I think about a lot of things when I run. I often plan essays, make decisions, organize my workday, ... Whereas I used to think I didn't have enough time to exercise, now I wonder how I ever got anything done without it!
Since I started in February, I have only run once with other people, and that was a Parkrun event in London with lots of strangers. I already felt pretty anonymous, but I made sure my earphones were visibly in, just in case.
It was mainly Sarah's encouragement that led to my run with Rachid last week. Would I be able to talk, or would I be embarrassingly breathless? What if I had to ask him to slow down or stop? What if he sprinted off ahead of me? What if he thought, 'didn't Chris say he's been training for months?!' Running for me has always been a private, solitary affair.
We met by the old Foyle Railway train tracks, at one end of the Craigavon Bridge, to run towards the border and Carrigans, a route I love. You can see counties Derry, Donegal and Tyrone all converge on the River Foyle. I put one earphone in, and tucked the other into the neck of my T-shirt. And we set off ...
Before long, we were in nature, sometimes making small talk, sometimes in silence. At times one of us would edge ahead and make the other pick up pace, and at other times we ran shoulder to shoulder. I should say, this was Rachid's first run since fasting over Ramadan, which was very, very impressive. There probably was a smidgeon of healthy competition, something I normally shun, but I must admit, it made me less much likely to slack off!
'Twas a big step for me, making myself vulnerable by running with Rachid. And I'm very glad I did.
In his book, John Donohue popularized the idea of 'anam cara', or soul friend, in Celtic spirituality. The anam cara is someone with whom we can be vulnerable and let into the solitary, doubful, private parts of us. As so often the case, spirituality plays out in everyday life, like running along the old Foyle train tracks last Saturday.
So, thank you to my 'rith cara' (running mate) Rachid! See you at the start line in a week for the Derry Waterside Half Marathon!