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The Delicate Balance Between Enthusiasm and Evangelism

Back sometime in February I was out for a run and had a song come on and really speak to me for the first time in a while. The song was The Hold Steady's 'Chicago Seemed Tired Last Night', a song that according to my iTunes library is one that I've listened to a total of 32 times since it was added to my library in April 2010. I tend to not focus on music when running, but for whatever reason the song caught my attention on this particular morning, and as I listened I heard a sort of evangelical runner's mantra in the lyrics (the song itself is largely a meta-synopsis of The Hold Steady's particular brand of narrative lyricism). More importantly for me, the story told in the song itself is full of the sort of allusions and self-referential asides that always end up bleeding into my stories.

'We mix our own mythologies. We push them out through PA systems. We dictate our doxologies and try to get sleeping kids to sit up and listen.'

Sharing what you've learned and care deeply about is damn near impossible to avoid doing. Whether you've just learned how to make a fantastic Old Fashioned, how cool dragonflies are, or how to avoid air ever touching your precious, precious molecules, or about the mind-blowing amount of work that went into painting (and later restoring) the Sistine Chapel, there's a compulsion to share your knowledge with the hope that somebody -- anybody -- will share in a common interest. At some level, we go into any new experience with a hope to share it with someone else. It's why we sign up for races with friends, and why nobody wants to take a sailing class by themselves.

'I'm not saying we could save you, but we could put you in a place where you could save yourself. And if you don't get born again at least you'll get high as hell.'
Even harder still, is to *not* want to share that newfound joy and excitement with others that may not have been there to experienced it with you -- regardless of whether or not they want to hear it. And that can get us in trouble from time to time, because nobody likes dealing with an evangelist (as the Tumblr folks say, nobody cares about your run). This running and training that we all do -- regardless of however often we have to deal with injury or frustration -- is something that's ostensibly for our health. But more often than not, nobody wants to have some fit, hyper asshole come tell them how great they'll feel and how much their life will be changed.
'We gather our gospels from gossip and bar talk then declare them the truth. We salvage our sermons from message boards and scene reports. We come on to the youth.'
So what's the best way to go about suggesting someone starts running, without sounding like a horribly-over-excited-annoying-douchebag-slash-televangelist? I really don't know, and often struggle with this. It's never wise to lead with 'well, it's really difficult' -- honesty is always appreciated, but not necessary off the bat if the goal is to convince someone to join the ranks. The tricky part is coming up with a good hook; rather than passing along a story from a friend or running the risk of boasting by talking about races that I've run, I tend to pass along stories of places that I've been that I've explored on foot -- the C&O Canal Towpath is a local favorite of mine, as was a run along the Pacific coast in Monterey a few years ago -- in an attempt to convey the joys of seeing truly beautiful places on foot.
'We try out new testaments on the guys sitting next to us in the bars with the bars in their windows. Even if you don't get converted tonight you must admit that the band's pretty tight.'

There's always someone new to talk with, someone new to try and convert to our ranks. Over time we hone our stories, hopefully making them a little better, a little less raw, and a little more convincing. I haven't gotten to that point yet, but I know that I'm guilty of trying to spread the word and convey my experiences -- hell, that's part of what we're doing in writing here, I suppose -- as an attempt to find a few more people who have felt the same thing. One of these times, I'll get the words about the sunset and the Potomac and the breeze and the steps west of the Lincoln Monument just right. I just hope that whoever gets that story will be receptive -- and that one day, they'll tell me that the idea was pretty tight.


Do you guys talk about running unprompted with strangers? How do you try to convey your experiences, frustrations, etc with someone who may be new to running?