Monday, December 26, 2005

I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers…

Ten miles in to my twenty-mile, out-and-back run, it was clear that I hadn’t brought enough Gatorade. I’d filled all three of my fuel-belt flasks (I lost the fourth ages ago), but the air was warm, and I was thirsty, and after ten miles, only a few sips remained.

Most of the Potomac Runners stick to 10 to 12 mile runs at this time of year—the majority ran in fall marathons and are in their off-season. They’ve taken to leaving the water stop out for me, even though I run longer and slower than almost everyone, and, on my really long runs, pass by it hours after the next last person. Maybe it’s not a big deal, and they may not even be thinking of me when they do it, but I can’t help picturing someone having to come back hours after they’ve gone home to collect the table from the side of the trail with a cooler and a POTOMAC RUNNERS sign in a plastic sleeve resting beside it. It makes me feel cared for, like finding a plate of dinner waiting for you at home after working late, or a parent tucking in a sleeping child after sending the babysitter home.

But the water stop is set up three miles from the start, and I had more than an hour of running before I’d get there.

I tried to savor the last drops in my flasks, and ration them out. But by mile twelve, they were gone. My wallet was locked in my car, along with the extra bottle of Gatorade I’d brought for afterwards. Anyway, the trail ran alongside the Potomac River (and a highway on the other side) so there was no place to stop to buy a drink. There are a few water fountains on the trail, but the pipes would freeze in the winter, so they were turned off.

I began eying the waterbottles of runners and bikers I passed on the trail. I would catch sight of someone in the distance, jogging towards me, with the tell-tale signs of a belt clipped around her waist. I’d turn my head as she passed, glimpsing the plastic bottles hanging on a slant off her back. My eyes sought out the crossbars of passing bicycles, where waterbottles—sometimes more than one—tend to be mounted. I pulled one of my flasks and tried to shake out another drop. I thought about the packs of PowerGel I still had left in the pouch of my fuel belt, but didn’t want to risk coating my parched mouth with the stuff.

I passed the thirteenth mile, and started picturing the shops I would pass in Alexandria in another four miles. I’d stop in and beg for a bottle of Aquafina. I’d leave my iPod as collateral. No, my watch. No. My iPod. Maybe they’d take my water belt?

I was thirsty. What was I going to do? What would you have done?

Me? I asked.

My friends tell me I’m a born “asker.” Who’s the person in your family who asks for a late checkout at a hotel? Or for a vegetarian substitution at a restaurant? Or if you can get a student discount for the movie tickets you’re buying for your friends, who are students, but who aren’t here yet, so you don’t have their Student ID on hand?

In my family, that’s my mother. But among my friends, especially a certain group from college, that’s me.

Most people seem happy to accommodate a special request, as long as it’s not too much trouble for them, and as long as you ask nicely. And usually I’m not too bothered if they say no. It never hurts to ask, I tend to think, because you’re much more likely to get what you want, if you do.

Soon after the thirteenth mile, the trail crosses through a parking lot near National Airport (the planes zoom overhead so low in the sky you feel like you could knock them with your hand, if you just stood on top of your car, and maybe jumped a bit). I saw two friendly-looking bikers stretching near an SUV—two bottles each. I veered off the trail towards the couple, pulling an earphone out of my ear with my left hand, and a fuel belt flask in my right.

“Hi. I’m sorry to bother you.” Apologetic smiling, directed back and forth between the two people, trying not to eye the water bottles too thirstily. “I still have about seven miles to run, and I’ve run out of water. Can I possibly get some from you?”

The couple laughs easily, and the man pulls a full bottle from his bike. “This one hasn’t been drunk from at all.”

I quickly begin unscrewing the lid from the flask. “Thank you so much. This is so great.”

He reaches over to begin pouring, and pauses. “There’s some Gu in here.”

“That doesn’t matter. Thank you so much.” He squeezes the water from his bottle into mine.

“I have some over here, too,” the woman says, holding up a bottle of her own.

“Thank you so much.” My flask is full, and I’m replacing the lid.

“Do you want more? I’m not going to need it.”

“It wouldn’t hurt.” We laugh. I pull out a second flask. “Is yours Gu-free?”

“Yes.” I bring my flask to her.

“Thank you so much. Have a great day. Merry Christmas.” I’m already jogging back towards to trail, gulping gu-free water from my refilled flask.

My energy replenished, I fairly fly by the 14th mile marker, and forget that I’ve passed it until I reach the 15th, and realize I only have five miles to go.

The Potomac Runner’s water stop is waiting for me after mile 17, and I refill again. Who says it’s a cruel world?


Hi. I’m in an overly dramatic mood today. I’ve been reading Out of Africa, and Isak Denison’s writing seems to have inspired new heights of self-indulgence. Please don’t blame Denison—it’s hardly her fault. Did I mention that I was running on my own and my iPod was skipping all over the place—and then stopped working altogether? I had to amuse myself somehow, and planning a blog entry is as good an entertainment as anything else.

Anyway, long story short (too late!) the run went very well. My splits averaged around 10:00 to 10:20, which is just where I’d like to be for the marathon. My last monster run is in two weeks, and I’ve vowed to hit all my weekday miles in the meantime. Then a three-week taper, and it’s off to Miami.

Now, if only this unseasonably warm weather will hold…


Blogger Scooter said...

From me, you'd get water. No question. I've had to rely on the strangers too often, and they're usually kinder than I regard as necessary. I think it's just what's right. You help the people you can. And Happy Holidays!

2:10 PM  
Blogger David said...

We are Fami-leee.
That's the running variety. I have come to expect fair sharing of all fuels on the road. If I have not done enough on my part in return, I make a point of it next time to bring or put out more than I need.
It's what keeps us smiling and running. Great job on the 20! That taper can't come soon enough for me.

7:13 PM  
Blogger a.maria said...

yessss, another great example of the amazing running/biking community. i am continually amazed at how nice and friendly people are on the trials.

i'm glad it worked out so well for you! and great job on your splits. i aspire to run 10min. miles consistently! whew!

7:37 PM  
Blogger jeanne said...

Great run. Great story. Love Denison.

8:38 PM  
Blogger Rae said...

Great job on the 20! If it weren't for the kindness of strangers there are a million stories in my life that would've ended horribly! It always surprises me how many nice people are out there, just when I feel like the world is pretty much rotten. Happy Holidays!

7:15 AM  
Blogger psbowe said...

Wow, what a run! Glad to hear you found some water and what a nice 20 miler there!

4:47 PM  
Blogger RunIrisRun said...

Way to go Naomi! I just stumbled across your blog. I'm also training for Miami with the AIDS Marathon program, and I live in your area. Our group has a 23 miler this weekend, then the taper. Good luck to you!

4:39 PM  
Blogger Vince Hemingson said...

Great story. And congratulations on getting the article.

3:41 AM  

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