the best runner

I love the track.

As we’re walking toward the track, we see them coming down the little dirt road that leads out to the glorious stretch of running. The gazelles.

Two men and a woman, maybe mid-20s. Super fast. They’re slowing to a trot after what must have been a long run. They move in that easygoing stride that fast people move in. As we walk in to the track area, they trot once around the track and sit down on the back stretch bench.

The woman is in a sports bra and shorts. One of the guys wears a “New England Distance” T-shirt. The other guy is New Balance. Pros in town for Rock n Roll Marathon the next day? Hardcore guys living in Flagstaff who come down for the weekend for speedwork? Beats me. We’ve never seen them before.

It’s one of those days at the track that make you realize how lucky you are. Mid-70s, sunny, just a few people. The perfect place for our daily 5K.

A woman maybe 30ish has lane 2. She runs in an awkward way, all arm swing and weird cadence. I mention to Mo that she has horrible form. “Doesn’t Paula Radcliffe have that same form?” Mo asks. Mo is sort of a jerk.

She is joined occasionally by her daughter, maybe 6. The kid runs a lap with Mom, who slows down for her. Then she jumps on her bike and rides around the sidewalk around the track before joining Mom again. Future duathlete. The woman runs steadily with a resolve. Not fast, but serious. Respectable.

A woman in her early 20s is doing 200s for almost the entire time we’re there. Start line on the back stretch, a blur to the finish line, a diagonal jog across the football field back to the start, repeat. She must run 20 or so while we’re trotting. I will never know how sprinters are able to do that. The joy of suffering, I suppose.

A guy around 40 is doing mile repeats. I don’t get this one at all. He’s a fireplug in a plain shirt and shorts. Heavy training shoes. Backward baseball cap. Not too fast, but good form. He is working hard. Mile, rest, repeat, rest, repeat. What is his story?

A young guy is doing 100s. Spikes, lightning. The sort of crazy fast guy this track seems to attract. Saucony singlet, spikes, trainers, bag. I’m guessing he’s pro, but no idea who he is. I make a note to myself to require people to sign my registry as they come in.

The gazelles sit forever on the back stretch, savoring the afterglow of a hard run on a beautiful day, before they pull on their backpacks and wander off. The woman and kid take off. The sprinter stops after a few repeats (I thought he was a slacker, but he showed up the next day for the Training Session From Hell and I spent my entire run mentally apologizing.) The 200 woman warms down on the field before departing.

It’s just us and the 40-year-old miler.

We finish up and sit on the bench watching the world go by. Mo says she thinks he is the real runner of the group. He’s doing it simply because he loves it.

I make a spirited argument for the gazelles. You don’t run 100 miles a week unless you love it, I tell her. She says they’re in it for the adulation that comes from winning. I don’t buy it. I’m from the Cassidy School of Running. Only a True Believer can work that hard for that many years.

Or maybe the 200 woman. That ability to push yourself so hard when nobody is looking. How much does it hurt in the last 20 meters after the 15th repeat? How easy to turn off the jets a little bit and coast?

Or maybe the mom. Training your brains out while juggling your run with an overly zealous little girl at your side.

Or the 100 guy. 80 miles a week to run a little stretch of track at 15 mph.

But as we sit and watch the guy come by again, maybe it’s him. He’s getting older. He’s never going to win anything. He isn’t impressive at all. And yet he’s still here. Mile after mile. Running. Just because that’s what he does.

Who’s the best runner? Mo says him. But I think she’s wrong.

I think it’s everyone. We’re all part of some cosmic running community, sharing a track and sunshine and energy. We’re all the best.

I love the track. I might’ve mentioned that earlier …

About gary

no sock monkeys were harmed in the making of this blog.
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