I’ve been a solitary, recreational runner for at least 15 years. The only race I ever entered was a Terry Fox 5k when I was in high school. I have never measured my distances. I have never tracked my times. I have never worried about nutrition or specialized training regimens that would help me to become a better runner.
I just enjoy it. I go several times a week, almost always alone. Running keeps me healthy and lean. If I’m not eating well, not sleeping enough or not getting enough exercise my body lets me know while I’m running. I do my best thinking when I’m out for a long jog on a sunny summer’s day. If something has me angry or unhappy, running helps me put it in perspective. I’ve developed good strategies for tackling life’s toughest predicaments while pounding along the beach.
Lately I’ve been looking to meet new communities of gay men that do things together without booze. I don’t have any special objection to booze; I quite like it actually. I’m just getting older and want to explore more really gay, booze-free options.
So on Jul 12 I decided to tag along with Frontrunners Toronto on their regular Saturday morning jog. About 20 men gathered at 9am at the 519 Community Centre. I was introduced as a first-timer and the men applauded. One man told me that the group would start out together but then divide into a 5k group, a 10k group and a 15k group.
“Which would you like to do?” he asked.
I’ve got reasonably good endurance and don’t have much trouble running 15k so that’s the option I chose. Naively I looked forward to a nice, long leisurely jog in the sunshine.
As the 5k runners branched off, the pace quickened slightly but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. Later the 10k runners branched off too. About five men remained for the 15k route and that’s when things got serious.
The pace quickened to what seemed like nearly a full sprint. We took to the trails preferred most often by mountain bikers. The terrain is treacherous and I lost track of where we were because I was concentrating on the heels of the man in front of me and the best patches of jagged, slippery ground on which to plant my feet without breaking my ankles.
On one particularly treacherous downhill section, my feet slid out from under me and I landed hard on my ass, but I pulled it together quickly and carried on. I would later discover a purple bruise the size of a grapefruit on my right buttcheek.
We climbed a couple of steep hills slowing our pace only slightly. I reached the top with the rest of the group but not without gasping for air. The rest of the crew didn’t seem to have the same difficulty and my gasping wasn’t lost on them. One man suggested that I shouldn’t be using the muscles in my neck to breathe. But I needed every muscle and air hole in my body to keep from flopping over.
At the end of the route, I was told, the group goes for coffee.
“Coffee?” I asked incredulously. “Do we — gasp — also indulge in — gasp — glasses of scotch — gasp — and cigarettes?”
At one point I asked one guy who didn’t even appear to be sweating if he’d ever completed the route with a 170-pound 36-year-old blond guy slung over his shoulder. He didn’t answer.
I completed the run trimming only the very last hill climb from the route. I stopped by my place on the way back for a quick shower because I’d worked up a gross sweaty lather and I wanted to check out the damage to my ass.
By the time I got to the appointed coffee joint, only a few men from the group were left chatting on the patio. They seemed happy to see me moving under my own power and explained that new guys sometimes get scared away after the first time out and they hoped I wasn’t one of them.
“You have to come out regularly before you really find your place here,” one man told me.
These guys are hard-core warriors. It’s great to meet a group of tough, competitive gay men who really have their shit together. They seem to genuinely enjoy each other’s company and don’t mind being tough guys — tough gay guys — in their own way.
I’ll certainly check out Frontrunners again, but not before my ass heals.