I was in the middle of a 2 hour and 45 minute run the other night. I was running along a path, mind you a path that was about 12 feet wide, running down a steep hill with a sharp corner and for whatever reason I took the far left inside, rather than the right. But this is the privilege you sometimes enjoy when you’re the only one on the path on a beautiful late summer night. Lost in my own thoughts, I was startled by someone behind me that shouted snarkily, “Excuse me.” Immediately I apologized and moved myself out of the way. No sooner did I move a little right then a middle-aged man on a mountain bike came zipping by me on my left. Fine – done and over. I moved, you move on.
But it didn’t stop there. “You could try not taking up the whole fu?#*n’ path” he said as continued to zip down the hill.
For a moment, I was dumbfounded. Did someone just yell, and curse, at me while running? In my 16 years of running, I can’t think of one time that I have ever been yelled at, up close, by someone on the path. In fact, I am the lollipop princess of this path, smiling and waving to anyone that passes me on horse, foot, or bike. I tried to get a closer look as he rode further away, and noticed nothing that significant other than the fact that he was wearing headphones, no helmet, and riding a clunker of a mountain bike. Enough said.
I kept running and noticed that though he was on the bike, my pace wasn’t that far off of his. Angry that this person intruded upon my time with their anger, their cursing, I felt compelled to chase this man down. I was about 1 hour and 40 minutes into the run and I was pushing into the wind mostly uphill. A woman on a mountain bike rode towards me and I almost felt like asking to borrow her bike for 5 minutes because that is all it would take to gap the distance between him and me. And once I caught up with him what would I say? This thought entertained me for the next 6 minutes as I ran towards a phantom menace riding his bike to the corner of the path. I came up with a hundred variations of snippy, rude, mean, biting, sarcastic comments to throw his way, in the middle of his ride, on this beautiful summer night.
I got over the hill and approached the corner and expected he would be there waiting at the light to cross the street and just as I got closer and ready to unleash a fury of words, thoughts, and remarks from my own angry mind, I realized that he was gone. There would be no justice, no confrontation. He rode away with this one.
Part of me was relieved. Really, if I had caught up to him what would I have said that would have made any difference to this man? I just wanted him to understand that no one has the right to force their frustration, bad mood, or poor manners on another person’s time. If I choose to be running for recreation on the path, and I happen to be hogging the left side and there is no one visibly around, take the right side. It happens all the time. It’s a multi-user path.
I was beginning to think that someone had placed a target on me that can only be seen by the mean, angry, vapid people of Illinois with nothing better to do than harass the fit and athletic people of Illinois (all 20 of us...). Two days earlier, I was riding on the edge of a far western suburb which was mostly bordered by cornfields and dotted by a randomly placed McMansion, when a pick-up truck driving in the opposite direction honked at me. This has happened before, but it surprised me that indeed there were two idiots living in two separate cities that apparently shared the same brain and the same disdain for a female cyclist riding up a hill in the other direction.
Lately, it seems that incidents like this happen at least once a day. I was starting to think that maybe I was getting careless or sloppy with my riding or running, that I was deserving of the horn-honking, finger-flicking, cussing that was coming my direction. And then I was out on a ride with my coach the other day, when a woman in a, yes you’ve got it, Lexus SUV not only honked at us, but slowed with her windows rolled down to yell something at us. On a Sunday morning. In the middle of central Illinois. At 8 am. Not wanting my coach to see the psycho-lunatic, will chase you to your driveway demon that sometimes exists inside of me, I stayed quiet. No sooner was I surprised to see her dart off and yell a little of this and that at the woman.
From there we started talking about one of the rarely mentioned side effects of Ironman training. We of Ironman are out there so much, so often, that we have significantly increased the likelihood of experiencing one of these nasty encounters of cursing and honking while on the path or the road. Whereas in the past I might be on my bike for 90 minutes and miss most of the idiots in between, when you’re out there for 6 hours and 45 minutes you’re more likely to run into them. In fact, you run into them so much that you begin to hate the roads, and hate to ride, and hate to run because you never know when you might fall victim to yet another senseless verbal attack from another senseless Illinois stranger.
Perhaps one of the most important things I’ve learned from Ironman training is that while I continue to pursue bigger and tougher challenges in both my professional and personal life, there are people out there so pent up, so poorly mannered, so ignorant that they are only capable of challenging others by shouting, cursing, or name-calling at them. What is saddening is that most of these incidents occur to me within the western suburbs of Chicago. I find myself thinking that even though I live in one of the most affluent and educated areas of the country, where the median income is probably twice as much as other areas, that no amount of money, or education, or affluence, or luxury vehicles, or large houses, or expendable income can purchase intelligence, or manners, or common sense.
Even further surprising to me is that I’ve ran all over and I’ve never encountered the type of rude, crass, and ignorant behavior that I’ve encountered around Illinois.
Grand Rapids, Michigan, running along the Kalamazoo River Path. An industrial town in a reawakening where most of the men seemed to pass their days with fishing along the river. As I ran up and down that path, lined with men, not one said a word to me. I ran 3 days in that town and heard nothing but the river rolling over the rocks.
Forks, Washington, running in the early morning while visiting Olympic National Park. A logging town so sleepy, so nestled, so Twin-Peakish that I was afraid the Log Lady would jump out and accost me. No such luck. I even ran by groups of children waiting for school buses – no one threw a log my way.
Montreal, Quebec – a city so French and shady in parts that you almost feel dirty just walking through it. So I ran. Past strip clubs with men lingering late from the night or early for the morning. No one flashed any ones at me.
New Orleans, Louisiana – Chris and I ran to prove that indeed you could get farther, faster on foot than by taking the trolley car. We ran along the trolley route until it hit something – it stopped and we kept going. In a city known for it’s loud debauchery and flagrant sin, we were not heckled, ogled, or harassed.
Minneapolis - St. Paul, Minnesota – when god created a perfect place, he named it Minnesota. And to keep all of the idiots out, he also made it cold. Whether it’s cold or mild, Minneapolis is a city that moves. Run up and down the riverfront path and you’ll never be alone, you’ll never be bored by the wooded view along the river, and you’ll never be bothered.
Honolulu, Oahu – the last day of my honeymoon, I woke up early for a run in Honolulu. Running along Waikiki Beach, with views of Diamond Head along the way, I was greeted by each and every runner than passed by – and there were dozens.
Maybe running, cycling, and other fitness activities just haven’t caught on yet in Illinois. Maybe that’s why there are so many people that shout and cuss and chase us down. But I was thinking Illinoisians might want to rethink that one because I heard the other day that over 60 percent of people in Illinois qualify as overweight or obese. Maybe once Illinois does get outside and get going, they will find the joy in the quietude and peacefulness of the whole experience and hopefully they’ll find that fitness is an experience that speaks for itself and doesn’t need the help of passerby’s to speak for it.