Losing yourself within the pack

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Jack Crowe

Contributing Columnist

I'm not a fast runner, even for a 53 year old guy. I ran the Chicago Marathon a few weeks ago (and - undertrained - finished 24 minutes slower than last year). But I was never alone.

The Chicago Marathon, by definition, is not a lonely experience. With forty thousand runners, and all the neighborhoods, and the 1.7 million spectators, and the transvestite dancers in Boystown, and the mariachi in Pilsen, and the blues singers on the South Side, and the family in Chinatown cheering, and the volunteers handing out Goo and bananas, it is a big party.

Running solo is not preferable. For me, (unlike for real competitive runners) running is a social thing. The perfect training run is with friends from work along the Chicago lakefront at lunch or on the weekend along the Des Plaines River Trail with Oak Park runners.

During the Marathon for example, a friend from Oak Park met me at mile 12 and accompanied me to mile 25. This is an important concept. The idea of "accompanying" has deep roots. You hear Pope Francis use the word a lot, as in "our Christian mission is to accompany the poor."

Same idea applies to running. My friend made my run less trying by running alongside me, chatting away as if we were on a stroll. He also grabbed extra drinks for me as we passed through water stops. It made my run, not effortless, but achievable.

In another week, some Ironman friends and I are going to accompany another Oak Park runner, Bob Bell, on a very special day. Four of us will run alongside him, as he runs his 75th marathon at the age of 75 at the Madison Marathon. That's right, 75 at 75.  Running that marathon with Bell will be "accompaniment" of the highest order.

The same concept applies to cycling. I sometimes ride alone, but for me real cycling happens in the group. One person calls out the ride and like a school of fish we all bend that direction.  It might be "Waterfall Glen" or "Lake Ellen" or "Bluff Road" or "Airport."

There is a rhythm to the group ride. Early on, warming up, we cyclists chat for the first ten or twenty miles, loosening up the muscles. Then usually someone attacks on a hill and things get serious. Some lead, some chase, but we remain a group, and turn mostly silent except for occasional grunts.

We push hard down 47th from Western Springs to Lyons and then at some point, the spell is broken and we soft pedal home chatting away again. We kid each other. We note who pulled the group and who did not. We comment on who is riding strong this year and who we have not seen for a while.

By running or cycling in a group, you develop a sort of intimacy that is difficult to find in the "normal" sedentary world. And in the end it's not so much about the talking.  Whether you are the accompanier or the accompanied, it is about being inside yourself while inextricably linked to others. 

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