It might be true that most of my running is recorded on the local streets and nearby trails in the company of either no one or the ever-changing membership of my trusty running club, but on rare occasions I share a medium-length dash through the neighbourhood with the enigmatic Koh.
I don’t know exactly where he lives (nearby, I assume) nor can I creep into an online profile where he might post his activities for my scrutiny: he has not been captured by the digital net, so far as I can tell. He is, likely, a bit of a technophobe or a purist or maybe just prefers the unencumbered run without a watch tracking his position from a satellite or a smartphone tacked to his arm pinging his location to the world.
Our paths will cross on occasion, randomly and fortuitously (they are fortuitous for me at least) and invariably he will adjust his destination to match mine. How exactly it is that my comparatively ersatz running talents align with the interests of an athlete the likes of Koh I can’t say, but I don’t mind the company and our sporadic encounters are never unwelcome.
We chat, but only about running. Strictly about running, in fact. He offers me advice on my stride or my posture or the way I hold my arms when I plod the path, and I challenge myself to be better because of it. Koh has a way of inspiring improvement in one’s efforts because it feels as much a wizened lesson as a casual outing with an enigmatic friend when we run together.
I will admit that I’ve spent a cumulative collection of hours scouring the result postings of local races, races old and new, races very recent and some long, long past, searching lists of participants and finishers for his name. I am always unsuccessful. Koh, it seems, is too mysterious to be found. Unless, that is, he is finds me and we find each other on a stretch of asphalt between the folding birch of the river valley canopy.
Despite this, I am certain that Koh used to run races, even if he doesn’t seem to do so now. He alludes to his youth, a wilder Koh, a young man of effortless speed and too easy victories the memories of which clearly bring him no enduring satisfaction. Sprints through faraway cobblestone streets before he emigrated. Marathons completed in countless countries each seeming as if riding upon the wind. Hundred mile-long slogging treks through narrow muddy paths finished soiled and bloody but stronger and more epic feeling than with what I can ever hope to empathize. Yet, it’s just a fog of an indifferent history to Koh, these scattered moments of a past existence that have shaped everything about the man who runs in step beside me but may as well be a dream as they themselves shape the stories he shares as we plod onward through the relatively mundane suburban streets.
When I asked him last we ran if I he would mind– that is — could I write these stories, he just chuckled at me. “Who would care about that sort of nonsense?”
“A lot of people.” I insisted to him, and to that he waved his hand and shrugged. “If you like then. Go ahead.”
But then as I always seem to do, I challenge myself to be better because of Koh, and I wait impatiently until next we meet to fill in the gaps that are still left between my words. Koh himself might not wait. If I know him at all, and mostly I do not, I assume he would smirk a sly grin at me and remind me to watch my stride length, relax the tension in my arms, and most of all to keep moving forwards.