Runners get asked all sorts of personal questions, starting usually with a query about basic sanity. Wait, that's not quite it . . . usually it starts with a statement, not a question.
"Nope," I reply, "except without a run, then I'm a crazy sonofagun. If I run, all the little floaty bits inside my head settle down instead of playing bumper cars with, you know, thoughts. Makes everything better."
This elicits one of those looks, with the more easily frightened sidling back a step, just in case. You can read their thoughts in the wide eyes. He's a runner. What other crazy crap is he into?
"How far do you run?"
"Not too far, usually. Maybe 3-4 miles some days, or 15 on trails if I'm out playing."
"Oh." Always a pause. "I could never do that." That's the typical comment. They're wrong, even if they don't know it. They could do it. Human beings are capable of so many great things and running is both the best and the least of them.
The other response I get is "I only run if I'm being chased by a bear" which really isn't at all sensible since a bear can sprint in excess of 30 mph. Not even Usain Bolt can out-sprint a bear. You're better off relying on a gun. Or, in my case, a pleasant disposition, and a squadron of harried-looking guardian angels desperate to find a better gig.
"So do you do marathons?"
This is were I get in trouble.
"Some, but I actually prefer longer stuff and smaller crowds."
Longer stuff takes a second to process. To most reasonable folks, a marathon is an already unreasonable distance to run. I mean, there are reasons why wheels, and bikes, and cars were invented and it wasn't to create full employment for union workers named Bubba or Ski. (If I were a politician, I just lost the Pennsylvania and Ohio votes. Fortunately, I have higher standards for myself.)
"So, what's the farthest you've run?"
"101.43 miles in 22 and three-quarter hours." My turn to pause. "It was a track race in San Diego."
Truth. My longest run ever took me 400-plus laps around the same track and deposited me exactly where I started, with tired legs and one small blister. I didn't say I was sensible.
Now it's back to them. They still are puzzling out which made less sense, running for nearly 24 hours or doing it on a track. The skittish ones will quiet down at this point, and try to avoid eye contact. That's what they do with the buzz-cut crazy man on the corner of Thain and G streets who pummels the air with his hands as he shouts at the passing cars. The brave ones have to know.
"Damned if I know."
"Are you competitive?" This one gets delivered with a frank look of confusion. There's got to be a reason.
The look on their faces is pure relief and a smidge of faith in the universe is restored.
"I guess it makes sense to run if you're good at it." They don't really mean it, but it at least fits. Running isn't a practical activity, leads to sweat and getting teased by shouts of "Run, Forest, Run!"
"Oh, I pretty much stink at running."
Eyes spring wide and stare. I continue, hoping to clarify.
"I'm way too tall, way too broad for a runner. Plus, I don't breathe to well." I say all this with a rueful smile. It's all true, every word. I'm 6'3" and 180 pounds. Too big. The good runners are 5'8" and 135 and don't use an inhaler."
By now, they've resigned themselves to the idea that for the foreseeable future, be it 10 minutes or 2 hours, they're stuck with a loon. Still, there's one more stab at getting to the heart of the crazy that is me.
"So why do you do it?"
Fun, in this case, might be a relative term, kind of like-and maybe related to-crazy.