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The Good Fortune of Finding a Running Buddy (and the Melancholy End of a 14-Year Run)

by on May 19, 2020 5:00 AM

Here in Happy Valley we are now more than a week into our slightly-liberated yellow-stage status as good citizens. We were in the restrictive red stage for just over six weeks, during which time my hair grew long enough that it’s now curling around my shoulders, my money clip has become a unused accessory in my pocket in this cashless society, and I’ve sat in my car at numerous red lights wondering why they weren’t in flashing mode because there are no other cars around. 

Mother Nature also seems to agree that the times they are a-changin’. After proving the groundhog very wrong and snowing several times in May, this weekend the Hook household was finally able to herald the arrival of warmer weather – we retired our flannel sheets and switched to a lighter set. For what we hope will be many months to come.

But with this time of change brings a melancholy experience for me personally – the departure of my running buddy. My ex-next-door-neighbor, John Graham, is moving to New Jersey.

I keep an old saying about “buddies” push-pinned to the bulletin board on the back of my office desk: 

Eventually we find human differences too subtle for easy classification, and the web of our relationships becomes too complex for analysis. We try to move toward more and more sensitive discrimination, so that there are those we can learn from, those we can work with, those good for an evening of light talk, or for a little warmth of affection, and so on – with perhaps those very few with whom we can sustain a deepening relationship for an entire lifetime.

I’ve never been able to identify its author, and even an almighty Google search turns up nothing – other than the time I used it in my column last October. Nevertheless, I enjoy it because it reminds me of all the wonderful friendships I’ve had in my life, including for the last 14 years or so with my running buddy.

My wife, two kids and I moved back to State College in late 2005 after a 22-year absence. Almost immediately after returning I started going out for jogs. As anyone who has done recreational running knows, occasionally going on a run with another person has positive benefits. 

First, it keeps you honest. If you have a scheduled day when you know you are going to run, and someone else is counting on you doing it with them, it’s much harder to rationalize not doing it. It’s too hot, cold, early, late or wet don’t work. I’m busy, tired, hungry, full or aching don’t work either. You made a commitment and you keep it. So scheduling a run with someone else forces you to get that exercise in.

Second, and I’m not sure how this works, but invariably when I’m running with someone else I seem to run just a bit faster than if I’m doing it by myself. And anecdotal evidence from talking to many other runners over the years confirms this. So running with someone else makes you exercise a little harder.

Third, it’s social. If you are running at a pace that allows you to converse – which is a good training guide – then you can talk about all kinds of things. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Who you are, what you do, how you think. The big picture, the little picture and every picture in between. And, more importantly, you get to hear all these things from a different person. So running with someone else opens your eyes and makes you a better and more understanding person.

All of which are why it’s a great idea to occasionally get out of solo mode and run with one or more other people. 

It was my good fortune that after this move back to Happy Valley and a while of running by myself, our next-door neighbor, the aforementioned John Graham, approached me about going out and running together. Since he was itching to get back out on a regular basis we soon agreed on a Monday- Wednesday-Friday routine. Even better, after a few times out it was clear we were athletically well-suited – that is, I could keep up with him and still hold up my end of the conversation for at least part of our run.

And so it began. A three-times-a-week routine that went on for months, then years, then a decade. A few summers we missed running as he and his wife spent time in Connecticut. Sometimes one or the other of us would be traveling. Sometimes an illness or physical ailment put runs on hold. In the last few years during the winters, when sidewalks and roadways were icy or snow-covered, we lost days since the University ended gratis use of all their indoor facilities. Yet when the traveling was done, or the weather improved, or the illness subsided, we went back to the routine.

Seven years ago my family moved over to the west side of town and the runs could no longer all start and stop on Inverary Place. We made adjustments and started alternating locations – an option that opened up possibilities for running a number of other routes around town. Being creatures of habit we mostly stuck with two regular routes, but the potential for something different was there and sometimes we took it.

For almost 14 years we’ve been running together. Then this past summer an opportunity opened up for John’s wife and the decision was made: they would be moving close to New York City as soon as the school year concluded. We knew this meant our running partnership would be coming to an end this May, but the pandemic finished things a little differently than we had planned. Since we’re both of an age where the virus poses a greater threat to us, we stopped running together two months ago when caution became the better part of valor. This would have been our last week of running together had the pandemic not struck. 

During this pandemic we have all undergone seismic changes to our lives. In some ways we might be getting immune to smaller deviations that under normal circumstances would have garnered greater attention, but presented in the context of the current life-saving restrictions are just accepted as one more strange day in this brave new world. Change is, as they say, constant. 

So please, enjoy time with your friends – all of them – for whatever part of the web of your relationships they inhabit. And if you happen to be in a bar or coffeehouse in the Jersey City/Hoboken area or along the Connecticut coastline and see a performance by Bluesman John Graham, tell him his old running buddy says hello! 




John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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