Running for Reconnaissance as Much as for Exercise

Cherry trees blossom and chalk drawings decorate the sidewalks. A radio station plays Christmas songs to cheer us up. People give slight nods and waves that signal we are all in this together. But we know from 9/11 that the nods and waves are probably temporary and will fade once impersonal normalcy returns.

Wariness accompanies geniality. I turn a corner and jog slightly uphill near the post office. A man and his young son are hitting tennis balls in the road. I get no closer than 30 feet before the father says, “Other side,” and the boy hurries with his racket across the street.

On my route, I pick up snippets of conversation as if listening to a radio on search:

“Children don’t understand that growth comes from hardship.”

“I undress in the laundry room so my clothes don’t spread germs everywhere.”

I am running more than I want. I miss the gym. Stupidly, I hobbled the 26.2 miles of the New York City Marathon on a bad knee in November and have been in physical therapy since. Before the pandemic intervened, I changed my workout routine, running less, going to the gym more, lifting weights to strengthen the muscles around my knee and to tone my upper body.

One night, I came home and told Debby, “I got arrested.”

Alarmed, she said, “What happened?”

I flexed my biceps and said, “Carrying guns without a permit.”

“BB guns,” she said.

In the evening on Saturday, I finally got my five miles in for coronavirus aid. Green lights came on in a sober township ritual, honoring several high school students who have cancer. A firehouse siren pierced the silence. But it soon grew quiet again in the gloaming, and I could hear another runner breathing across a four-lane road.

On Sunday, I spoke to Meghan Hicks, an ultrarunner from Silverton, Colo. We met a year ago in Morocco when I was covering the Marathon des Sables, a six-day race through the Sahara that she won in 2013. On Saturday, she and her husband, who operate the website, hosted one of many virtual races that have popped up, allowing runners to register online, pick a distance and a starting line, whether it’s a street or a treadmill, upload their finishing times and receive a medal in the mail.

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