Running is like a drug for me. The first mile is always a chore because my body and mind are both still fighting to stay in the other world. The world of stress and inactivity and of slow motion moments of the day that devour a person’s life sticks to my shoes during the first mile. But the second mile comes a little easier. And the third mile is a threshold of sorts because past the third mile lies yet another world that is different than the first three miles. Three miles is a short distance to run. After three it becomes something different, a sort of altitude that has more rarefied air. At five miles I know that whatever else has happened during the day this is something that will make a real difference. The blood in by body is rushing through each and every vein like tiny raging rivers. My heart is running with me, step for step, and it is pumping the blood at a heavy metal rhythm.
I watch as people come and go on the other treadmills and wonder what they’re doing or what they think they’re doing. One woman who is clearly struggling within her own body stays for ten minutes at a speed that I can do at a crawl. A very young man pounds out ten minutes of ultra-fast running then stops. Another man runs for thirty minutes but he keeps jumping off the track of the treadmill to rest but he keeps the speed where it is. He’s fooling himself into believing he’s really exercising when it’s the machine that is doing most of the work.
I haven’t seen the Jewish woman in over six months. I have no idea if she was really Jewish or not but if you were going to cast a movie she would be the type you would want to play the part of a Jewish woman, about thirty, just a little overweight, but the kind of curves she carried really well. She had that dark curly shoulder length hair and brown eyes that looks good, really good, on a woman, and she looked like she might have some Eastern European in her somewhere. She also worked out hard while the women she came in with just socialized while walking. This one drove it. She pushed it. I liked watching, not because she was beautiful in her own way, but because she was dedicated.
Five miles is a psychological barrier. I’ve been on the run now for over thirty-five minutes and five miles is my next milestone. My body is beginning to tire and I can feel five miles being a good stopping point. No one who was here is still here and no one who has come in since I began is…wait. A very attractive blonde woman comes in and sets up in front of me. She plugs in her buds, takes a drink of water from her bottle then hesitates, if mentally uttering a pray to the Gods of Fast Things. She puts her water down, and this chick cranks it up. I can’t see the display but this is someone who is serious about mileage. I vow to run at least a mile with her. I try to match her pace and realize she isn’t playing around. I’m doing a mile every eight and a half minutes. I think she’s doing a six minute mile, at worst. And she’s just getting warmed up.
Her pony tail flicks back and forth, as if to ward off doubt and fear and sloth. Her head is up, shoulders relaxed, and those legs aren’t just for show. Somewhere in her is a fire that only distance can quench. She runs as if she really means it. I stay with her as best I can through mile five but I know the end is coming very soon. I have to back down to a nine minute mile and then I walk for another quarter of a mile when I hit the six mile mark. The woman in front of me is tossing down the miles like a drunk doing shots.
I pretend to go up to see what is on the television but I want to see what sort of speed she has. She’s running, and has been running, at nine miles an hour, or about a seven minute mile pace. And she shows no signs of slowing or tiring. Her eyes have that look in them. The world of stress and work and people considering her a cute little thing is gone now; she’s a runner. I wonder what she’s thinking about and I wonder if she notices time or distance anymore. She’s young, really young, and at that age I could run forever and I did.
Someone I know wants to talk and we stand there and for another ten minutes and the woman runs. Sweat begins to appear but she isn’t one of these women who fear it. In ten minutes nearly a mile and a half have disappeared under her. I can see her display from where I stand and she’s smoked a five K in less than twenty-two minutes and she’s still going. I keep the conversation alive and at mile four she hasn’t slowed down a bit. She checks her iPod as if she just noticed it and she keeps on going.
I hang around for a while. This is borderline stalking territory, spying on someone, but this is an old runner watching another generation coming up, and coming up fast. At the one hour mark she slows down and starts walking. She has hammered out nine miles in one hour. Sweat pours off of her and she’s clearly pleased with her workout.
We live in a world where I can’t go up to her and compliment her on her run. I can’t tell her that I’ve been watching her without it sounding creepy. I can’t tell her there are some good running courses in Valdosta because a woman cannot run alone in these places, safely. We live in a world where even the sort of accomplishment of nine miles in an hour fades in front of the societal pressure that she must first think to fend off the advances of someone who might be trying to fuck her.