Peace Sign

Runner Redemption

Ready for my confession? I’ve made them before (see here and here), but it must be time for a fresh one. Forgive me, people, for I have sinned. Again.

But this story is different, I promise.

I went for a run this week and in the course of the first mile alone I found myself mentally eviscerating not one, not two, but three pace suckers. These nice, harmless runners were blocking my path and running an eighth of an inch below and above my pace, and I was slitting bellies and slinging guts like an avenging fishwife.

I’m the most immature runner in the known universe. I ran on.

Then I had some alone-on-the-path time and I began to think. I mean, nothing else to do, right? So I remembered the last run I had, where I was out with the Husband and we were chatting and running along and there were no less than four people who walked past us and actually greeted us nicely. Four! It was surreal and actually kind of lovely.

So after my first mile of mentally reprehensible and gory behavior I decided I had hit rock bottom and it was time to change. The next oncoming runner I encountered, I decided, I would… greet. Nicely, dammit. I would either give them a chin salute, or my personal favorite, the hipside peace sign.

I like the hipsider because you just fling out your peace sign — kind of sideways from the hip — without really making too much effort. And if the oncoming runner doesn’t actually see it, you don’t feel like a dork. Hip peace. I get these once in a while from the streamlined college guys on one of my favorite circuits, and it always makes me feel good, like they are acknowledging me as a credible runner, even though my strides are nothing close to their beautiful, long, graceful ground-eaters.

I considered this carefully for another mile, then committed myself. I looked eagerly ahead.

And here came my test victim running toward me, a man actually on my pace or just above it, nice form, about my age. He got closer and I waffled. It would be easier not to do anything. Oh, hell.

I almost waited too late, but I sneaked in the hipside peace sign just in the nick of time. And he saw it! I know because a small smile bloomed on his face.

Huh! I ran on, just a touch taller. Maybe I would get used to this whole “be nice” thing. That thought carried me for the entire rest of the next circuit.

And I was just about finished turning my new feelings over and over in my head when I looked up and saw him approaching again. Crap, what do you do the second time? Same sign? New one? Do I need a whole toolbelt of these things?? Argh!

But before I could solve the conundrum, we were passing each other. And guess what?

He not only smiled at me, he flipped me the hipsider back!

I was stunned. And pleased. I felt buoyant.

Some kind of new thing was growing that hadn’t been in the world before. Don’t get me wrong, I knew I hadn’t solved world hunger, but still!

I was running but mentally I was relaxing happily in a hot tub, sipping champagne.

Eventually I looked ahead and saw a family-picnic party of nine, strung along the path for the next 20 yards, completely blocking everything with strollers and toddler bikes. They were chatting amiably and absolutely unaware of anyone who might need to pass. Inattentive path blockers! Not as bad as pace suckers, but still premium material for my beastly evil rants.

But without even the slightest ill humor, I ran five or six steps sideways off the path, around the three kids kicking a soccer ball and all nine members of the family and sailed past in the grass. They all smelled like dryer sheets. Fresh laundry. How nice!

Eventually I angled back onto the path and happily continued on my way. I damn near waved as I went by, but restrained myself just in time.

And eventually realized that I had sailed through a fourth mile, without even noticing.

I almost never run more than three miles. See what being nice can do for you?

It’s possible I might be maturing as a runner. Don’t want to make any judgements too soon, but this is certainly a good sign, I believe.

My inner formerly-evil genius is rubbing her hands together, wondering what would happen if I decided to actually speak a word of encouragement next time. You know, not weather subjects (“Hot out”), lengthy pronouncements (“You’re certainly getting a few good miles in”), or things easily misinterpreted (“Lookin’ goooood”), but maybe something like “Good run.” Without an exclamation mark or anything, just a calm appraisal of what we are all of us in the universe having together.

Who knows what might happen then.

Image by bitzi on Flickr.

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7 Responses to Runner Redemption

  1. Margaret Reyes Dempsey June 26, 2011 at 9:22 am #

    I can so relate to this post. ๐Ÿ™‚ As a born and bred New Yorker, I wasn’t raised exchanging pleasantries in the street. However, I will say that running has made me more outgoing in that way. Maybe it’s because I’m more present in the moment and actually realize there are breathing bodies around me. It started out with the head nods to the other people running or biking. Soon I was greeting residents and cooing to babies in strollers. And the other day, I actually stopped to ask some people if they know my running angel.
    He’s gone missing, and I worry. ๐Ÿ™

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe June 26, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

      I’ve wondered about your running angel ever since I learned about him, Margaret. I hope there’s a story there that you will be able to capture. (I don’t like the idea that we may never know.)

      I wish I had an excuse like being a native New Yorker — I grew up in the South, in the Bible Belt even! — and still I am a wretched, wretched person (mentally) while I’m running. Makes no sense. I’m otherwise an ordinary, nice person. Really.

      But all the mature runners like you, your running angel, my husband, and others are perhaps having an influence on me…

  2. Girlboxing June 26, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    LOVE the image of a curmudgeon finding her saccharine side — mind you, I keep flashing to your piece on running around the track competing with the guy that kept getting in your way … so this is like, well, we’re talking epiphany here. I’m guessing, though, that your inner sweet will not be found in the ring anytime soon as you seem to play best when you have your competition on!

    Still there’s nothing like an afternoon run with the universe on your side for a change! Hahaha!

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe June 26, 2011 at 4:13 pm #

      I’m not sure why it took me 40 years to learn how competitive I was. And you’re right, I work my best with other people challenging me.

      But lordy I can be a beast.

      And you’re a New Yorker — are you beastly like this? I’m dying to know how all you other runner fighter writer women behave on the inside… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. niamh June 30, 2011 at 5:27 am #

    Funny! You make peace signs to other runners – that is not the sign of a grumpy person. I think I would just crease if that happened to me! But know what you mean about wondering how to acknowledge there is another human on the path. I find myself smiling at dogs and then wondering if male owners think I’m some kind of bunny-boiler judging by some reactions! Maybe I smile too much?

  4. niamh June 30, 2011 at 5:28 am #

    PS – smiling at small children while covered in sweat and breathing heavily, also to be carried out with caution

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe June 30, 2011 at 9:09 am #

      Bunny-boiler, LOL! Hadn’t thought of that movie in a while!

      I will sometimes smile at children (I don’t know if I smile at dogs), but this was my first try at behaving like a nice person toward adult humans. And I never considered the smiling at small children while covered in sweat thing — do you think people see it as threatening, coming from a mom-age woman?

      Feh, I’ll never manage all this… ๐Ÿ˜‰

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