A guy I used to know was what I'd call a serious runner except he wasn't often very serious. Frank ran as if there was nothing else in the world he would rather do but without seeming to love it. Running wasn't any big deal. He ran just because. I was just learning to run when I knew him. I read Runner's World and lots of running books. I picked shoes carefully and thought about hydration, caloric intake, pace, and whatever else I was told was important. Frank didn't talk much about running, never read about it, and shrugged when I talked about it. I remember asking if he thought I could run the 10-mile Mountain Goat race through Syracuse.
"Sure, why not?" he asked.
"I've never run ten miles."
He shrugged. I asked about training for it. He shrugged again. He was blowing me off, but I learned later that Frank didn't train, he just ran.
One time he described a vacation beach-run of about eight or ten miles. I asked how he knew the distance without a GPS watch. "I looked at the clock before I left and when I got back. I know my pace." Duh, he seemed to say. It seemed impossible he went by just the feel of it. I couldn't imagine such a laissez faire approach.
One time at a retreat, he, a colleague, and I went out for a run. Our colleague dressed in cute, tight, color-coordinated running clothes. I was in running shorts, a tech shirt, and new Asics. Frank wore an old t-shirt, cargo shorts, and ancient running shoes or Teva's (I can't remember which). He loped off like a dog at a trot. My colleague kept up. I lagged behind panting like a dying dog. After three miles he had hardly sweat while I was drenched. He had miles and miles left in his tank. I was done.
Since then I've traded running shoes for sandals or bare feet. I buy any inexpensive lined short. I like wool shirts but will wear any old thing. I wear a GPS/heart-rate watch but mostly out of habit. Though he's ten years older, I'm sure Frank still runs eight- or seven-minute miles while I haven't cracked ten-minutes over any distance in years. So it goes. He's fast and will likely always run easier than I do.
As a novice, I wanted Frank's speed, endurance, and grace. I still think of myself as knowing only the tiniest bit about running, but have run far enough to know I most envied the ease with which Frank ran. The thing that matters is to just run, the easier the better. Such a simple lesson, but I'm still learning and doubt I'll ever finish the race for the understanding Frank just seemed to know without giving it a second thought or even a first. I think too much. I'll keep at it until it all becomes just easy running.