The Charles River teems with runners most days, no matter the weather. They weave between the walkers and the gawkers who are enjoying the views from either side of the river, looking over at Boston’s skyline or at Cambridge’s institutions of higher learner, snapping pictures for the ‘gram.
The great outdoors have been a blessing in the last eight months as the pandemic has forced us to search for a clear mind and some fresh air. Running and golf are the two things that have always offered me some escape, solitude, recalibration, and companionship.
My daily runs along the Charles and my rounds of golf have started to intersect in a way I have never really noticed before. Both activities have a myriad of possible styles and abilities. There are the runners that lumber along with bandy knees and hunched backs, battling a perpetual headwind. There are the runners that move slowly, taking small little penguin steps. There are the runners in short shorts or spandex gliding freely without a care in the world. There’s the pack of runners, chatting away or the couple running together, motivating each other to get out of the house each day, maybe in preparation for a future road race.
The mechanics of proper running have a beautiful aesthetic to them. When done properly it’s as if the person is floating unhindered by any aches or pains or shortness of breath. Hop on a treadmill and crank it up to 10; at that pace you’d barely be keeping up with a marathon’s lead pack. They don’t look like they’re moving fast, but they are.
Golf is the same — the aesthetics of a great golf swing are stunning. Ernie Els, Fred Couples, Adam Scott, Tiger Woods, Michelle Wie, Ann Van Dam. Watching those swings elicits envy and hours on the driving range hoping to emulate it, likely with failed results.
Then there’s everyone else, the ones that don’t look beautiful when they run down a trail or swing a golf club. Usually, during my runs, I see a runner for all of 10-15 seconds. They all look different, making their way forward in their own individual way. Maybe their elbows are out, or they land funny on their feet, or they swing their legs in a strange way, setting themselves up for knee or hip replacement surgery in the future. For the most part, when we’re on a golf course, we see a lot of swings, but during a round, even our playing partners are only taking 45-60 full swings. That’s about the amount of strides I see someone taking during my runs.
These small snapshots of runners and golfers tell us everything and nothing at the same time. The hunched over runner might be ticking off 7-minute miles. He might be a fabulous marathoner who can run 26 7-minute miles in a row. The guy running fast and smooth might be doing sprints for the day and has no intention of ever setting a personal best or a finishing a fast marathon. The golfer with the hitch in his swing might be able to shot 75, while the guy with the fancy clubs and grooved swing shoots 100.
Running and golf also lets amateurs measure themselves against pros, which isn’t the case in every sport. A runner can enter a marathon and share the exact same route as the fastest runners in the world on that very day. They can compare their times and paces and gain a greater understanding of how talented the best runners are. A golfer can go and play the courses the pros play and keep score. In both situations the time and score are usually higher for the amateur, but there’s something special about a sport providing those chances.
Golf and running give us a chance to be outside and realize that there are so many different ways to enjoy both sports, and sometimes, if we judge a book by its cover, that book will be waiting for us at the finish line or in the clubhouse with a faster time, or lower score, than us.