I knew I was no longer in Colorado. In Colorado, you can run just about anywhere – your neighborhood, across busy streets, up mountains, through stores — without the “look.” If you are from Colorado, you may not be familiar with the “look,” but it is characterized by a cock of the head, a second look and maybe even a smirk of disapproval. It says, without words, why would you do such a thing as run, by choice? I most recently experienced the “look” when running through Denali National Park in Alaska. Okay, not quite through the park – rather on the outskirts. I have a terrific fear of grizzly bears and moose.
I had a window of opportunity to fit in some exercise and well, I ran with it (couldn’t resist). I headed out the doors of the Princess Lodge mid-afternoon – having been trapped on a bus for about 3 hours. At first, I thought I got the “look” because I was headed the wrong way. I found after a quarter mile that the paved path I had chosen dead ended. Of course, I turned around, but still got the “look” from many passersby.
I headed up over a bridge across the Nenana River (rhymes with banana) bordering the park. It was cool and overcast, and I couldn’t help but think about the other odd places I’d run. Mind you, I am not a “runner” who has ventured into beautiful venues and challenging trails. Up until just a few years ago I was a runner by necessity. A gym rat who sometimes found herself without a gym, but desperate for some kind of cardio. Colorado makes a runner out of you.
In college, I ran through the city streets of a small town in Hungary called Pecs. It was 1991 and not long after the wall had come down. I nearly choked on the pollution from the buses and wow, did I experience the “look” from the locals. The next day I found a track that wasn’t really well maintained, but no one was there to give me the “look.” I did have to endure the sickening smell from rotting piles of cut grass. I can still smell it sometimes…
The next summer, I traveled to Poland. I ran along the streets of Zakopane, a ski town. I had a particularly amped up run after drinking the local coffee – made by pouring grounds straight into a cup of hot water. No filter or French press for these Poles. I had a buzz for a week. Halfway through the summer, I moved on to another small town called Siedlce. When running there, I usually took a straight path that led to a small village – people gave me the “look” as they did chores around their homes. These hard-working farmers didn’t really need extra exercise. One day, I ran through the woods, diverged from my usual route and got lost. I had to wave down a family – mom, dad, kids, grandma and all – on a rickety horse-drawn cart. There I was, in my white tennis shoes and spandex (1992, forgive me), trying to explain in English where I wanted to go. They pulled me on board and drove me home. That ride definitely came with the “look.”
Another interesting run was through the streets of Belfast with Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy
Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University Marty Linsky. He was (and probably still is) an avid runner who hadn’t missed a single day of running in years and wasn’t about to let our work in Belfast ruin his streak. Being a fitness instructor in my spare time, I was the natural choice to join him on the run. Maybe I was included to make sure he didn’t run into the unsafe sections of the city. I probably wasn’t the best choice – remember Poland? It was early morning, rainy (surprise) and cold and I don’t recall seeing any other people out early enough to give us the “look.” I did get it when I told some of the Belfast residents that we’d run that morning.
I only hope I have more opportunities to experience “looks” as I venture out to run in strange places. It means I’m getting out there and experiencing the world, and still fitting in my cardio.