The warmth from the sun being tempered by a slightly cooler breeze coaxed a pair of running sneakers on to my feet, sending me on an outdoors jog, despite the fact I had deemed it a “rest day” for my muscles to recover. Taking it at an easy pace, I paid no mind to the time or my miles-per-hour. This run wasn’t about athleticism or personal records- it was about feeling the earthbeneath my feet and enjoying nature’s gift of a perfect summer day.
There is an unspoken set of mannerisms among the running community. A slight nod of the head or wave of the hand is normal as paths are crossed. It’s a polite, subtle recognition of a mutual love for pavement pounding. Sometimes, it serves as a nonverbal “hey, I feel your pain” if the weather is challengingly extreme or a hill seems to be at a 180 degree angle. It’s like being in a club with a secret handshake and all it takes to become a member is to place one foot in front of the other and repeat.
I rounded the second to last turn on my usual route and saw a man with grayed hair, wearing multicolored spandex running gear and a dark pair of athletic sunglasses in the distance, running towards me. He seemed to be in his late fifties or early sixties, but in great physical condition, nonetheless. I gave him a quick wave of acknowledgement.
As I came around the final half-mile marker bend, trudging along at my casual pace, I saw the same man out of the corner of my eye, gradually gaining headway on me. Out of admiration of his conditioning (and partially due to my competitive nature), I picked up my pace, just enough to steadily keep a few feet behind him. I remained on the uneven sidewalk as he opted for the flat roadway’s shoulder.
There are two baby hills within the last quarter mile that I usually sprint, fueled by a runner’s high that never fails to push me through. As I revved myself in to full speed, I passed my unofficial running partner, ending my run at the top of the driveway accross the street, panting for air, feeling accomplished. Turning my gaze towards the man, we caught eachother’s attention as he gave me an enthusiastic thumbs-up and I smiled through my gasps, shouting “thank you!” knowing that he knew I was grateful for the extra motivational mental push he provided me.
As I crossed the street, I realized that the man was actually my neighbor. I watched him turn in to the driveway that I had used as my finish line for years. All this time, I lived across the way from a fellow runner that ended up being a source of motivation for the end of my run. On any other day, that man would just be a fellow road-runner that understood the unspoken runners’ launguage. I smiled to myself as I realized that motivation and inspiration can come from anywhere- even from the neighbor accross the way that I had never once introduced myself to.