Athletes are wack in dozens of small, odd ways. I like to think of myself as a happy exception — I don’t have to wear my lucky shirt, or kiss the bat, or rub the Buddha’s belly, or do my stretches in a particular order every time.
But I do have a… thing… about people running on my pace.
About three times a week I go to a park near me to run 3 or 4 miles. I’m not a fast runner by any means. On a treadmill I can easily string together nine and ten minute miles, but out of doors I tend to run slower, especially if I’m on a rocky or rooted trail.
I hate running in a crowd, and I hate getting buzzed by bicyclists on a running path. But more than any other thing, I hate for a stranger to run on my pace, right next to me.
If it’s my husband or a friend I’m running with, that’s different because we’re together and we can chit-chat the whole way, which makes the miles disappear with supernatural ease. But don’t drop onto my trail and run on my pace because it makes me crazy.
Last week I was running in a park, coming up a long straight-away that leads right up to the street across from yet another park. People often walk across the road from one park to the other.
And just as I made it up to the top of that stretch, I saw a woman jogging across the street toward me. I realized we were going to intersect if she dropped onto my trail. I hoped she would simply run past me in the other direction, but of course she did not. She stepped lightly onto the path about 20 feet in front of me and settled into her run, her feet falling easily into the same pattern as mine.
She is on my pace, I thought irritably, staring hard at her back.
Well she better speed it up, I decided. I have absolutely no intention of running right behind her for the next two miles.
Us “type A” people can be hard to live with, I freely admit. Even we find ourselves onerous sometimes.
Her pace remained even. She looked light and fresh, her feet hardly touching the ground. She looked like the kind of mom who only buys healthy cereal for her kids, and always remembers the fabric softener when she’s doing her family’s laundry. I bet she drives a minivan and vacuums it out herself, I thought uncharitably.
See how rude I can be when someone’s on my pace?
I felt myself accelerating. I was running 3 feet behind her, close enough to step on her shadow, which I did, with relish. Slow down or speed up, I barked mentally.
Nothing. She was happy to maintain.
So of course I did it. With a haughty sniff I slipped off the path into the grass and went around her, picking my pace up enough to stay ahead. Our footfalls were out of sync briefly, then I heard them fall back in together. She had picked up enough speed to match me. Ugh.
Drop back! I thought. Just stay on your stupid pace, which was my pace, I’m giving it to you. Let me move ahead.
Nope. If I wanted to be rid of her, I was going to have to shift into a higher gear and burn some fuel. Well, I thought. If that’s how you want it, that’s how it’s gonna be. Prepare to be humiliated, Lady On My Pace.
I cranked it, and pulled away with long, ground-eating strides. I knew I could sustain the push for at least half a mile or so, and I did. I got far enough ahead to not be able to hear her behind me, nor see her in my peripheral vision when the path turned.
And then I went back to my pace. It was mine, after all.
And things were all Partridge Family and sunshine until I heard her draw up behind me again. Looked like I was going to have a really fast running day.
I increased my lead again, and decided to force myself to hold the faster speeed to the end of my run.
After another half mile I reconsidered, and risked a glance back to see where she was. Still in sight. Damn. I walked for a moment to recover my breath, and could feel her gaining.
I broke back into a run and had probably the fastest third mile I’ve ever run. I would have run a fourth, or even walked for a cool-down, but of course I would rather sleep every night on a pile of smelly running shoes than let her pass me.
I know I am a lunatic. Tell me something I don’t know.
Image by Andrew Mason on Flickr.