A couple weeks ago, I was minding my own business on a run. Pounding the pavement, grooving to some Delta Saints, on a stretch of my normal running route that lacks a sidewalk.
On this particular stretch of un-sidewalked territory, it is really, truly, honest-to-Godly safer to run with traffic than against it. If you’re a runner, you know this violates one of the cardinal rules of running: if there’s no sidewalk, run against the traffic. Facing traffic or not, let’s face it: you’re never really safe if you’re sharing your running space with 2 ton chunks of metal hurtling along in your general direction at a minimum of 20 miles per hour.
Back to my run. All of the sudden, a car horn blared behind me. I turned around and there was a white sedan stopped, holding up traffic, honking at me. An older man and his wife were in the car, and the man was making grand gestures for me to go to the other side of the road, complete with an extremely angry-mean face that will probably haunt my dreams for the rest of my life.
I was slightly dumbfounded and froze for a second, pulling out one of my earbuds and crinkling my forehead at him. He rolled his window down and yelled some pretty ugly sentences at me. I’ll spare you his unnecessary language; suffice it to say I made my way to the against-traffic side of the road ASAP. He flipped me off and rolled by, followed by the 20 or so cars that had piled up behind him.
I was a lot of things in this moment (including red in the face). More than anything else, I was embarrassed. I was doing the right thing! Why did this grumpy old man have to tear me down just to prove a point! What right did he have!
This incident bothered me. Like, really bothered me. I couldn’t figure out why somebody would do such a thing, or at least if they were going to do it, why did they have to be so mean about it? I still would have been embarrassed if he had been nice, but at least I would’ve known he had good intentions.
Ah, intentions. Those tricky little entities lie behind every conscious action, whether we realize it or not. I started dissecting the interaction for the man’s intentions. I made a list. Maybe he was having a bad day and was taking out his anger on me. Maybe he was in the middle of a fight with his wife and was using me as a distraction. Maybe he used to be a runner until he was hit by a car when he was running alongside traffic. Maybe he didn’t like what I was wearing. Maybe he was truly concerned about my safety, and didn’t know how else to express it. Maybe he mistook my embarrassment for annoyance or even anger, and got angry in response. Maybe maybe maybe.
Then it hit me: maybe it didn’t matter. Maybe his intentions were insignificant and I was focusing my analytical energy on the wrong part of this interaction.
It took me three or four days to come to this thought, but it remains my final conclusion: his intentions didn’t matter. Why? Because in the end, I’m a safer runner for what he did that day. As unpleasant as that moment was, I will absolutely do my best to never ever run with traffic ever again. Ultimately, this man’s action took root inside me in a way that will keep me out of future danger.
It also allowed me to better articulate one of the many things I love about running: It’s never about how far you go; it’s about understanding the ground that you’ve covered. I covered a whole lot more ground than just the physical three mile loop I ran that afternoon.
So, regardless of his lack of tact, I have to be thankful. This is a respectful and heartfelt thank you, grumpy old man, for cursing at me and for backing up traffic for a good quarter mile. Because who knows? You just might have saved my life.