Batten Kill Valley Runners
Batten Kill Valley Runners
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  I was outraged. They'd called me a jogger. And to compound the insult, they'd called him a jogger, too. Sure, he and I traveled the same road but our daily obsessions were not the same. He wore purple shorts over baggy green sweatpants. He moved at a monotonous shuffle. He traveled the right-hand side of the road. He was the jogger. I, on the other hand, sported coordinated running attire. I did fartleks, tempos, speedwork, and LSDs. I ran on the left-hand side of the road. I was a runner! It was my neighbors who gave us the common label: "jogger." And I tried to forgive them. They didn't know better. They watched us from behind closed car windows. In their rear view mirror, the jogger and I were equivalent blurs. But in the range of pedestrian speeds, we were different. There was no need to get out the stopwatches and have a time trial. It wasn't a race out on the road. It was just a known fact: I passed him every day.

  He'd be packing the pavement, steady as a metronome. I'd be starting my emotional drive home. His sweat ring would have formed a jolly wreath around his neck. My sweat balls would be falling like rain among the pebbles. He'd be sucking tuba player size breaths. I'd be stealing sharp mini bites of air. I'd pull up beside him. We'd share a few strides. Then I'd be gone, leaving him to follow my divots down the road. At first I felt guilty feeding him dust every day, reminding him of his slow passage. I'd approach timidly then race by him without looking back. Then one day, he flung a greeting I couldn't outrun: "Lookin' good, keep it up."   I was annoyed. Who was this jogger to encourage me? Or was he insulting me? I didn't know how to respond. I sprinted home. But each day he offered a new greeting. It was like a relay baton he was passing to me. He'd carried it the first part of his journey, carefully forming the words in his head, anticipating the hand-off. Then it was passed to my hand. It was mine to do with as I pleased. Maybe, I thought, his comments were his way of saying, "We're on the same team." Reluctantly, I started saying "thanks." He responded with more entertaining encouragement. "You're a long ways ahead, he'll never catch you!" he said.

  To this I handed back my own witty baton: "And neither will you!"

  We encouraged, we teased, we supported, we mocked and the daily hand- offs became the highlight of our journeys.

  Though we traveled the road at different paces, despite what the neighbors thought, we were no longer runner and jogger. We were teammates of a winning relay team.

by Melissa Pline