I saw the most beautiful thing on my way to work Friday morning:
A team of real runners.
In contrast to the ones I see sometimes--the middle aged men in shiny gray business slacks and scarves, or matching, full-length, swishy warm-up suits and knock-off Converse shoes whose soles look like they give about as much support as a piece of paper lashed to the bottom of your foot--plodding around the lake at walking pace with a trace of the running form.
These men were wearing tiny running shorts, silky singlets, and racing flats. They were milling around, panting, on the corner of Hoan Kiem Lake under the scowl of their sweatsuit-clad coach, their shimmering skin highlighting the unbelievable fact that their quads had actual muscle definition. Suddenly, as though at the sound of a gun inaudible to anyone but these four men or as though pushed forward by a surge of adrenaline impalpable to the rest of us, they gathered together and surged forward, right hands grasping left wrists for an instant to push their stopwatch buttons before they settled into their pace, their legs nearly in unison as they rounded the corner. The signs were unmistakable; they were doing an interval workout around Hoan Kiem Lake.
I almost swooned...or fell off my bike from shock.
My first thought was: That is beautiful.
my second: Oh please, oh please can I join in your pain?
But, as I mentioned before, I was on my way to work. So I had to allow the momentum I siphoned from their mere presence to propel me through the remaining 5 minutes of my ride to work and content myself with an excited g-chat to Hannah and Ali, who could completely understand my surprise even if they couldn't begin to relate to my passionate longing.
Which is funny because when I first arrived in Viet Nam and was still forcing myself out the door to run nearly every morning, I hated it. I hated the smog and the traffic. The stares. The absurd amount of clothing I was expected to wear in the intense heat and humidity. Or maybe I was just ready for a break. For one of these reasons, or a combination of them all, or maybe the realization that I didn't have to do this for anyone else anymore or that I didn't want to run just out of fear of getting fat, I stopped.
Maybe my body has finally begun to miss the steady stream of endorphins it had become accustomed to receiving during the past 8 years. Or maybe I really do miss running. A lot. It will be interesting to see if I take this same perspective when, at some point in the future I find myself again in a place more suitable for running (or with less excuses not to), or in a place where I can find a group of people like the four beautiful runners at Hoan Kiem Lake have found that can keep my pattering footsteps company, and I excitedly lace up my Asics and step out the door and realize that...it hurts. More than I remembered.
Then we will see if I'm still swooning over the beauty of running, or if my quickened breathing is merely the result of my decreased lung capacity. Then, maybe I will be less quick to judge the people I see trudging along, exercising not because they enjoy it but because they should.
As for now, I guess I will take comfort in the famous verses I read from Ecclesiastes last week: For everything there is a season. And while I sometimes miss the last season and look forward to the next season, I am enjoying this season of life. Even if it means I don't get the personal satisfaction or other people's admiration for being A Runner, and feel slightly less comfortable donning my skimpy running shorts.
Especially since I can now admire the newly-discovered running men in theirs...
Last week I learned a new Vietnamese word: ngắm. It means to look, but is different than the other two words for looking that I already knew; this one is more along the lines of "to admire."
This morning I saw the runners again. Today it was around 70 degrees and lightly misting. What more could a runner ask for--except maybe an olympic-qualifying race to run in such glorious weather? They were wearing (only) tiny, highligher orange shorts. And, yeah, I did ngắm.