Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Mon, 16 Sep 2002 14:29:27 -0400

Talking Dirty


Most runners act as if we know each other, even when we don't. Meeting on the run, we traditionally exchange a word or two, a wave or a nod.

There are exceptions. Sometimes the greeting only goes one way, with the other runner either casting a wary look or avoiding any eye-contact.

Getting snubbed this way annoys me. I want to turn and shout at the runner's back, "Don't worry, I'm not dangerous."

That's before realizing how I must appear. If you saw me running in early morning, you might mistake me for a homeless person: Cosmo Kramer hair, ratty T-shirt from some ancient race, shoes stained the color of soil.

I smell soap, shampoo or perfume on some runners who pass. I can only guess the scents that must waft from me.

An occasional runner gives me a dirty look for a reason. I look -- and maybe smell -- dirty.

And that's okay. It's fun to start a run dirty and to finish dirtier.

I run alone by choice. My official excuse is that it's my time for thinking, which can't be a team sport.

Running solo is also simpler. With no partner to offend, I don't need to clean up before going out.

I don't wash my hands or face, or brush my teeth. I don't comb my hair or shave my beard.

Alone, I spit and blow without hitting anyone. I freely expel gases. I shamelessly take relief in places without plumbing.

I make a point of greeting passing runners, even those who refuse to respond in kind. But no one gets more than a monosyllabic grunt from me.

I run alone to get in touch with my inner barbarian. It's a rare treat in this civilized, sanitized, weatherized age.

My favorite quotemaster George Sheehan liked to quote one of his favorites. Emerson advised, "Be first a good animal."

George ran like a good animal, even when other runners were watching or listening. He confessed to urinating down his leg at times instead of sacrificing precious seconds by stopping during a race. He belched and groaned for anyone to hear.

One of George's most talked-about and misunderstood columns sung the praises of sweat. He said that the sweat a runner in motion spills doesn't stink.

This was widely misread as a statement against taking showers. George took them and recommended them; he just said you first must EARN them.

"You can't take a shower anytime you want," he wrote in the column that appears in his book Dr. Sheehan on Running. "The hot shower is the final act of a ritual. To take one without the proper preparation is as gross as eating when you're not hungry or drinking when you're not thirsty."

Proper preparation means working up a good, honest, healthy sweat that you then shower off. You could say the same for other parts of the cleaning-up ritual: teeth-brushing, shaving, putting on fresh clothes.

You don't know how good clean feels until you've gotten dirty. Likewise you don't know how good warm feels until you've chilled down, or how good cool feels until you've heated up, or how good rest feels until you've earned it.

The same goes for hunger and thirst. Food and liquid taste their best after you've ritually chased down a meal and worked up a thirst.

Only after proper preparation are you ready to feel and act reasonably civilized again. You better appreciate the benefits and bounties of civilization after you've gone a little barbaric.

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