An old man and me.

photo of Brdar’s Bursa

There is an old man that I see almost every morning during my runs or bike rides along the lakeshore. He is a tall unkempt looking fellow with tattered jogging pants, dishevelled hair and a white running shirt. His clothes are not extraordinarily dirty, however, they are just worn out. He doesn’t seem too unusual at all, at least in a runners’ sort of way.

The real puzzles are his shoes. On one foot he has a white soccer shoe with gaping holes everywhere. The shoe tongue stretches out on top and is mostly torn away from the rest of shoe.  On his other foot, he wears a 1980s velcro strapped grey running shoe. It doesn’t look worn out at all, but rather like some old thing he just picked up in a thrift store because it fit and it did not have holes in it. As he jogs his shoes make this “plop-squish-plop” sound which I hear before I actually see him. I smile when I hear it, because although it sounds gross, I know that I will be seeing be a familiar face soon. He jogs along most of my route at a very rapid pace, so he passes me every time, as most people do.  I often wonder what he is up to, who he is and what the hell he is doing out there in those shoes.

Obviously, he is running. He runs like I do. I wear my running gear out until it’s all thinned out. I am stubbornly loyal to gear that works for me. I mean, if it works, why should I change it? Running can be an expensive sport and it’s a huge pain to find stuff that fits right on me since I am incredibly short.

Most people in the running community would be shocked about his shoes though. Considering the number of injuries on knees, ankles, heels and hips, a lot of us make big investments just to find the right fit of shoes. Some of us have been through shoes with arch supports, heel slides and gel soles because of, or to prevent injury. Some of us opt for minimalist gear or no gear at all. It’s whatever works for each runner and with everyone having different needs (low arches, high arches, different leg lengths, etc.), I wonder about the science of this man’s mismatched shoes.

I wonder if he has ever been injured and if this shoe combination actually works for him. How did he find this method? What are his pre-run dinners and breakfasts like? What is his recovery ritual? What drives him to go to the distance? What will happen if he has to replace one of those shoes? Has he had to replace those shoes? These questions lead to more questions every time I see him.

I brought him up recently in a conversation with a friend. I said that I would like to stop him to say hi and to know more about him. My friend suggested that I start off by waving hello to him and taking it from there. I’ve mulled it over and in my romantic mind, I’ve already formed him as a somewhat silent running hero. He is the face of determination and that stubborn need in running to keep going even if you are not all there mentally. I’ve seen him running out there in the middle of heat waves with that same game face. I’ve been out there too, but I am not a thin 70 or 80 year old man with mismatched shoes.

If I get to know any more than what I know now, then I would either gain perspective or I would lose this image of this silent hero. Maybe he wants to be left alone or he would change his route to avoid my curiosity. There are so many “what ifs” in this situation that it’s hard for me to decide if doing anything more than waving at him would be right for either of us. I enjoy when runners wave and cyclists nod, but I generally like to be left alone on my journey.

Then again, I do run in minimalist gear. I wear five fingered shoes and occasionally go barefoot in Autumn when the windy days and leaves make for a mostly swept up sidewalk track. If he ever noticed me, would this man stop me and think I was crazy in my hobbit like shoes? Would he wonder what my running rituals were? Who knows? I think that in him I’ve found this kindred spirit that finds an escape from their every day in running. Our methods might be different and our lives might be different, but we run no matter what we might look like out there. In a sea of morning runners and cyclists in brand name gear and athletic running forms, this old man and I intersect paths with our shuffled pace along the lakeshore  in our weird shoes in silence. It’s become a part of my own running ritual and I’m not sure I want to change that.

I’ve decided to keep it that way and occasionally wave. Maybe one day I will know more about the shoes or the man himself or maybe I won’t. Maybe the wheels will turn one day and I will be the old lady who runs in mismatched shoes along the lakeshore. My feet might make that “plop-squish-plop” sound as I make my way towards my destination and I still won’t care what I look like because my mind as well as my feet will be busy running. I might run by someone else who wonders, “What is up with her shoes?”

If I live a life that long and I am still going strong, then I will know I’m still truly living.

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