Running and talking
About everything — and nothing at all
A few weeks ago, I went into downtown Atlanta with my mom, my wife and our 7-year-old to see the new Vincent Van Gogh immersive experience, an (amazing!) exhibit now playing in a number of different cities across the U.S. and around the world.
I say “went into Atlanta,” because while I live in Atlanta I don’t actually live in Atlanta — I live out in the suburbs just north of the city, where our kids go to school and where our jobs are.
But I didn’t always. For almost twenty years, I lived and worked in the city, in different office buildings and different apartments, all part of a skyline and a cityscape that was constantly changing, constantly shifting into something new that didn’t exist before.
Driving back through old neighborhoods I once hung out in, streets I ran along with my old running group years ago, was like time traveling in a way. (In my own mind, at least.) Because while I have a family of my own with children now, I had a family of a kind back then, too — even if I didn’t realize it.
My running group got together on weekends for many years as part of Jeff Galloway’s running “school,” the run-walk-run programs he offers in the spring and fall to help runners get ready for upcoming races.
Of course, we learned about how to run properly, how to pace ourselves, how to train. But more than that, we were a kind of constant for each other — no matter what craziness we’d experienced in our work lives or our love lives (when we were single), we got to share a couple of hours together every Saturday morning.
I don’t know why it is, exactly, but there’s something about running alongside someone, looking out onto the horizon together, that creates a bond. It makes you feel like you can share anything you want — or talk about nothing at all. Either is perfectly wonderful.
There’s no need for the kind of pressure you might feel, say, at a social event for work. You can be yourself in the way Laura Lee Huttenbach wrote about Robert “Raven” Kraft, the now-legendary leader of a decades-old South Beach running group:
“Society today is giving us fewer spaces to talk to people that are different from us. You can hold a world in your hand through your smartphone, so there’s little pressure to engage with someone next to you. Why do so many people have interesting conversations on planes? Because that is one of the few venues left where we are in a contained space with strangers without access to all the friends we already have.
Over eight miles, Raven wants different people to connect, and he has extremely high expectations for me, and for everyone, to be different. He’s protective of my inner quirk. He brings it out. He stokes it. It’s like he sees an ember inside, and he hones in on it, cupping his hands over his mouth to blow until it catches flame and burns bright for other people to see. That’s how people connect on the Raven Run — to that ember within, more than the package outside. And it feels good when people connect to the ember.”
When I was active in my running group, one of my favorite things was to weave in and out among different friends and acquaintances as I ran — seeing and chatting with some people I knew well and really could talk with, and others who I’d simply shoot the breeze with.
Looking back, those conversations that seemed like nothing actually were really something. They gave me a chance to get to know new people little by little, baby step by baby step. I didn’t have to put my cards on the table right away, so to speak; I could give just a little, and they could do the same.
It reminded me how conversation isn’t (or doesn’t have to be) an exchange of data or anything important. You can enjoy it just for its own sake; it doesn’t have to be about anything in particular at all.
Several years ago, the Washington Post published this wonderful article on the value small talk brings to our social lives. A former former philosophy professor named David Weinberger spoke with the reporter (about his own defense of small talk on his blog), and put it so cleverly — and honestly:
“In small talk, we express ourselves in the details of what we talk about, the words we use, the ones we don't, how far we lean forward, how tentatively or aggressively we probe for shared ground,” Weinberger posted last month in his Internet newsletter. “Because all of this is implicitly presented, it tends to give a more accurate picture of who we are and what we care about than big, explicit conversations.”
Weinberger says he didn't become skilled at making small talk until he was 40 and realized that small talk is an attempt to find common ground. “You have to find what's interesting to the other person,” he says. “You already know what's interesting to you.”
I think that’s what I’ve missed the most this past year and a half — those little serendipitous conversations we get to have when we’re out in the world. The ones that don’t have to have a purpose.
Zoom and all the video chat tools we’ve been using have been a godsend in many ways, but one thing they’re not is casual. (You’re not going to bump into anyone randomly on a Zoom call, right?)
That’s something I’m looking forward to as the world opens up again — when you think about it, what’s more important than getting back to the inane, the silly, the ridiculous conversations about nothing?
As always, keep in touch and let me know how your running (and life) is going 😃
Races you might love running
Chantilly, France | Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021
Part of a race series on the grounds and surrounding lands of castles in the U.K., Ireland and France, this gorgeous half marathon actually runs about 40 miles outside Paris, starting from the Chateau de Chantilly gardens. From there, you’ll run through more parks and gardens as well as around the world-famous Hippodrome de Chantilly horse-racing track, before crossing the finish line back at the chateau — once the home of Henri de Orleans, the son of the last king of France.
£40 and up | Sign up here
Jamestown, R.I. | Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021
With its rocky shorelines, historic lighthouses and windmills that still stand as a reminder of the small coastal towns and villages of New England’s past, Jamestown and Conanicut Island make for a beautifully picturesque course for this race, which is run just as summer is turning to fall. The early miles feature stunning views of Narragansett Bay and the Newport Pell Bridge, while the second half of the race features the waves of the bay crashing against the shore, and later past the estuaries and farms of the interior of the island before bringing you through the village of Jamestown and its quaint streets and shops.
$70 and up | Sign up here
Minneapolis, Minn. | Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021
Part of a weekend of races that features one of the Twin Cities’ best-loved running events of the year — its 26.2-miler has been called “the most beautiful urban marathon in America” — the 10-miler follows a gorgeous course for its first five miles along the banks of the Mississippi River as it flows through Minneapolis and St. Paul. The second half of the race offers up four miles straight along St. Paul’s famed Summit Avenue, known for being the longest preserved stretch of Victorian-era homes in the country, as more than 370 of the street’s original 440 homes built here are still standing today. (Due to the event’s popularity, a drawing for entry will be held starting today through next Wednesday, July 15.)
$90 | Enter drawing here
Weott, Calif. | Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021
The majestic redwood forests of Northern California’s Humboldt Redwoods State Park serve as the backdrop for this race, which takes runners along the Avenue of the Giants Highway, alongside the the south fork of the Eel River. From there, they’ll run in the shadow of coast redwood and Giant Sequoia trees that line the road, many of which reach more than 200 feet in the air and are more than a thousand years old. As you run this fast and flat course, note that you’ll be running through one of California’s largest groves of old-growth coast redwood trees, which race organizers work to raise awareness for through their support of Save The Redwoods.
$80 and up | Sign up here
St. George, Utah | Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021
Surrounded by red rock cliffs and sand dunes that tower over the desert floor, the trails and roads within southwestern Utah’s Snow Canyon State Park are the scenery for this breathtaking half, which Runner’s World has called one of North America’s best. The point-to-point route starts at the trailhead for the Red Mountain Trail, one of more than 30 miles of trails within the 7,400-acre park. Throughout the course, you’ll run through a place where “majestic views and the subtle interplay of light, shadow, and color dancing across canyon walls evoke strong emotional responses from visitors.”
$65 and up | Sign up here
Tucson, Ariz. | Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021
A run through one of the most beautiful desert landscapes in the American Southwest. You’ll start and finish this race surrounded by saguaro cacti in Tucson Mountain Park, whose 20,000 acres are filled with more than 60 miles of trails and where you’ll get to see mountains off in the distance above the desert, with nothing but a ribbon of highway running through it. Get there by driving south from Tucson past Saguaro National Park and over Gates Pass; the race unfolds past the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum and features “many hills and steady grades, but that means there are fast downhills, too,” organizers say.
$75 and up | Sign up here
Words to run by
“Sport is not about being wrapped up in cotton wool. Sport is about adapting to the unexpected and being able to modify plans at the last minute. Sport, like all life, is about taking your chances.”
— Roger Bannister