A stranger’s gift
By Marlene Farrell
If you run frequently enough, through downtown streets or neighborhoods, you’re bound to receive a gift — the spontaneous praise of a stranger. Maybe you’re flying, your feet barely touching the pavement. But it’s just as likely to occur when you’re plodding through the rain, calculating the minutes until your run is over. Or perhaps it’s your first run since an overindulgent weekend and you picture yourself waddling. Or you’re stressed from an argument with your spouse and from the piles of work on your desk, when running feels like a guilty distraction, not a helpful remedy.
The stranger will call out, “Looking good,” or “Good for you.” Sometimes she’ll shake her head, saying, “I don’t know how you do it,” or “Run a mile for me.” The stranger goes out of her way to connect with you, because running itself is a connection.
When it happens to me, I’m so blown away by the flattering acknowledgement that I barely get over the “who me?” feeling to stutter a response. I am reminded that when I’m running on the side of a road I am not alone. Passersby may not know whether I’m pushing hard or taking it easy, whether I feel energized or depleted. But all the same, the runner that is me means something to them.
The runner is an archetype of human endeavor, as we strive to achieve. To achieve what? Something, be it status, proficiency, love. Once “it” is achieved, the striving continues toward higher status, greater proficiency, deeper love. The runner that is me is the same. I don’t stop running the day after a big race. There’s always a new challenge. This year, for me, the challenges include racing steeper terrain, revisiting the marathon in a new age bracket and reaching out to new sets of runners — female retreat participants and 8- to 11-year-old trail runners. Running might appear to be senseless repetition to some, but the stranger intuits the purpose.
The other day I was stopped, not on my run, but soon after, at the grocery store. I was still wearing my runner’s uniform, running shoes, tights and windbreaker. He asked me about my mileage, wondered about my fitness and reminisced about his former running days. He was a local who had seen me running many times.
I was flooded with gratitude. I stepped lighter and smiled more often the rest of the day. And I kept thinking about how he said he should get back into running. I had nudged him with encouragement. Was it enough?
Now as I run, and the cars veer away to give me ample space, I make sure I smile and wave. Sometimes that extra mile isn’t for me, it’s for them.
Marlene Farrell is a Leavenworth writer, long-distance runner and coach with the Peshastin-Dryden Striders kids running club.