I did my weekly track workout at Memorial High School yesterday. It went well. If you count the 2 miles warming up and 1 mile warming down, I logged 8 miles including 4 X 1 mile repeats of 7:03, 6:57, 7:01 and 6:48. I wanted to 'feel' fast so I wore my rarely used bright red racing flats. And yes, I felt as fast as a 56-year old guy running on tired legs could feel. The temporary euphoria was quickly banished when a 20-something athlete blew by me at blistering speed.
Nice as it was, by next week I will have forgotten this workout. What I won’t forget is running with a group of mentally challenged individuals, who happened to be at the track by the time I got there. At first, I didn’t realize that there was anything different about them. They didn’t look any weirder than me, or a hundred other runners. And of course, it is a thin line which separates ‘normal’ from ‘abnormal’ when it comes to the mental faculties. Where does odd, eccentric or quirky end and true mental illness start?
So when I heard one individual loudly talking away to himself as I passed him during one of my warm-up laps, I thought nothing of it. Nowadays, one assumes that solitary talkers in the supermarket, at the dry cleaner or at the running track are on the ‘phone, that there’s a Bluetooth device in play. On the second go-round, I realized that this guy was not talking to anybody else. Perhaps he was conversing with an imaginary friend, or just rehearsing for a ‘phone call to his mother. I have to confess that at least in my mind, I rolled my eyes but at the same time I felt quite sorry for the individual. And of course I felt fortunate not to be in his shoes. So I was more than a little surprised when he loudly proclaimed – as if the whole world was listening, - “I am loving everything about this”. What a pleasure it was to observe such innocent joy! And as I started to look around at some of the other runners the differences became clear. The mentally challenged runners were having a lot more fun than anybody else. For them, it was all smiles and joy. The other runners? Not as much. Several grim faces (including yours truly), a few frowns and even some tears on the face of one young competitor. Yes there were some happy ones too but overall probably deserving of a ‘B’ on the contentment scale.
We runners in general sometimes tend to be negative: we grumble when we don’t hit our splits, we feel under-trained, we never have enough time, we wish we could be faster, thinner or taller. We dwell on our injuries. We set very high goals for ourselves which often lead to disappointment. At least for the next few weeks, I will try harder to have a smile on my face too, when I run. I want to experience the pure joy of running like the guy who talks to himself, even when nobody is listening. I’m loving everything about running too, and maybe I should show it more often.