I don’t remember who said it, but at some point it was expressed that “when you see a lot of runners, they look absolutely miserable.” First thing in the morning, this doesn’t seem as apparent, but I’ve done the Central Park loop many times and spied people who have the affect of one about to enter their last hours.
I ran the Central Park loop, many times, during marathon training. More often than not, this would be towards the end of a long run. I’m sure I looked pretty miserable at times myself. Yet I also looked elated on other occasions; the only truly happy person I’ve seen running around the loop was an older woman who was singing along to music only she could hear. She was wearing headphones, but it being New York, I couldn’t tell if she was finishing up a long run and was inspired and full of endorphins, or just plain crazy.
The Central Park loop is also full of beautiful, haughty people who run in varying states of undress. Another friend said running in a sports bra only – well, with shorts – felt to be the most liberating thing in the world. I’ve done it once and I agreed, but not around the Central Park loop. You see, Central Park Loopers have abs where I thought muscles didn’t exist. Anyway, I’m not of that caliber as a quite fit person who believes in balance, and I can’t afford, can’t be bothered to eat grass-fed steaks and organic happy chickens with my organic kale and vegetables, coupled with fresh juices every day. So I see these people and I’m attracted to all of them, naturally, but I’m also intimidated. I’m sure they’re lovely, even when they run past me, droplets of carefully manicured sweat hitting me in the face. There are not really opportunities to smile at such Greek god-like runners.
However, running in Astoria, for the most part, is a more neighborhood-like experience. I feel a kinship with the more normal-looking individuals, particularly those I see year round, dragging themselves in the freezing dark as I do, not merely in the summer months. Plus, I live here. So I like to smile at people when I’m running. I smile at the old Greek guy with his arthritic, overweight dog. I smile at the nightshift man enjoying the sunrise, water and a sandwich. I smile at the people who don’t smile back, because running is a lonely endeavor, and human interaction is often much more pleasant than the latest song I’m suffering through. I smile at the old Asian guy in a tracksuit whom I haven’t seen in a while and I worry about. He runs every single morning. I hope he’s ok. I smile towards the Tai Chi practitioners who are also sending good energy into the world and it makes me happy to see their fluid movements greeting the day. And I smile at the mother and daughter running – the daughter ignores me – I smile at the women running who are my age, who also ignore me; I smile at the incredibly fit and tall guy who doesn’t know I exist, and I smile at the old guy running who beams back.
This morning, I smiled at someone I couldn’t quite see (I was tired) and as he got closer, I realized that I used to see him running every single morning last summer. Come the darker days, I didn’t see him as much, but I also changed my route and broke my foot, so I wasn’t there either. But last summer, it reached the point where he’d actually mouth “hello,” running past, looping the park’s great hill. That was a long time ago, and now I live further away from the park and rarely loop the hill. I always looked for him, like the Asian guy in the old purple tracksuit, but who knows what happens to people in New York. One day they’re a staple of your life, the next you never see them again.
This morning, my park-looping compatriot, wearing a Yankees hat, looked my way, eyes wide, posture excellent, for a runner. This morning, it was humid, running was a struggle. This morning, after months of absence…this morning, he smiled back.