Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Running for the hills? Or running over people?

Jogging and running has become a bit of a passion for me.  Now mind you, I’m a big guy.  When you look at me, you don’t immediately think, “Oh, wow, that guy must be a runner.”  You are probably more likely to think, “Oh, wow, that guy could probably eat a whole large pizza in one sitting.”  I can’t eat a pizza in one sitting (not sure I’ve ever tried, though), but I can and do run/jog/walk about 10 miles every week.  I’ve been doing it for a few years now, less when the temperature drops into frigidity, but it’s become a regular habit of mine.  Yeah, I do eat poorly.  I love my wife’s chicken wings, eat McDonald’s sandwiches more often than I should, drink way too much Red Bull, and I have a horrible sweet tooth that I’m afraid I’ve passed on to my son.  So far my running hasn’t quite tipped the scales and made me a smaller person, but I’m working on it, and I know eventually it will happen.  Besides, I’m probably one of the fastest, healthiest of fat men that you’ve ever seen.

That being said, running, jogging, and walking are great all around.  I go during my lunch hour, and I usually get about 45 solid minutes to trudge around the half mile paved and shale roadway that surrounds a local park.  I start with a half mile warm-up of walking, then jump into a medium-tempo jog for about a half mile.  I’ll then spend the rest of my time alternating between jogging, running, sprinting short distances, and walking to rest.  I try to keep my heart rate up above 140 beats per minute (I have a Polar heart rate monitor and would suggest you get one if you are serious about losing weight).

Now this park that I go to a popular one, although of course it all depends on the weather.  When it’s nice and sunny out, lots of people can be seen in the garden area or walking their dogs or taking their children to the playground.  When it’s cold, not so much, which is when I tend to like it best.  I first started going to this particular park early last year, and one of the first things I noticed was the amount of people sitting in their cars and chain-smoking.  That’s right, puffing down cigarettes like they were Tic Tacs.  For weeks I couldn’t fathom why this park was such a hot-spot for people to go to chain-smoke, but then it dawned on me that a local high-school is a quarter of a mile up the road, and naturally smoking is prohibited on school grounds.  I guess being a teacher drives one to smoke a quarter of a pack in a half an hour.  I realize it’s a stressful job, but really?  At least get out and walk while you are smoking, Mr. Jones and Mrs. Smith!

Anyway, I guess I’ve become a regular at the park.  The groundskeeper sees me and nods his head as I stroll on by.  A tall, fit guy in his late sixties (a former gym teacher who smoked there, perhaps?) always says hi to me as we pass.  Call me eclectic, but I always tend to go clockwise around the track, whereas most people go counter-clockwise.  Why is it that people run counter-clockwise around tracks?  My thoughts are that I want to take the widest path possible, and so I stay to the outside.  I also want to walk against traffic so that I can see people driving at me and jump out of the way if they aren’t paying attention, and so I stay to the left.  Staying on the left and walking on the outside means I have to go counter-clockwise, but I rarely see others going the same direction.  I guess they just don’t follow my logic.  Regardless, I often pass other people, going the opposite way, and while I listen to music and am running at a good 5 mph pace sometimes, I try to keep at smile on my face.

Now I’m not a dog-lover, but I’m not a dog-hater either.  I guess I have a very neutral stance toward them.  I tend to like bigger, friendlier dogs.  My favorite is probably the golden retriever, as both a relative and an ex-girlfriend had one, and they were both beautiful, charming, and gentle creatures.  The one, Bracken was his name, would actually bring me his toy every time I arrived at the door, and when I was done petting him, he’d actually put his toy back in his toy box.  My soon-to-be three-year-old hasn’t even quite learned that trick yet!  I digress.  Anyway, if a dog is nice, and I’m not preoccupied, I’ll go play with it or pet it or whatever.  However, when I’m running, I’m rather preoccupied with making sure I don’t trip over my own two feet or get hit by a car or a flying cigarette butt ejected out of the car by a chain-smoker, and so I don’t really have time to play with dogs.  Yet, for some strange, only-dog-lover’s-know-why reason, the owners of these pets will let them roam without leashes, not discipline them when the bark, etc.  I can only imagine what is going through these poor creatures’ minds when they see me running towards them.  I’m a tank, barreling down the road at them, and most of these animals inherently want to protect their owners.  They most likely see me as a threat, and there have been a few close calls of dogs running up near me and/or barking/growling.  I can understand the need for these people to walk their dogs, and a park is a great place to do that, but they really need to read the signs that clearly say “Keep Dogs On Leashes.”  I mean, if a dog bites me, so what?  I’ll bite him back.  If a dog bites a child though, well, that’s a scenario I’d rather not imagine.  But please, folks, keep your dogs on leashes!

Which brings me to my next observation: kids.  This park has a huge, magnificent, glorious wooden playground that I would have just died to play in when I was little.  We’ve taken our son there several times, and while he is still too little to fully appreciate all of the nooks and crannies where he can hide and the rope bridges and tire swings and mini zip line and all of the sliding boards, he does love going.  And other kids do as well.  Which, of course, means field trips.

Now I’m probably like a lot of dads.  I love my son and would sacrifice anything and everything for him, but other people’s kids—not so much.  Don’t get me wrong, if I see a kid in pain or lost or whatever, I’m going to help him/her out.  That’s just the natural, humanitarian thing to do.  But when it comes to kids screaming, shouting, misbehaving—well, I’d rather not deal with them.  Unless of course they are funny when they are doing it.  Or they are under five and they utter a well-timed expletive.  Crap like that amuses me!

But today, when I was running in the park, this little kid and his mother just infuriated me to the point where my heart rate actually went way up, as evidenced by my Polar heart rate monitor (again, highly recommended if you want to lose weight or get fit).  I was just walking along, catching my breath, minding my own business, and listening to my music with the volume down low when I passed this group of people returning to their vehicles from the playground entrance.  As we passed, one little boy asked his mother, “Mommy, why is that man here?”  And her reply was, “I don’t know, honey,” in the most negative, poison-tongued tone that I have ever heard.  As she said this, she actually pulled her son closer to her, as if she thought I really wanted to kidnap her son.  Uh, hello?  I’m dripping sweat, listening to my music with my neon green headphones on, and just trying to stay out of your way.  Do I look like a kidnapper?  Do you really think I want to take your bratty son home with me?

I don’t know what impression I gave this lady.  Perhaps she was a Cowboys or Ravens fan and my sweaty Steelers offended her.  And I can understand a mother being overly-protective of her child.  But the amount of disdain she had in her voice was just utterly amazing.  I was actually in such shock that, upon my next lap, I searched for signs stating that the park was closed for some specific function.  I literally began to question whether or not I was allowed to be there, as if I was trespassing and breaking some law or rule and just completely unaware.

Thinking back now, if I had it to do over again, I would have stopped dead and said, “I’M FREAKIN’ WALKING HERE, LADY.  WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE I’M DOING?”  If only….

So finally, as I’m wrapping up my session today, all of these parents start to leave.  They go to their numerous minivans and SUVs, buckle their kids in, and then proceed to fly out of the park as if they were late for the last train out of Hell.  There are indeed signs (which I saw when trying to figure out if I were trespassing on some bat mitzvah or something) that specifically state the speed limit to be 5 MPH.  Driving 5 MPH is like barely driving, by the way.  If I’m running hard, and you are obeying that speed limit, I’m running faster than you.  Not these parents though.  Despite the speed bumps, they begin to fly out of there doing well over 20, probably even 30 MPH.  Slowing down just enough at the speed bumps to not destroy their exhaust systems.  As a funny digression, I once watched some young kid fly in and hit one going about 40 MPH—he ended up having to call someone to help him strap his muffler back on.  But anyway, WHY, PEOPLE?  Why must you fly past me, while I’m walking, doing 30 MPH?  Are you that lost in your own little world that you don’t see the massive man walking down the road toward you?  Or is it that I scare you so much that you’re afraid I’m going to try to open the door of your moving vehicle?  I’m not even looking at you!  I don’t care about you!  Just don’t freakin’ hit me!

So when I’m done with my laps and as I go to leave in my vehicle, this old man pulls into the parking lot where I parked, makes a quick U-turn, cuts me off, and then proceeds to just sit in the middle of the one-lane road, looking down at his lap at God-knows-what.  I sat behind him patiently for one, two, three seconds, then beeped my horn.  He looked up at me in his rear-view mirror, gave me this awful bitter-beer face look as if I had somehow interrupted his nap, and then finally turned so that I could go.  Sorry, guy.  I didn’t mean to use the public road that you were blocking.

So long story…uh…long, I love to run, and this park is the closest and most convenient for me.  I’m going to keep going there regardless.  But seriously, if you are one of the people that use this PUBLIC park and happen to be reading this (yeah, right?), please be kind and respectful to people who are jogging there.  That goes for people who jog on public streets, too.  Keep your dogs on leashes if they are outside and not fenced in, don’t drive fast near them, and show them respect.  Because you know, you may be a chain-smoker or fellow fatty like me, but chances are those runners/joggers are a lot more fit than you are, and if it comes to fisticuffs, I’m putting my money on the people that have the endurance and stamina to go a few rounds.  And if you keep it up, sure, maybe some of us runners will run for the hills—but chances are most of us are going to rather just run over you.

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