Penn State Running

It’s election season so I’m spending a lot of time writing, speaking, and traveling to talk about German politics. Last week I was in State College, PA, to give a talk at Penn State. State College reminded me SO much of Ann Arbor with its downtown full of cute shops and restaurants and the massive stadium and the many signs directing football traffic for the coming weekend. Every single person I met was also so nice that I knew I was solidly in the Midwest.

After the talk, a woman approached me and said “I am supposed to take you out for breakfast, but I hear you want to go for a run.” Word spreads quickly in small towns apparently – I had mentioned that to my hosts at dinner. It turns out my potential breakfast companion was also a runner and before I knew it, I had agreed to meet her at 6am for a short run the following morning.

This arrangement meant that after an evening talk followed by drinks, I was doing the lunge matrix in front of the Nittany Lion Inn at 5:45am and at 6am I was meeting a group of women runners in the parking lot for the Berkey Creamery. Too bad they weren’t open! This group meets every day at 6am in the same place so they never have to coordinate. They generally run 4-5 miles, different routes and paces, decided based on who shows up. Last week there were six of us and we ran together through a moon-lit golf course at dawn. A couple of fasties eventually peeled away, while four of us finished together and then I did some strides on the way back to the hotel.

This group was so much like my Middletown gang. A mix of academics and townies, one woman taught Kindergarten like Teacher Runner. One had attended Trinity College like Rooster. One had grown up in Ann Arbor, like me. We had no problem finding a common pace and common ground. Conversation ranged from various work-related issues, to which teachers kids had in school, to home improvement projects. Nearly identical to our running talk back home. It made me wonder, just how many other groups like this exist across the country? How many women meet each other at dawn, sometimes with headlamps, to run through the streets together before starting their days? It must be tens, maybe hundreds of thousands.

When my dad heard about this run, he speculated that running for women might serve the same purpose as golf for men, but I don’t really think so, though I’ve never golfed and I’m not a man. My stereotype of those golfing men is that they are out there doing business on the course. They are networking and lining up deals. We might do a bit of networking on the side, but my sense is these female-only dawn runs are about something different. The rest of my day is filled with kids wanting things, work wanting things, a messy house and dirty laundry demanding my attention. My sole sisters want nothing at all from me beyond my presence. We can each share a little slice of our own personal crazy and somehow finish the run a bit more able to manage the rest of the day. We might talk endlessly about kids and schools and home improvements (a surprisingly frequent topic), but the darker side of life can be hashed out on these runs as well: aging parents and struggling children, bastard bosses, irritating spouses, child care woes. My family has had a couple of trips to the emergency room in the past year and it’s been my sole sisters who said yes, we can take your children, immediately and indefinitely. Just go, and they will be cared for until you come back. These dawn runs weave the fabric that supports us when the shit inevitably hits the fan. I like the thought of that tapestry spreading across the country as the sun rises.

No visit to Penn State is complete without stopping by The Shrine!

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