As I mentioned last week, last Saturday's run was a frustrating one. One of the main reasons was an odd encounter - scratch that - an odd near encounter I had with another runner.
I was only a few miles into what I planned to be a 13-mile run. I came up to an intersection, where my running trail crossed a busy road. There's no crosswalk. I usually err on the side of caution in such situations, so I held back a bit. As I waited, an older runner, tanned, shirtless with short white hair, crossed the road ahead of me. No problem.
After I crossed the road, I saw him up ahead of me on the trail. It was obvious he was going a bit slower than I was, and within a few minutes I passed him.
Everything seemed fine for a few minutes. I lengthened my distance from him a bit, and put my mind back on the music coming out of my iPod.
Shortly thereafter, though, I heard footsteps. And saw a shadow. The guy was maybe three feet behind me. Personally, I don't like to pass someone right after they pass me. I'm afraid I'll look vindictive. If someone passes me on the trail, I'll usually make a point to stay a bit behind them for a few minutes, even if they slow down.
That same passivity kicked in when this guy started breathing down my neck. My plan for that run was to do eight minutes easy, then two minutes fast, and so forth. I was coming up to my fast minutes, but with the guy obviously about to pass me, I thought it would be rude to suddenly start sprinting. I didn't want to look like I was trying to keep him from passing me.
So I kept my same pace. And so did he.
It became quite disturbing. We crossed another road. Other runners on the trail turned down the road, headed into the city. He stayed right behind me. Every time I looked down, there was his shadow, right next to my feet.
Philosophical detour: I totally get that runners will sometimes use other runners to pace or to challenge themselves. I sometimes pinpoint another runner ahead of me but going slower than I am and try to pass them. I also try not to mind when other runners pass me. My philosophy in these cases is something akin to being "seen by not heard." I want to use the other runner to push or pace myself, but I don't want the other runner to know that I'm using them.
I think that's better for both runners. They (hopefully) don't get annoyed, and I'm careful not to exploit them, for fear of being caught.
So there I was with this 60-year-old man hot on my trail, perfectly content to run at exactly my pace, just a few feet behind me. I kept running through the possible reasons in my mind: Maybe my pace was the perfect pace for him, and he wasn't shy about taking advantage. Maybe he was mad at me for passing him, so he thought he'd annoy me for a while. Or maybe he was just being a jerk.
After about 10 minutes of being stalked, I cam up to an area where a lot of people fish on weekends. There's an adjacent parking lot, and a pedestrian bridge that connects the running trail to the parking area. I decided to hang a right at the bridge. If the guy really didn't realize he was bugging me, he'd keep going on the trail. If he really was trying to annoy - or kill - me, he'd follow me across the bridge to the parking lot. But at least there were other people around, and at least I'd know he really was trying to get on my nerves.
I swallowed hard, gave a nervous look to the fishermen, and angled off to the right. The guy kept running down the trail. I went through the parking lot and onto a nearby road and ran a few minutes down that road for good measure. Then I returned to the trail and never saw the guy again.
Maybe the whole incident shouldn't have been as disturbing as it was, but regardless of how I should have felt, the encounter stressed me out and the rest of the run turned out to be something of a bust.
Sure, it's a public trail and I suppose a runner can run at whatever pace he wants. But at the very least, shadowing a stranger for 10 minutes has got to be a breach of running etiquette. Right?