I rounded the corner, my legs sluggish, my body tired, and I was content to finish the run at a reasonable, non-challenging pace. It was hot and muggy and I hadn’t slept well the night before and work at the office and work at home had taken a toll on me and so, yes, I was content to finish the run at a reasonable, non-challenging pace. And then I rounded the corner.
I saw her walking across the street ahead of me, dressed in workout tights and a t-shirt, probably coming from the health club. She walked in front of another building and I lost sight of her.
You may begin judging. Why did I notice her?
- She appeared to be athletic and as a runner, I tend to notice others involved in athletic endeavors.
- I practice situational awareness and notice everybody in my immediate vicinity.
- I am a man and she was a woman and I am an example of toxic masculinity.
So again I turned the corner, and there she was, about twenty yards ahead of me, and she started to run. No, she wasn’t running from me; she hadn’t even seen me.
She’s twenty yards ahead and I see she’s not thin and lithe, doesn’t have that classic runner’s body. Judge me again. What is a runner’s body, Joe?
A couple of year ago I was out on a run and heard footsteps behind me and before I knew it, I was being passed by a squat, muscular guy who looked more like a weightlifter than a runner. But he was more of a runner than I was. So, sure, I admit that judging this woman by her build was not too smart. Still, I had no doubt that I was going to pass her very quickly, even with my tired, sluggish legs.
I should point out that this was happening along a busy street, a common running route in my town. So even if she knew I was behind her (and she didn’t) she wouldn’t have felt threatened. I was just another runner.
Off I go, picking up the pace a little. But I wasn’t closing the distance between us. Twenty yards became thirty. Thirty-five. Forty. She was leaving me in the dust.
So I eased up and resigned myself to the fact that she was probably thirty years younger than me and I was tired and so what if she’s faster.
No, I didn’t do that. I picked up my pace even more.
Still, she widened the gap. Maybe I should just lay back. Admit defeat.
Of course not. I pressed harder. Longer, quicker strides.
I was keeping pace now, but not closing the gap. My breathing was fast and hard, my heart pounding.
A slight uphill rise, followed by a downhill, where I used gravity to my advantage. I was getting closer, ever so slightly. When the road flattened, I kept my downhill pace. I was gaining on her.
But I didn’t know how long I could keep it up. A larger hill loomed ahead. Maybe she would slow. Even though I was dead tired and I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs, I was determined.
Why? What’s the purpose of this personal quest?
- It’s that toxic masculinity again. I have to prove that I’m a man.
- My ego is out of control and even at my age, I refuse to admit I’ve lost a few steps.
- Even though I have no desire to say more than hello as I pass her, I can’t help but think that she’ll be impressed by this ageless wonder running like a man half his age.
- Maybe I’m just a dork.
I was definitely closing the gap, but it’s a slow and painful process. If she picks up the pace even a little, I’m done. But I’ll keep pressing as long as I can.
And then she pivots and turns around, running toward me. I raise my hand in the understated runner’s wave. She doesn’t acknowledge me. She passes, and just like that, the race is over.
She wins. I lose.
I hit the hill I was dreading and I’m thankful I can slow down. And when I slow, I feel so tired that I wonder how I ran as fast as I did for as long as I did. Another half mile at an old man’s pace and my run is finished.
I sat down on the curb, sweat burning my eyes, a puddle forming on the concrete. And I started to ask the questions. The answers? All of the above.
Judge me as you will.