -- my daughters would simply have run past the guy, impatiently. Pater, as well, which is why he found the whole thing amusing and puzzling. For me, it was actually easier to say something to the fellow . . . hmmmm, perhaps I'm competing on terms I'm more familiar with, some verbal sparring instead of a physical competition. Interesting . . .

  4. I loved that anecdote. I regularly hear stories like this from my husband, who is a VERY keen runner - sometimes he's the one intent on keeping ahead; often he's the one setting a pace that a younger runner assumes he (note HE) can outdo; occasionally he finds himself outrun by a very athletic woman (as he did in his last marathon). I don't think you were excessively petty at all - after all, you had much to irritate you, so you deserved your moment!

  5. I don't like what he did! Poor etiquette to pass you too closely and without even a nod hello.

    When I used to run, I was out for MY run. If someone clipped me, I would shout "HEY!" so they knew that wasn't sporting behaviour.

    If tried to make it into a contest, I'd change my route immediately: I was not there for someone else's purposes. (So guess I was selfish???) Only person I wanted to compete against on a pleasure run was myself- but mostly no competition, just enjoyment as you described.

  6. Justified! You didn't do anything truly rude or mean, and men like that need a comeuppance every so often.

  7. I don't really feel qualified to comment on your story, but I did enjoy it!! Patricia

  8. This often happens in the pool and I definitely "chick" guys and take pleasure in the passing (it never happens with other women). of course the problem then is ensuring you can keep the pace up for several more laps to prove your point!


  9. Tiffany: My husband isn't as keen a runner as yours, but he also occasionally meets this kind of competitive-in-a-goofy-way runner. He doesn't seem as conflicted about it as I was though -- he just passes the guy!
    Glad you don't think I was petty -- thanks!
    Duchesse: Thanks for understanding! Like you, I'm not out for a competition but simply to run at my own enjoyable pace. Sadly, there's not much route option on the Seawall, but happily, this fellow wasn't out to do the whole distance so he diverged after our little interchange;-)
    Jillian: Comeuppance, the perfect word -- I guess that's exactly what I was trying to provide him!
    Patricia: Thanks!
    Bronwen: I'm curious to know if you do this just to be a bit of a brat (you mention taking pleasure in the passing) or simply because you have to pass to maintain your own pace, comfortably. And why doesn't it ever happen with other women?
    (and in case other readers are taken aback that I'm accusing a commenter of brattiness, B is my daughter, so I might be able to get away with it.)

  10. This has happened to me many times, running, cycling and swimming. I'm competitive and if I think a guys passing me or even keeping up with me just because I'm a woman I'll make him work for it and definitely pick up the pace. Rachel and I have had a good chuckle a couple of times after running into the run clubhouse either just in front of or close on the heels of one of the guys who for some reason never sticks around to chat.. mumbles good run and heads straight to the car.
    I liked your jabs at the water stop, very quick!

  11. Chicked, huh? I've done this on the running path by the Rideau Canal in my ugrad days. Alas, my Achilles has prevented me from running for the past 6 months or so. Great story!!!

  12. Hilary, so between you, Rachel, and Bronwen, I'm in good genetic company! I can just imagine you and Rachel chuckling over that.
    Miss C: I bet you're missing the running -- I'm nervous about my Achilles and keeping my fingers crossed!

  13. ha! this kind of dude is so very common (and it is almost ALWAYS a dude). like bronwen, I take pleasure in passing them in the most humiliating manner possible. I wait for a hill or the steepest part of the stairs (or until I can see they're struggling to hold their pace after swimming/flailing for a few lengths with me right on their tail), and then I just blow right by. I am not super-fast, either, but I can hold the pace for a LONG time. though, like you, I sometimes wonder if I will wind up having to give CPR to one of them - that would learn me!

    I don't know why it's always guys - I sort of feel sorry for them. It would be a bit sad being that guy.

    - kris

  14. Kris: I think I'll learn from you young'uns just to "own" my running prowess (endurance, at least) and give the next not-fast-enough challenger a run for his money. First, maybe I should take that CPR case I'm always talking about.
    And as for feeling sorry? You would have choked laughing at the plaintive way this guy said, "Well, I'm 52 . . ."!


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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