Despite being a keen runner, I am not very adventurous when it comes to running routes.
During the week, the pounding usually takes place on a path that stretches along the picturesque Sydney Harbour, either around the Opera House and its nearby greenery, or near Pyrmont and its surrounding waterfront properties. On weekends, it is always along the Cooks River where a walking/running/cycling path meanders past several municipalities, through serene reserves and beautiful parks.
It is on this second route during Saturday and Sunday afternoon runs that I often come across various familar faces. There is the guy who is always practicing the art of La Passeggiata while wearing a typical knock-about Aussie attire, namely, a cricket hat, a football jersey and a pair of shorts that is way too short.
There is also this fellow runner who is always without a shirt, whether it is raining, hailing or shining. I often think about stopping and imploring him to “for God’s sake, please put on a top!“, until I realise that I am myself shirtless or on the verge of shedding it.
Then there is the pair of early-twenty girls, dressed in full lululemon spandex, doing power-walking while exercising even more power doing some serious talking. They always say hello to me, not in an overly friendly way, but more in a way that sounds like: “for God’s sake, please put on a top!“.
There is one young guy, though, who never fails to cross paths with me on these weekend afternoon runs. For over a year now, we meet each other at around the 3km mark of my jog – me with a laboured look on my face while running, his always etched in a boyish grin while walking. It is partly based on that constant grin and his general demeanour that I have recently concluded that the guy could be somewhat mentally incapacitated.
I have, over time, found a certain degree of comfort in his immutable presence on these weekend runs. This is notwithstanding the fact that he never verbally acknowledges my greetings, aside from allowing a brief eye contact amidst his permanent grin.
Last Saturday, however, something strange happened.
As usual at the 3km mark, I was approaching the guy on my run. Again, his face was sculpted in its characteristic boyish grin. But, as I passed him, he actually began to run behind me! It was for no more than 100 or 150 metres. And, as if to prove that it was no spur-of-the-moment act, on my return trip back (which would have been at least 40 minutes later), there he was again at the same spot, and again ran behind me for another 100 or so metres.
Perhaps it was all in my own self-absorbed head, but I really felt a connection with the guy during those ultra-brief runs together. It was as if he wanted to make up for his inability to communicate with me in a normal way, by doing so in a way that required no words except putting one foot in front of another behind me.
To me, all runs are rewarding, irrespective of distance, weather or time. However, last Saturday’s run somehow felt more rewarding than usual. It may be because I felt like I may have planted the seeds of love for running in the mind of this young person. Or it could be because I may have finally developed a connection with him after all this time, no matter how tenuous it may be at this stage.
Whatever it was, my passion continues to grow with this thing called running – a physically and mentally therapeutic hobby that just keeps on giving in many unexpected ways.
Keep on pounding.