Thursday, July 8, 2010

Runners, yeah we're different

Does anyone else remember that Adidas add campaign from the late nineties that features a series of normal runners doing normal runner-type things while being watched by non-runners who clearly found the scene very odd. If not, you can see many of them here. I loved that campaign because my reaction, and the reaction of most of my running friends, was along the lines of "I don't get it, why is that funny?" which was, of course, EXACTLY the point.

I was thinking recently about my own "runners, yeah we're different moment." My job used to entail a lot of travelling for work. One of my running ethics was that I would not miss a run because of work. Family stuff, friends stuff, personal stuff... sure. But missing running because of work really bothered me. This unwritten rule was made challenging to follow by the fact that my days sometimes looked like this:

4.30 am - wake-up.
6.15 am - flight to nearby one of many American cities
8.00 am - arrive in American city
9.00 am - arrive at client site
9-6.00 pm - work with client
8.30 pm - catch flight home
11.00 pm - climb into bed totally exhausted

Hard to find a slot to fit a run in unless I was willing to wake up at 3.00 am. I was not. So when my business trips followed a schedule like that I would often bring a backpack instead of a briefcase. I would hide the backpack as much as possible from the people I was working with so i would walk into the conference room with my laptop already out and immediately tuck the backpack under the conference room table. I would wear the lightest business clothing possible (cardigan instead of suit jacket etc.) and the flimsiest business shoes possible (black ballet slippers instead of heels). After saying good-bye to the client and politely but firmly declining their offer to call me a cab, I would go to the nearest washroom and change, superman style, from business attire into the stash of running clothing I had jammed into my backpack. I would cushion my laptop between the layers of the business clothing and I would be off... running along my pre-mapquested route to the airport, or, in some cases to the subway stop closest to the airport. This worked well in cities like Boston, less well in other cities like Philadelphia where I would just go for a run somewhere nice and finish up at a place where I knew I could grab a cab. I would arrive at the airport sweaty and disheveled. Stretch in line all sweaty while waiting to check in. Get my boarding pass. Find a public washroom, clean up the best possible (this became better once I achieved frequent flyer status and could use the lounges) and change lethargic-Superman style back into my business clothes.

I feel confident that no one reading this blog finds this particularly odd or even extreme. Neither did I. However one time after I had done the superman clothing change in the public washroom of the university I had been visiting, I bumped into the client I had been working with all day wearing short shorts, flimsy tank top and running shoes. It was this incredibly awkward encounter... almost like bumping into someone you know from another context naked in the gym locker room. I also had this feeling that this was somehow stripping myself of my professional veneer. He was completely confused about what I was doing, where my laptop was, the fact that I had a flight to catch. I felt like I had been caught in the act, doing something inappropriate, bizarreness all around. But as I recall, it was a great 10 mile run.

This whole episode also falls well within the realm of normal of other things I have done to make sure I get my run in (running back and forth in the underground concourse at O'Hare come to mind...).

I'd love to hear other people's "runners, yeah we're different" moments.


  1. you're right, it does not sound odd to me in the slightest, just very, very, familiar... That, and using my work gym or the hotel one at midnight (or later) after a "normal" day in the office, in order to get a run in...
    So odd it is not... but still, I am sooo glad this time of my life is behind me. No more high flying jobs, but time to enjoy life, get a lunchbreak run outside facing the mountains instead of on the treadmill, more holiday to use to go running or cycling, of, and a baby (and enough time to see him grow up):-)

  2. I guess the most extreme it got for me was waking up at 2 am nearly every morning to run during internship (I slept in until like 6 am on the weekends), even when all public places were closed due to cold, ice, snow etc. and running for exactly 2 hours and getting to work at 5 or 5:30, sometimes being up in the OR all night after that and then of course running again the next day. All of my fellow residents knew about it. And one of them married me, despite it!

  3. The guys who repair my car refer to me as Superman, because I always change clothes in their parking lot before I drop the car off (it's never occurred to me until just now! that I could use their restroom).

    You want odd? Total frequent-flier miles I've received lifetime: 0.

  4. Oooh. I thought of another fun one. There is a med school professor, who at least used to be at Harvard, who ran the same amount of time every day and on the days he had to travel, he ran the exact same amount of time back and forth in the airport. Granted I've considered it, I'm happy to say I've never made running in an airport terminal a reality (except for of course running to catch a flight).

  5. I find the backpack idea awesome. I love it. Unfortunately, I often travel with non-running colleagues, so I would appear strange and rude. But the backpack idea is going to happen for solo trips - thanks!

  6. I love this post. Funny and inspirational!

  7. have been thinking about this some more and I have to admit that, of course, i do sometimes enjoy being perceived as bizarre, eccentric, hard core, dedicated, driven etc. though honestly other times people's reactions make me feel more like i am sneaking out to partake in a nasty addiction.

    marie-aline - cannot tell from your comment if you found the job you were looking for during your job hunt?? hope so!

    steveq - 0 frequent flyer miles? wow. the world needs more steveq's to reduce the coming peak oil woes!

    SLG - you are hard core, but I already knew that :). i think i actually value sleep over running. i've done the airport thing, it is marginally better than treadmill running. marginally.

    david - thanks for your comment. i think women's business clothing tends to be less voluminous and survives better being crunched into a backpack but i hope it works for you. it's strange how certain things are and are not socially acceptable. i think getting drunk at the airport bar might be perceived as less odd than running to the airport!

    mmmonyka - thanks! I still find it strange that your colleagues find it strange that you cycle 5 miles to work.

  8. 江婷 said...
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    June 29, 2010 1:28 AM
    秋娥秋娥 said...
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    July 2, 2010 7:44 PM
    楊儀卉 said...

    July 7, 2010 12:24 AM

  9. When I start running in airports then I can call myself a hard core runner. I need to keep that in mind next time I fly. But I do not fly that often and if I do I usually do oversea flights...and I do not want to be sweaty for 8+ hours on a plane. Hm, I must think about it little bit more.

    And about biking to work. One half of coworkers thinks about me as a superhero, and the other half thinks that I am a crazy east European weirdo.