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Return to Middle School

Do you miss your middle school days? Yeah, neither do I, and Monday was a great reminder of why.

Around the time of the last presidential election, my running group suffered a schism. There were political dynamics, religious dynamics, and store politics involved, and while I never exchanged harsh words with anyone, I definitely began to feel more comfortable around some of those in my pace group than others. Then I disappeared for a time owing to injury and schedule constraints, during which time the schism appears to have become permanent.

Since I now run slower and on different days than my old training group, this has never directly affected me before now. Yesterday, I happened to be out on a run,¬† about a quarter mile from the turnaround on an out-and-back route. A figure approached from behind, and as that person went to pass me, she recognized me from the old days and said a cursory and unenthusiastic “hi”. The fellow runner was someone from the other side of the training group divide, and her body language signaled a clear desire to pass and move on.

This would have been the end of it but for the fact that this person was running slower than usual, and I must have been going slightly faster than expected. We ended up in lock step on a narrow shoulder. It seemed odd to not chat at all—we used to be friendly—so I made some feeble attempts that all landed with a giant thud.

Thirty yards or so from my turnaround point, my unhappy running companion informed me that she was late to rendezvous with the rest of her group and couldn’t really talk. “Yeah, OK,” I rather feebly replied, “I turn around at that bridge just ahead anyway.”

Not 10 seconds later her group—folks I also used to be friendly with but from whom I’m now semi-estranged by association—showed up coming towards us. They greeted their friend quite warmly, me more coolly, and made it abundantly clear that I was not invited to join them. Then, just when I thought the awkward encounter was over, they TURNED AROUND to head the way I would be going 25 yards hence—the way I had just told the one I would be going.

Now what was I supposed to do? Run 20 steps behind the cool kids like an outcast for the entire time our routes overlapped? Cut through the park and shorten my run? Take a turn at the fork ahead and lengthen my run? There didn’t seem to be any very good options.

At 44, running behind the mean girls should not bother me. But Monday, for this  44-year-old at least, running behind the mean girls who had blown me off seemed intolerable. That meant the only good option left was to run in front of the mean girls.

This strategy probably works best if you are, in fact, faster than the group you want to pass. I’m not. But for about 5 minutes, I was faster than I have been since I started running three years ago. I drew in my core, picked up my butt, lifted my knees, and powered up the steepest part of my run like someone who drops 8-minute miles all the time. I fixed my eyes on the distant horizon, pretended to be caught up in the moment, and “just happened” to adjust the earbud in my left ear at a crucial moment so I’d race past them without making eye contact.

Once I was safely past three of the hill’s curves and out of their line of sight, I screeched to a halt, made my way to the grass, and threw up a tiny bit from the exertion.

Was this utterly ridiculous? Yes. Inexcusably immature? Absolutely. Would I do it again? In a New York minute!

Afterword: Will I be sore as all get-out the next day? You betcha!



7 Responses to “Return to Middle School”

  1. Amanda says:

    Good on ya! I’m convinced we never “outrun” the Mean Girls, no matter how old we get.

  2. bethnbobinnc says:

    I’m always amazed how much the middle school dynamic still plays in the adult world. Must be some unresolved self esteem issues. I’m ok with my adult self. Seems like you are too. ????

  3. Jessica says:

    Me, too, Beth. I have totally made my peace with my physical and personality quirks, and am therefore completely taken aback by those who have not and who resort to middle school tactics. One of the most freeing parts of being over 40 for me is that I truly no longer worry about looking ridiculous, which has let me try all kinds of new things. The mean girls are missing out, no?

  4. Amanda says:

    Yes. Having the ability to try things and laugh at yourself when they turn out ridiculous is one of the joys of life, and they are missing out.

  5. bethnbobinnc says:

    They truly are. They’re also missing out on interacting with some pretty interesting people. You know me, Jess. I can pick out horrible people pretty quickly. I usually give everyone a chance, though. Life’s too short.

  6. Jessica says:

    Beth, you have one of the best horrible person detectors of all time. Mine has improved, but yours is world class! And yes, Amanda, being able to enjoy life’s more spectacular fails is a gift. It must be joyless and totally exhausting to always worry about how you look and/or whether or not you are cool all the time.

  7. Amanda says:

    Failure is really important. Failure teaches you things that success frequently does not. Learning how to fail and how to learn from it is one of the best skills you can acquire.

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