There are many levels of familiarity. The things you share with your best friends differ in intimacy and detail from the things you share with, say, a recent acquaintance. The former is unceremonious and chummy. The latter is a bit more button-down.
Neighbors provide an interesting supply of hodgepodge cordiality. It’s wonderful that allies and adversaries can live so close to one another, waving and smiling as they go about their daily business—checking the mail or walking the dog—all the while muttering through clenched teeth, “And don’t think I don’t know you let Buster poop in the petunias.”
It’s hard to tell your neighbors exactly what you think, and often it’s not very wise. Neighbors are the opposite of the internet when it comes to accountability. Unlike the nameless or bizarrely-handled contributors in comment sections in Yahoo! News—AngryAmericanVoter or AngelBrain, for instance—neighbors have names and even faces. They also have mailing addresses a mere number or two off your own. It’s the equivalent of your comments coming to life and buying the house next door. Things can get awkward.
But buried in the strata of familiarity, somewhere between “childhood friend” and “spouse,” is the running buddy. Running companionship is forged in the trenches, usually at five in the morning, often in the most uncooperative conditions—100-degree temperatures or an unexpected downpour—and always when we look and feel our worst. Or our most human, as I like to think of it.
The running buddy relationship is one without pretense and without any facet of decorum whatsoever. With some friends—the kinds of friends who invite you to lunch once or twice a year and usually have some connection to your high school days—I try to look decent. I’ll shower and put on a dressy blouse or perhaps a nice pair of black pants. I keep a blouse in my closet so I’m prepared for just that sort of friend, as well as for funerals and the rare occasion when I have to step foot in an office building and look halfway professional.
I’ve heard the phrase “a fish out of water,” but honestly, I think a fish, if he had a tie and perhaps a shiny pair of wingtips, would look more comfortable in a corporate environment than I do. I just don’t know how to business. Last month, I helped a corporate executive with an editing project. We scheduled a meeting at his office, but I guess because the project was writing and not business, I forgot that the nature of the assignment didn’t alter the building’s dress code.
“So…” I said as I stood in the reception area, outfitted in distressed jeans, a cotton tank, and what I like to fancy are my “rock star” boots, “how long have you all worked here?” I was trying to sound employed.
My audience was three middle-aged men in mustaches and somber business suits. It seemed they had worked there a very long time.
But with running buddies, the dress code is limited simply to non-cotton fabrics. How much of and in what manner you wear anything-but-cotton is entirely up to you.
Just as running attire is unrestricted, so are the conversations that take place over the course of five, ten, or twenty miles. Boredom and exhaustion have a fine way of demolishing barriers. And once the walls come down, anything is fair game.
Of course, there is a mutual understanding that what is discussed on the roads stays on the roads unless otherwise noted. While no particular subject is too delicate to be bandied about, the conversation as a whole is sacred.
Aside from bowel movements, dreams are a particularly effective bonding topic. While nothing cements a friendship like the question, “Will you stand guard while I squat behind this tree?” there is a certain trust that comes along with the declaration, “Last night I had the weirdest dream…”
I don’t know how it is with most people, but unfortunately, most of my dreams are bad, ranging from unpleasant to terrifying. Only twice in my life have I had a good dream. The first happened when I was 9 or 10. The space beneath my bed was chronically messy, with junk of course, but I dreamed that while I was sorting through the wrinkled clothes and homework assignments, I found $50,000 worth of pirate’s treasure—Spanish doubloons, to be exact. It’s weird that I remember the figure, though perhaps it’s less weird when you consider the story makes up 50 percent of my good dream memories.
The other happened recently, this spring, in fact. What made the good dream even more atypical—aside from its being only the second of my existence—was its topic.
It was a running dream. A good running dream.
Very rarely do I dream about running, despite the sport’s prominence in my life. And when I do, the results are always disastrous. Most of the time my dream involves a marathon course consisting of freshly waxed wood floors and my devastating discovery, upon arriving late, that I am wearing socks. And these aren’t nice socks—Feetures or Balega or something appropriate to running long distance—but old school tube socks, white and slippery. Sometimes the floors are marble, but the premise is the same. The floors are slick, and I am unprepared. I usually endure several hundred yards of sliding in a doomed and ultimately futile attempt to run before I wake up.
But this past spring, just weeks before the GO! St. Louis Marathon—the marathon I was training for—I dreamed I ran exactly 3:08:30. I was thrilled.
I ran a perfect race! I thought. I even remembered my shoes!
Then, of course, I woke up.
I texted Jake that day to document the dream, just in case I crossed the finish line in the forecasted time.
And, incredibly, through 26 miles of the real, non-dream race, I was on pace for exactly 3:08:30. But somewhere between 26 and 26.2, my feet slowed down. I ran 3:09:07. I was happy, but still…
How cool would that have been?
I can’t complain. A good running dream? I’ll take it. In fact, I think it actually gave me confidence going into the race. My experience in the dream had been so positive and the race had gone so delightfully according to plan, I carried that assurance with me the rest of the way.
At any rate, it was better than the dream I had a few weeks before, when I dreamed that one of the cashiers at our grocery store was the second gunman on the grassy knoll. I woke up crying, “Why did you do it? Why?”
But that’s just between you and me.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.