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I was ready for change. I created a new dating requirement: No More Runners. I think that is how I ended up dating older men. They have bad knees.
He poured me a glass of wine and creaked down beside me on the couch. He told me it was a really nice bottle, and we both knew what that meant. I couldn’t afford it, not on a trail runner’s salary.
I held the glass by the stem and did the flushing-toilet-swivel-thing, wondering if there was a wrong way to do the flushing-toilet-swivel-thing. (There is.) I took a sip.
It tasted like every other red wine I’d ever drunk.
He asked if I wanted a foot massage, and I did a mental tally of how many toenails I currently had attached.
I told him he could massage my forearm. I wasn’t ready for him to go near any part of me that had ever been overused or injured. Even so, I had an aggressive race schedule coming up and needed to test his willingness to dole out massage sessions. I guess I actually had more than one dating requirement.
The massage was awkward, but I guess that was the point. He was a good sport, and the ridiculous scene made me laugh.
Months flipped by effortlessly, as if the calendar was eating his glucosamine tablets. Without me realizing it, a full year passed.
Whenever he thought I was training too hard, he would treat me to the spa, saying, “Rest and recovery is the most important aspect to training.” I wasn’t sure how getting naked and submerging in small, hot bodies of water—assuming nonchalance among side-glancing strangers—was valid, but the après-spa sushi-and-sake bar across the street made up for it.
When I told him that he looked sexy in his button-up V-neck shirts—“They’re, like, both sporty and metro”—he told me they were actually called Henleys. New requirement: I needed a man who could expand my vocabulary.
When he told me I was stridently independent, I took it as a compliment … of my running stride. Always nervous that trail running makes me slow, I did six to eight strides every day to keep my fast-twitch muscles firing. I loved the wind in my face, the accelerated heart rate, the hard effort. It was months before I looked up the actual definition.
When he was jealous that most of my training partners were men, I thought his naiveté was adorable. These men knew me in the morning, before coffee. They’d seen me pee standing up so many times that it was no longer a novelty—it didn’t even elicit a response when the stream went awry and rivulets poured down my legs. Instead of buying me fine wine, they kept towels in their cars for me to sit on, post-run. They knew at two hours into a run to hand me a GU, lest I turn into a raging hypoglycemic monster.
They knew the real me, which is to say they wouldn’t touch me if we were the only people left on earth. I know this because sometimes we ran so far into the mountains that it felt like we really were.
It took a year anniversary with him for me to realize that our worlds would never merge. Although 12 months had slid past, he and I were still two strangers sitting on a couch, amusing ourselves with an awkward forearm massage. I’d never be able to tell a Cabernet from a Zin, and he’d never understand that rejuvenation didn’t occur while sitting still.
He didn’t know me; he never stood a chance. I suppose that was the point. When I said I didn’t want to date any more runners, I guess what I really meant was I didn’t want to date anyone for awhile. The truth was my heart needed a little rest and recovery. I headed for the mountains.
Jenn Shelton is a contributing editor at Trail Runner. This article originally appeared in our March 2016 issue.