When I was just a wee youngin’ my family would go to Ocean City, New Jersey every summer for our vacation. My grandparents had a rental house just blocks from the beach, the boardwalk and everything else you’d ever want to experience as a kid at the shore. I absolutely loved Ocean City and to this day have only missed a couple summers at the shore. I have so many memories and nostalgic feelings of that place that it has very much become a part of me, a part I don’t want to miss out on every year.
When I was in middle school I would sometimes go for runs on the beach, just because I could. I loved running on the hard wet sand and splashing through the diminishing surf as it blanketed the sand. On the beach, it seemed like I could run forever, probably more from the enjoyment than my endurance. As I got older I would still do runs on the beach, but in the mornings I would head up to the boards to run back and forth with everyone else that got up early enough – the bike renters, the walkers, the breakfast seekers, the too-early beach goers, the surfers.
There are a lot of sensations burned into my memory from running on the boardwalk, whether it’s the way the sun looks gleeming off the morning waves, the desolation of shuttered up stores that will be swarmed for the rest of the day as soon as they open, or the smell of doughnuts close to 1st street. Oddly enough though, there is one memory that has stuck with me the most, most likely because it is related specifically to running.
Not too far past the amusement rides on the boards sits a truly authentic italian restaurant, and outside that restaurant always sat the very stereotype of an jolly italian chef – overweight, elderly, a big smile, and chef hat. Surely he owned the restaurant. I never knew his name, but he would sit in a chair by the front door and gives words of encouragement to every single runner that would go jogging by.
“Go for the gold!”
“Go for the gold!”
I think I was a little taken back the first time he told me to “go for the gold”, but also felt a little bit special too. I remember wondering, “Does he really think I’m fast? Maybe I have a chance to be that good?” Yeah, I was young. Still, every year I went back to Ocean City I would look for that guy, and whether I was running or not I heard him still giving out words of encouragement to everyone that went by. Day after day. Year after year.
Then one year I went by the restaurant and he wasn’t there. I assumed he was merely tending to other business, but then I noticed a small memorial placed where his chair was. I small testament to his memory. He had died sometime prior to my arrival. And that was that. I’m sure this guy left an impression on a number of people that frequented the boardwalk, but I find it something special that I, some 30 something hoosier, still remembers the satisfaction of hearing this man give me unsolicited encouragement at such a young age.
Lately, as I’ve run along the canal downtown, I’ve noticed that other versions of this italian man are everywhere. There is the old walker on the monon that seems to know and gets hugs from every middle aged woman that goes by. There is the couple that walks at a good clip on the canal everyday like clockwork. There is the older couple that sometimes walk, sometimes ride their bikes along the canal. Regardless of their differing approach, all of them have offered encouragement to others as they go by, a couple of them even asking me where I had been when I hadn’t run on the canal in months, another asking where my son was who I used to push in a stroller on the canal every day (that one hurt).
I’ve decided something. I don’t know where this running thing is going to take me as I get older, whether it’s to a higher level of competition, a career in the industry (you hear me running times?), or just another recreational runner whose body wouldn’t let me keep competitive pace anymore. Regardless, at some point I’ve decided I want to be “that guy”. I want to be the old man hanging out where lots of people run. I want to be the one offering encouragement to familiar strangers, giving them an unexpected boost of support and furthering their abilities in even a minor way. That sounds like a pretty respectable way to spend my old person days if you ask me. And hey, if for some reason fortune befalls me and I can do that on the boardwalk of Ocean City, then even better!
Always remember, Go for the gold.
12 miles in 85 degree evening heat. Felt really really awesome. Took it slow to start and progressively picked it up as I went. Felt strong throughout. Prepared for tomorrow’s Tuesday night workout.
Breakfast – Life cereal w/ soymilk, coffee
Lunch – Leftover stir fry w/ tofu, leftover thai coconut soup w/red onions and tofu (still amazing!)
Dinner – Gardenburgers, corn on the cob, cous cous w/ brocolli and tofu
Snacks – Vegan dandies, banana, water, coffee, clif bar, vegan primal strip