I started running when I moved to New York City a few years ago. Running for me was my attempt to start fresh in a new place with no friends and it was an effort to lose the weight I gained in graduate school. I didn’t know Houston Street was pronounced “How-StƏn,” and it took me about a week to figure out the difference between a local and express train. Running was a way for me to blend in with all of the other runners and figure out the lay of the land as my Dad used to say.
Coming out of a PhD program in chemical engineering where I developed models to solve problems in battery flow resulted in my running ability to be lackluster at best, but the first time I went running at the crack of dawn on the East River footpath my motivation overtook me with a smile. I was breathing hard and plodding along when what looked like a couple straight from a magazine split around me and then started running backwards to keep pace.
“Hey, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you here before. Are you new to running here or just new to the city?” The guy asked.
First of all it took a minute to realize they were talking to me and then another to realize that they were smiling and maintaining my “fastest” pace with ease.
“Yeah — I just — moved here,” I told them in between breathes.
“Well, we run here every morning about this time so if we see you we will be sure to say hello,” The woman told me with a smile and then gave me a high five.
“Keep running and welcome to the city,” The guy said and they both turned around and left me in the dust.
I would see this couple every morning I ran either when they would pass me going the same direction or in the opposite direction. They always shouted out encouragement to me or offered me a high five in passing. This couple was extremely fit — I could see the guy’s six-pack abs flexing underneath his skin tight under armor shirt and the girl’s light and easy stride made me feel like a plodding rhinoceros. They were sort of the first people I had talked to in the city aside from my landlord and the neighbor whose cat ran into my apartment and pissed on my vintage New Yorkers that were sitting in a disorganized pile next to my desk.
It was a fall morning when I realized that this couple’s pace was not as fast as it had been in the past and that I was able to keep them in sight a bit longer than usual. As the months wore on sometimes we would keep pace with each other and chatted about the weather and how bad the Knicks were going to be that year. Then one winter morning I went out and in the middle of my run my shorts almost fell down around my ankles. I had lost so much weight that I needed new clothes.
Then one spring morning in my fresh clothes I saw an familiar version of myself plodding along the East River and I decided that it would be nice to say hello.
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