Tuesday night. I perch toes-only on a curb, my hand on a street sign that claims there's no parking from this point to the corner, and drop my heels. Outside the Skinny Raven running store on H Street, people cluster in groups, stretch their quads, don their earbuds, or stand in line to sign in for tonight's run. There's a route map taped to the window of the store and a table piled with Asics or Sauconys or Mizunos, depending on the week, that you can try out for free. The sun is setting, or has long set, or won't set at all. Most weeks, this is where you'll find me Tuesday after work: the Skinny Raven Pub Run, a three- to four-mile route that always starts outside the downtown location and ends at McGinley's Pub. Advertised as a social walk/run, the weekly event attracts all kinds -- moms with strollers, speedwalkers, groups of friends, married couples, lone runners. It's not a competitive event, and while start time is officially 6 p.m., plenty of people hit the pavement as early as 5:15.
Sometimes I'll meet up with a friend, but this time of year, I'm more likely to fall into the lone runner category. Understandably, Anchorage has a good number of fair-weather runners; as the cold sets in, the Tuesday night numbers dwindle. For those who are left, there's a sort of hail-fellow-well-met vibe; we nod at each other as we pass on an out-and-back, we merry few who deck ourselves out like Christmas trees in lights and reflective gear, who don studs and Yaktrax, who bundle ourselves in running tights and thermal pants, wind-resistant jackets, beanies and Buffs and balaclavas.
In the summer, knots of runners clog the trail, and there's a constant soundtrack of pounding feet and conversation audible beneath whatever song plays from my earbuds. In the winter, though, I'm insulated from the world by my cap or earwarmers. Most sounds outside my own breathing are muffled. I'm less likely to pass more than one or two runners at a time, our footfalls conversing for a brief moment, our mingled breath freezing, suspended in a pool of lamplight.
I run four to five times a week, usually alone. For months, sometimes, the pub run is the only night I'll run with others. We generally don't talk -- I've yet to make any lifelong friends at the run, or even acquaintances -- and from week to week I don't recognize any particular people from previous runs. But there's solidarity in this group. If I were to strike up a conversation, I'd know I have at least one thing in common with whomever I chose to speak to. We both know what it's like to chip away at the miles, with no one but ourselves to be accountable to, nothing but our own minds to distract and bedevil us. We are lone wolves who have found a temporary pack. There's a rush you get, running with a herd. It's why people race: the adrenaline surge, the ability to push yourself further, harder, faster when you're alone in a crowd instead of alone on your own.
Tuesday nights aren't about racing -- though I'll find myself growing competitive with the stranger just ahead of me or silently cheering when I pass another runner. Tuesday nights are about community. Not "community" as in the place where we live, but in the fellowship we have with others when we share common attitudes, interests, goals. Tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that, I'll be on my own again. Tuesday, though, I run with the pack.