Of runners and skaters

21 09 2010

This coming weekend Berlin will be teeming with athletes. The city’s plazas, hotels, restaurants, shopping centers and subways will fill with about 50,000 unbelievably fit-looking tourists, the running shoes on their feet a dead giveaway for the reason they are there.

It is marathon time in the German capital, and, like the final weekend of September every year, the faithful (with their entourages and fan clubs) gather in the formerly divided city to praise the glories of physical exercise. We come to collectively beat those 42.195 kilometers / 26.2 miles and that big wall that will inevitably and magically appear somewhere on the road, between us and the finish line. (No, not the Berlin Wall… that one’s been gone for years…)

I too will be traveling to Berlin on Thursday afternoon to race on Saturday, ready to overcome my weaker self (in German: der innere Schweinehund – direct translation: “the inner pig-dog”).

My personal inner pig-dog has been barking loudly in the past couple of days, complaining about the fact that I irresponsibly took a 12-day vacation to a place nine time zones away just three weeks before the race of all races, the day of all days. But I was able to shut him up for a little while with a few leisurely skate runs this week, the promise of two exquisite pasta dinners before Saturday and a lot of celebratory booze afterwards.

If you are still upright at kilometer 38 (of 42) then your inner pig-dog is definitely losing the battle.

Though we will all attack the blue line together on the weekend, over the 15 or so years I’ve been doing this kind of thing I have found that distance skaters and distance runners are two fundamentally different breeds of animal altogether (as are their pig-dogs). I recently looked up the two words in that bible of all things literary – the Merriam-Webster dictionary – and this is what I found:

run·ner \rə-nər\

Function: noun

Date: 14th century

1 a : one that runs : racer b : base runner c : ballcarrier
2 a : messenger b : one that smuggles or distributes illicit or contraband goods (as drugs, liquor, or guns)
3 : any of several large vigorous carangid fishes

skat·er \skā-tər\

Function: noun

Date: 1700

: one that skates

And this:

in–line skate \ənlīn skāt\

Function: noun

Date: 1987

: a roller skate whose wheels are set in-line for greater speed and maneuverability

I would like to add my personal definitions to those official ones, if I may:

run·ner \rə-nər\: one that voluntarily inflicts slow torture upon him-/herself while destroying knees, hips and/or Achilles tendons – thus keeping orthopedic surgeons in business and filthy rich; one that doesn’t exactly know what it is that s/he is fleeing from or to; one that can’t wait to meet the next water fountain. (Honestly, have you ever seen a smiling runner? Me neither, I wonder why.)

skat·er \skā-tər\: one that has mastered the fine art of flying without ever leaving the ground; one that has attained a kind of athletic nirvana.

Now, I don’t know what camp looks more attractive to you, but I made my choice a long time ago. It’s clear, I will never run a marathon – after almost three decades of trying, I’ve discovered that my body is just not built for that kind of thing. But I most certainly will continue to skate them as long as they let me, no matter what obstacles I have to overcome.

My inner pig-dog has been soundly beaten before, and he knows darn well I will beat him again.

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