He was in shorts and I was in shorts and it was 27 degrees. We ran past each other near the planetarium. He wore a beard and lightweight trainers, and he looked fast. It wasn’t that he was running particularly fast at that moment, but he ran with the choppy, shortened stride of someone running much more slowly than he is used to running. It was like he didn’t know what to do with his legs with all that time between each stride, his foot just hanging limply in the air, waiting to be put back down on the ground. His legs literally looked bored to death.
We spotted each other. We neared each other. And, then, for a split second, we made eye contact. He tipped his head—barely—and in response, I tipped mine. And then he was a blur and he was gone. The whole scene lasted all of three seconds, but the salute was unmistakable.
He was in the club. I was in the club. We were in the club.
I feel like I just wrote a Puff Daddy song. Or is it P. Diddy? Or just Diddy? Puffy? Is that guy even still around?
At any rate, he got it. He was a fellow member of the Saturday Morning Club.
Never mind that it was a Sunday afternoon.
For all the diverse personalities (innumerable), paces (legions), goals (untold), training approaches (countless), experience levels (limitless), and abilities (incalculable) that make up the running community, we share one common, critical characteristic. It is the single most important attribute that binds our manifold masses into a unified front. It connects us. It drives us forward. It is our “E Pluribus Unum.”
We get it.
What is it?
It is an alarm clock set for 5 a.m. On a Saturday. It is Friday night plans that involve checking water bottles, planning GU flavors, and making sure key pieces of running apparel have survived the laundry. It is to forfeit a party for a decent night’s sleep. It is to daily evaluate the necessity of a shower. It is to wear wet hair to work. Or to dinner. Or to weddings. It is to feel the overwhelming urge to close your eyes for… just… one… second… at a meeting. It is to arrive at your hotel and immediately ask the concierge for good running routes, or a map, or a treadmill, or something, please, you see, I have to run so many miles this week and tomorrow I need to get in ten. It is to notice the distance between highway exits and imagine yourself running the interstate. It is to think in terms of miles, not calories. It is to see others running when you are not—or cannot—and be utterly filled with jealousy. Cold, bitter jealousy. It is to stretch your hamstrings while waiting in line at the bank. Or the grocery store. It is to see a trail and fantasize about running for miles on end. It is to believe there is no better way to celebrate a beautiful summer day or a freshly fallen snow or a light spring rain or the crisp autumn air than by running.
It is sacrifice. It is gratitude. It is inconvenience. It is being in on the secret.
I don’t think there exists a runner without some inkling of adventure. I don’t think there can exist such a runner. The very nature of the sport demands a kind of up-for-anything mentality because that’s exactly what happens during a run: anything. The conditions are unknown. The distance owes us nothing. The first mile is under no obligation to the last. Even our own bodies are variables. The only constant is that we must run. So we do.
I think that’s why we feel the need to acknowledge one another in passing. We know what it takes to get out there. We know what it means to train. We are motivated by others’ dedication and in turn want to motivate. A nod of the head. A wave of a hand. A friendly, “Good morning!” It is our way of saying, “Hey, I get it. I know you get it, too. Keep it up.”
Because it feels good to understand. It feels good to be understood. It feels good to belong.
Some members may call it the “4 a.m. Club.” Some may call it the “Short-Shorts Club.” Others may call it the “It’s 100 Degrees But We’re Running Anyway Club” or the “I Didn’t Know It Was Raining Club” or the “Why Did We Sign Up For This Club.” But it’s all the same.
Because the Saturday Morning Club by any other name is still just as crazy.
Amy L. Marxkors is the author of The Lola Papers: Marathons, Misadventures, and How I Became a Serious Runner and Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story. Click here to receive Amy's weekly article via email.