For as long as I’ve been a runner, I envied people who ran at lunch. I always had to wake up early to run so I could get home in time to stretch and shower before the kids were up, while lunch runners were sleeping in (presumably), eating pancakes for breakfast (again, presumably), driving fancy two-seaters to work and essentially taking their sweet-ass time knowing that they bang out an easy 6 at lunch. What infuriated me most, though, was that when I stopped to consider how much time I was wasting at lunch doing nothing, it seemed criminal that I couldn’t waste that time running instead. So what was stopping me? Several things:
1. My office is in a terrible running area; it’s on a four-lane, shoulderless, sporadically-sidewalked road.
2. There aren’t showers in my building.
Just two things, I guess.
So I continued to run before the sun was up, imprisoned by my narrow definition of running which included fifteen minutes of stretching and a shower afterward. I continued to secretly hate lunch runners and curse the world for my unjust predicament. I was also a little more of a dick to family and friends. What choice did I have?
One day at work about two years ago I was wasting time on Google maps looking at satellite views of those silly man-made islands off the cost of Dubai. After briefly then peeking at the pyramids, I dragged my mouse halfway around the Earth to my childhood neighborhood before wondering what the top of my office building looked like from space. And that’s when I saw it – a thin gray line cutting through woods and backyards near my office. It was labeled Chester Valley Trail. WHAAAAA??!?!?
I drove past the trail on my way home from work that day; it was brand new, paved, dead flat and only a half mile from the office. Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod. I quickly decided the time had come to run at lunch. Clearly, this trail was created in my honor; to not run on it would be abhorrent. By the time I got home I’d already come up with a plan to get changed and sneak out of the office unobserved, in order to assuage my perpetual fear of being noticed.
It was paramount that running at lunch drew no more attention to me than huddling quietly at my desk eating leftovers. I never wanted to be “the guy who ran at lunch;” I wanted to remain the “Does that guy work here? I’ve never seen him before. Maybe I’ll say hello, but… well, maybe not actually. He looks cold and aloof.” It turns out, however, that it’s hard to remain inconspicuous when you’re doing something so maniacal.
On days when I want to run at lunch, I pack my running stuff in a drawstring giveaway bag:
I try to nonchalantly tote the bag into the office and then stuff it under my desk as soon as I sit down.
I work on the third floor but get changed in the men’s room on the second floor so that I don’t risk passing a coworker while wearing my running gear, which would be an unimaginable disaster. This means, of course, that at lunchtime when everyone else is going to the lobby to exit the building, I’m the weirdo clutching a small, gray sack who presses 2 in the elevator. Sometimes, trying to be discreet can be incredibly attention-getting.
Once I’m alone on 2, I scurry to the men’s room and lock myself in the handicapped stall to begin the delicate and well-rehearsed dance that is changing into running gear in close proximity to a shared toilet. This is a good time to mention that I’ve developed a searing disdain for able-bodied men who crap in the handicapped stall. I don’t understand what they need all the extra space for. It’s not like they’re carefully trying to change all of their clothes without touching a single square inch of the floor or walls like I now have to do in a stall half the size. Jerks.
Once I’m out of the bathroom I make a mad dash to the car to drop off my work clothes, which I’ve stuffed in my running bag. When everything is going well, I’ll make it to the car without seeing a soul and my Garmin will have successfully acquired satellite reception along the way. My bag goes in the front seat and I’m off.
Sometimes though, like today, my Garmin will not acquire reception and after putting my bag in the car, I’ll pace aimlessly around the parking lot like a windup toy, staring down at my wrist, then up at the sky, like I’m waiting for the mothership. It’s no coincidence that these are days when literally the entire goddamn office decides to go out for lunch.
After I get reception, I still have to deal with the run to the trail. No matter what, I have to run on a curvy, busy road to get there; there’s no other way. However, I found a shortcut through an overgrown field of unkempt undergrowth that bypasses the worst of it. I quickly realized that I have to keep my eye out for deer poop, and through trial and error learned which plants are not to be touched, such as this vicious sonofabitch:
The nettle in the foreground is the size of a golfball and those barbed needles are razor-sharp. When I first started taking the shortcut, I would just run willy-nilly through the weeds, stepping on and brushing against everything in my path. I’d get the occasional scrape or poke from a thorn, and up until I’d encountered one of these the worst that happened was when I stepped in a long-deceased, thoroughly rotten squirrel carcass.
This was much worse. One afternoon, brimming with unflappable trail-runnery hubris, I ran straight into one and it hit me square in the inner thigh. A couple dozen needles slid deep into my leg and it took my breath away. I’m pretty sure I could feel each individual needle effortlessly pierce my skin and slip into my leg. It was sickening. It also hurt like hell.
The pain lessened over the next few hours and I’d forgotten all about it until a day later when, for some reason, my leg began to itch like mad. I realized something was wrong when scratching it only made it itch more and then burn like a thousand fires. It was so bad that I had trouble sleeping for the next couple nights. Because I know you’re all dying to know, this is what it looked like a few days later:
See where each of the needles got me? It was worse than it looks. I tried using a heavy-duty prescription steroid cream, the same kind they give to rhinos that nest in poison sumac, but it was no use. My sister in-law, the biologist, said that I just had to wait for my body to expel each of the barbs. She had the exact same problem once, but with tarantula hairs in her eye. For real. Anyway, it cleared up a few weeks later, but still itches sometimes. It’s been almost four months. I haven’t come within two feet of one of those things since.
Once I get through the shortcut, everything is golden. My running trail is about a half mile from the office and is flat and under-utilized. It’s perfect for an easy 7 or a short tempo, and sometimes I can run for an hour and not see another soul. It’s not the most scenic trail in the world, but I can run for miles and write silly poems in my head without worrying about getting hit by a car.
The perfect Mr. Bacon running-at-lunch weather is 35 degrees with a light wind. I can run comfortably for an hour in shorts and short sleeves and not sweat at all (I like to underdress a little to cut down on sweat). At home I’ll wear tights if the temperature dips into the 20s, but still stick with the shorts at lunch. It’s never so cold that it’s okay to see a coworker in tights. That’s worse than when Darrin from Compliance wears his summer sandals.
After running however many out-and-back trail miles, dodging trucks on my way back to the office and negotiating the shortcut of peril, I’ll get back to the building and dart up to the second floor men’s room for my fantastic metamorphosis back into Mr. Bacon, debonair businessman extraordinaire. When the weather is cool and I’ve hardly sweated, it’s as simple as ducking into the handicapped stall and changing clothes. Like Superman.
If it’s a little warmer out, I’ve found that baby wipes are a refreshing alternative to a shower. Instead of smelling like a man who just ran 6 miles, I’ll smell like a baby who just ran 6 miles. Next to “debonair” in the Businessman’s Dictionary is a scratch-and-sniff sticker of a striking financial executive who smells like a sweaty baby.
If it’s warmer than that, though, and I’ve passed the point of no return where my body’s response to sweating is to sweat even more, then I have no choice but to wash up awkwardly at the sink like a homeless man in a public library. This overt, harried circus precipitates a sweat-inducing anxiety that ensures that when I leave the bathroom, I will not look acceptable for work. At this point, debonair is out the window and the best I can hope for is business casual. I may as well not even put my pocket square back in.
Sometimes, like when I step in a pile of squirrel, I’ll walk back outside and put my stuff in the car. But I usually just bring it back upstairs and stash it under my desk. You may be wondering how I can routinely keep a thin bag of sweaty running clothes next to me for hours a day and still have a job. Well, somewhere along the line I picked up this little beauty to mask the funk of a 4-mile tempo:
It’s a Mr. Bacon air freshener. By definition, it smells exactly like me. (Apparently I smell like a burning tire.) Here it is in action:
So now I’m back from lunch but still have not eaten. While the rest of the office bustles with post-lunch businessy hubbub, I sit down at my desk to eat as quickly and unobtrusively as possible, which is no small feat – this is a typical Mr. Bacon lunch:
If a coworker stops by between 1:15 and 1:45, they’ll encounter a man who smells like a child track star cramming a gargantuan lunch into his mouth while the tingling aroma of a petroleum fire wafts up from beneath the desk. To the best of my knowledge, no scratch-and-sniff sticker exists for this.
This has been the last two years of my life. I don’t run at lunch every day, but usually get out there a few times a week from October to April. Despite my best intentions, which occasionally border on neurotic, people have noticed. It was bound to happen; if I were sneaking out there at 2:30 for a mid-afternoon jog, I may have been able to keep a lower profile. But really, who was I kidding?
Most people are congratulatory and say something like, “You run at lunch? Good for you!” or “I wish I could do that!” When this happens, I politely nod, smile and say nothing. At the first opportunity, I start walking the other way.
Some people are confused, like a certain chatty Jamaican woman who accosted me in the hall one afternoon and said accusingly, “I saw you out there. Running in the rain.” like she caught me stealing forks from the cafeteria. I think I said, “…”
Sometimes people initiate a conversation about running and then immediately start listing reasons why they weren’t out running too, like they need to defend themselves. I nod sympathetically and my mouth usually says something like, “Wow, that sucks” while my eyes say “Please stop talking. Stop talking right now.” I could hardly care less why these people aren’t running. This may astound you, but I have never once asked anyone to run with me at lunch.
(By the way, the prevalence of asthma and recent knee surgeries in my building is astronomical, and a little disconcerting.)
Then there are the people who say nothing. I don’t know who you are, but I love you.
I declared the whole operation officially blown when, as I was walking through the lobby one day last week, our Hungarian security guard walked up beside me and thumped his massive arm across my back, nearly knocking the wind out of me. “Mr. Bacon!” he bellowed, “I heard you run EVERY DAY!” Jesus, even Segev knows?! He never leaves his little desk and barely speaks English.
I’m moving to a new office building next week and will get to/have to explore all new running routes. It’s not far from my current building, but is just far enough away that I won’t get back to my trail except on the longest of lunchtime runs. The new building has a locker room and showers. This confusing era that I’ve grown so attached to is ending. There may even be (gasp!) other runners there.
I’ll report back.