So I’m sitting at a bar on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon.
OK, technically it’s a lovely neighborhood restaurant and I’m just having a very late lunch at the bar and doing some writing and other random details while a friend yells at a USD football game. It’s not a bad way to spend a few hours. We already tooled around on our bikes for a bit this morning, and it’s a day off running so I have less guilt.
While I’m here, I’m tracking my friend Karen as she runs a 100-mile race in Arkansas. Refresh, refresh, refresh. Last weekend it was with friends who were in the Twin Cities, my Facebook feed a running list of dreams made and crushed. Earlier today, one of those social media memories popped up from five years ago, showing me and Owen Hotvet near the finish of Twin Cities, his arm over my shoulders as I celebrated and thanked him for getting me a PR.
Recreational running is the only sport I follow, and I really only follow it through the everyday folks I know who are doing it. As I sit here in this bar, I realized my shared experience of sports is very different from the people around me. The USD game is on a TV in the bathroom, for the love of god, lest you miss a minute while you wash your hands. It’s not my world – but there are many times when I’m envious of those who care that much.
Another friend told me this week that the last words he said to a dying family member this spring were, “I think the Twins are going to have a good year.” And they did – and he teared up as he shared the story, unembarrassed to say he thinks there was a reason for that.
It’s OK to believe the universe aligns like that sometimes. It probably does. The best part is maybe just seeing someone so vulnerable to their emotions and their hopes that this is how one life ends and maybe another begins. I don’t know what I believe or don’t believe, so to me, anything seems as possible as it is impossible.
He went on to share how someone else he knew took a radio and sat on his dad’s grave to listen to a Cubs game one time, some game that mattered in some year I don’t know. Think about that – still a shared experience, between him and his memory, between him and who the heck knows what out there in the world, sitting and listening and being alone and not alone.
It’s all been part of the past few weeks – everyone I know obsessed with the waning baseball and the start of football and fall road and trail races. This sort of collective excitement.
I often wish I could gin up any interest in professional or college teams – in any sport. I mean, I hear Cleveland is still doing OK. It would be nice to be thrilled for my hometown. I have a Cleveland shirt I keep thinking I should put on in solidarity, but then I worry someone will ask me a question, any question, about baseball and I’ll show myself as a fraud.
Instead, I just stick to what I know – the friends I have doing the things they love.
It can be intoxicating, following along. Thank goodness for online tracking – how did we survive before we could stalk people we know and people we’re just curious about as they make their way to the finish line. Wondering what the weather is like, how much it’s contributing to someone’s pace. Checking the course profile to see if the inconsistent splits are from terrain or wheels coming off and slowly getting put back on again, or a mismeasured course casting an inaccurate scenario.
As I write this, I don’t know how Karen finishes, and I won’t update with her time when I find out. Suffice to say she began running today before I got out of bed, and my belief is she’ll still be doing it when I go to bed, still be doing it when I wake up tomorrow, getting closer to being done and being more amazing.
My shared experience isn’t the same as these folks, who are yelling at the televisions and pounding on the bar. I type. I hit refresh. I surf upcoming races and dream about what 2018 could be and the many ways it can roll over much of 2017 with different memories. It can be awful to see different anniversaries sometimes – the day when this fell apart or that unraveled.
In solidarity I signed up for a trail 30K in a few weeks, remembering doing it last year and hoping that this year I’ll be as undertrained yet less hungover, maybe fall fewer times, get up anyway.
I want Karen’s memory of today to be the day she did it. The day she conquered whatever she was trying to wrestle with. I want to see a picture of her, cheeks sunken with dehydration and hair spiraling around her face in unkempt curls, eyes crinkled up at the corners, an exhausted smile on her face. And to be honest, it doesn’t matter where that is – if she times out on the course or just gives up or is triumphant at the finish. I just want her to do what she’s meant to do, whatever that is on this day.
When I walk out of here in a bit, three Diet Cokes and a house salad later, I want people to know how strangely intimate my collective experience is. It seems like a good game in here, judging by the comments and the noise, by the continuous trade of beer bottles next to me.
But the truth is, my athlete is still competing. My runner is still going. My friend is still trying, and we all hold our breath until she tells us otherwise.
Jacqueline Palfy is a longtime runner, reader and writer, marathoner, mom and board member of the nonprofit Sioux Falls Area Running Club. Her contributions to the 605 Running Co. blog will appear each Tuesday. You can follow her on Twitter @runnerJPK or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Story ideas are encouraged