Running a high school varsity cross country race. I always ran barefoot.
Many years ago, when I was vegan, I ran sixteen miles nearly every day while living in Phoenix, Arizona. I would run from my home along the city streets until I reached the canals. Most of my run on the canal was solitary. I was at the peak of my physical capability, even better than in high school and college.
One day it was about 118° and extremely high humidity. I thought I would be okay to run as I had found a great way to stay hydrated. I would wear light running shorts and T-shirt along with the best running shoes I could afford. I wore a dual pack of water bottles strapped to my lower back. I would freeze the water bottles overnight, so they remained frozen during the early portion of my run. At the hottest portion of the day after I had run quite a bit, the water gradually began to melt and remained cold or at least cool until the water ran out. It was a great system overall except for this day when it was exceptionally hot, and I was still on the canal when the water became lukewarm.
I was not that concerned since I was in excellent shape and completed twelve of my usual sixteen miles. I was enjoying a runner’s high as my pre-frontal and limbic regions (which light up in response to emotions like love) spewed out endorphins. I was in great spirits after leaving the canal and heading toward the city and home. There was a dirt area between trees in a part of the city where a lot of people walked, biked, and jogged the shady path. I always enjoyed this area after leaving the isolated canal.
Reminiscent of my high school varsity track and cross-country and college days of competitive races, I easily passed each person on the path. Although a few people attempted to keep up with me, I easily left them behind while smiling or sharing a greeting. I continued this even though I knew I still had about four miles to reach home.
I felt invincible and thrilled with my run. I was beginning to pass a young woman probably around my age which would’ve been around 30. She looked in pretty good shape and was jogging easily. I planned to run by her quickly, look over my left shoulder and smile as I left her far behind me. I increased my speed until we were shoulder to shoulder and added a greater stride as I moved easily past her. I looked over my left shoulder to nod and smile as I quickly increased the distance. And there she was.
She was running shoulder to shoulder with me and not giving me any attention as she just quietly looked straight ahead. Like me, she was hardly breathing and jogged effortlessly. Momentarily surprised, I thought that it would be fun to pick up the pace and of course, leave her ‘in the dust’ as I did with the previous people. I increased my pace to an even faster jog and contentedly looked over my left shoulder. And, there she was.
She looked forward without acknowledging me. She ran at exactly my pace not faster, not slower and shoulder to shoulder. I thought how cool this was to have found a confident, playful person who wanted to race. Nonetheless, it was time to pick up the pace considerably and even though I had run 12 of my ultimately 16 miles I thought it was time to make my move.
I picked up the pace, so I was no longer jogging I was now running. I thought the woman couldn’t possibly be keeping up with me as we were covering more and more distance. I looked over my shoulder. And, there she was.
She looked as calm and relaxed as I was as if she was going for a leisurely jog in the country. Again, she didn’t look over at me, and we made no eye contact although running shoulder to shoulder we occasionally touched each other depending on our stride, the uneven ground, and the people heading toward us on the somewhat narrow path.
At this time the people that we passed and those that were walking or jogging towards us gave us a lot of room and watched us intently. I could tell from the look in their eyes that they were wondering what they were observing as we were running exactly shoulder to shoulder not acknowledging each other and gradually exponentially increasing our speed. I knew that this path had a long stretch before it finally came to two main city streets with signals.
Even though I knew that I still had a way to go on this particularly warm day I decided to go beyond the fast run and draw on my ‘secret’ racing capabilities, sprinting. I felt I had the endurance. Although she seemed to keep up with me easily thus far, I thought that this would make the difference.
By this point, I was sprinting fast and easily. People we passed seemed to be in awe of what they were observing as we blew by them. I thought there was no need to look over my shoulder because she would not be able to maintain this pace. But you know how it is, I just couldn’t help myself. I glanced over quickly. And, there she was.
She was exactly shoulder to shoulder with me and looking ahead rather comfortably while matching my sprinting. I couldn’t believe it. I thought who is she, is she a professional runner? Is she an Olympic competitor? Somehow I knew she was having as much pleasure as I was in our spontaneous competition.
Together we realized that we were rapidly approaching the intersection of two main city streets and at our speed, we would either skid to a stop somehow or risk running through a potential red light. Either way, we would be in trouble. Nevertheless, neither of us slowed down.
Reminding me of my best races, I pushed myself even more. I was now sprinting so fast it felt like my feet never touched the ground. I could barely focus on the people that we passed who appeared in a haze. This time, with confident assurance I knew that when I looked over my left shoulder that finally, she would not be present. While now sprinting on the top of my toes I casually looked over my left shoulder. And, there she was!
How could this be I thought? I had never met anyone who demonstrated this capability and did it was such finesse. We both were sprinting about as fast as we could go still shoulder to shoulder when we came to the main city cross streets. It reminded me of the 1958 novelty song, “Beep Beep” by The Playmates. It was about a Nash Rambler and a Cadillac racing each other. Click on this link to hear the song. Caddy & Nash Rambler
Neither of us could or would stop so we ran through the red light somehow dodging the cars and made it to the opposite corner still shoulder to shoulder. In a way it was exhilarating, and if we had not been running that fast, I don’t think we could have navigated the vehicles. I still remember the wide-eyed stares from the drivers as we both weaved through the traffic lanes.
Somehow we both sensed that the time to continue the run was over as we each changed to a stationary jog. For the first time, we faced each other. Looking into each other’s eyes communicating numerous things without saying a word. With a shrug, I pointed to the direction I had to go, and with a mutual shrug, the woman pointed to the opposite direction. This mysterious woman shared a Mona Lisa smile and we each turned away from one another to continue our run.
Neither of us needed to make it more than what it was because the connection we had nonverbally was about as powerful it could be under the circumstances. I learned a lot from that experience, and I have shared what happened with her in the workshops seminars and retreats that I have given. There are subtle messages to be gained from the story.
Whenever I closed my eyes and relieved the experience, I looked over my left shoulder and smiled. And, there she was.