When you want to get to know someone fast, try going for a slow run together.
To the rest of the racers, we just looked like a couple of aging men running and walking a 5-K. There was nothing particularly distinctive about us. We had graying and thinning hair, we were carrying a few extra pounds, and we were shuffling much more than we were charging.
We had taken our place near the back of the pack, letting the younger and fitter men and women line up in front of us so they could take off in search of personal bests. We were content just to be there, to be together, and to be alive.
We were running the streets of Tampa, during last February's Gasparilla Festival 5-K. Don and I had been on those streets together before -almost 30 years ago to the day - as members of the United States Army Band. Back then we sat side-by-side and made music. Now we ran stride-for-stride and made memories.
As we ran, we talked with the ease of good friends, even though we'd only seen each other once in the past three decades. During a chance meeting the year before, I had challenged Don to join me at this race, hoping I'd provide him with some incentive to start running again. I had no idea that I'd learn more about Don during those 3.1 miles than I had in the five years we spent performing together.
I found out that Don had been a pretty serious, even competitive, runner for most of his life, until a heart attack stopped him in his tracks. I learned about his struggle to get back out on the roads - how he missed running, yet was afraid he'd no longer be able to run on his own terms. And we talked about the Penguin philosophy. He was surprised that I - the "driven and aggressive bass trombone player" he knew years before - could have morphed into a slow, joy-of-the-journey runner. The conversation and the revelations continued effortlessly, even if the miles we were covering were anything but effortless.
A few hours after the race, I realized that the conversation Don and I had on the road that day would never have taken place at a dinner party or over a beer. That's because, of all the gifts that running has brought me - and there have been way too many to list - the greatest gift by far is the ability to connect with people on a profoundly personal level. There is something magic in the movement of our feet and rhythm of our breathing that breaks down the walls we normally hide behind.
All I know is that when I run with someone, we share more than just the road. We share a common experience, which allows us to talk with an ease that only runners know.
Don and I were once musicians and colleagues, as well as friends. Then 30 years of life intervened, taking us in different directions. But it only took about 30 minutes of running to get us back on track.
Waddle on, friends.