Another Lesson Learned While Running in Public

Disclaimer: I’m training for a major half marathon that has taken up most of my time and all of my other sources for analogies.

I have a favorite running path that I go to for all my long runs. There’s a 3.75 running path between two parks (a 7.5 mile circuit), and you can of course extend it on either end or run it a couple times to get some great mileage without getting hit by cars or running out of pavement. That's not why I run there, though. There is a more magic result of this “extend-your-own-course” path, though: you never know where anybody is at in their run.

You don’t know if that person who flew by you early on is a seasoned runner on their eighth mile of the morning or just an overzealous newbie on their first quarter mile. You don’t know if that slightly rounded, wheezing man (me) is really out of shape or just on his thirteenth mile. You don’t know (until you’ve been running their a while) whether somebody is at the park every weekend or once a year. We’re all just runners, and it’s completely impossible to judge yourself against anybody else.

Even more interestingly, I don't know what part of the longer journey they might be on. I see some of the same people in passing, but I don't know their story; were they a college athlete, or did they just lose tons of weight (or both)? Did they just start training for an ultra-marathon or are they about to run their first 5K? I have no way of knowing, so I can’t measure myself against their pace either to beat myself up or make myself feel better than them. All I can do is feel a certain kinship with them as fellow runners and wish them the best as I try not to fall off the path or dry heave in their presence.

As with most painfully transparent analogies, this has something to do with life in general. When you happen to glance at somebody’s portfolio or see their new job on LinkedIn (ugh), you don’t have enough information to do anything but wave as you pass each other. You don’t know where they are at, and you don’t know where they are trying to go. Not only is it misguided and a bad idea to measure yourself against them, it’s technically impossible to even get a good reading. All you can do is appreciate their progress as a fellow “runner” in this life, wish them the best, pay attention to your own feet, and try not to throw up on the sidewalk.

I would promise this was my last easy running analogy for a tough life lesson, but I will remind you again that I am, evidently, officially becoming a runner and we are bound to talk about PRs, shoes, energy gels, or “life lessons from miles on the road” at least once per day.