Running with the vegans
The Google-translated post read:
Now on Sunday I thought I’d challenge myself a little bit, and take skatås 18 km-round double up, therefore 36 (give or take) km. I imagine that I’ll get started at about five o’clock that lest I suffer sunstroke or how now the weather is. Time is negotiable but not too soon — I can’t do that.
I hope to be able to keep pace between 5:40 and 6:00 / km.
Does anyone want me?
I’d joined the Vegan Runners Göteborg Facebook group that week after hearing that vegan running groups are a thing. As a recent convert to veganism, and always looking for people to run with, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to make friends with some Swedes. It’s always pleasant to have company on a run, especially the longer weekend jaunts where hours of hitting the trails can quickly descend from elation to drudgery. So I registered my interest, explaining that my running was substantially better than my grasp of Swedish.
A slew of comments went back and forth in a mixture of Swedish, English and Swenglish, until finally it was settled. We weren’t just doing it. We were fucking doing it.
And so it was that I found myself running to Skatås to meet these two kindred spirits who find the idea of spending their Sunday afternoons running 36km through a forest to be, well, fun. The possibility of sunstroke in Kristoffer’s original post was optimistic — it was drizzly, grey and miserable, living up to Gothenburg’s title of ‘the rainy city.’ But despite using Instagram’s new stories feature to banter with my followers about the possibility that I was putting myself at the mercy of two strangers who could very well be plotting to murder me and leave me in a ditch, I was excited.
I’ve experienced the unexpected camaraderie that running can provide a number of times. When I lived in Berlin in 2013, a co-worker, Monal, offered to help me train for my first marathon by accompanying me on my long runs. To say I was outclassed would be an understatement; she’d previously run track at Stanford. And then there’s Anders, my Swedish running buddy. I met him at a music festival I was playing three years ago, and upon finding out I was a runner (albeit much slower back then), he invited me to join him for a run that day. Since moving to Gothenburg, we’ve run together most weeks. He competes in the Swedish national championships.
I had no idea what to expect from my afternoon with Jonathan and Kristoffer — except sore legs. Conversation started around what we were training for, whether we’d run this route before, and gear — I was eyeing up Jonathan’s delicious new Osprey running backpack with a magnetic clip for his water pipe. It had a lot of handy compartments. Soon enough, we landed on veganism. Thankfully, neither of my companions were militant vegans; they were both forgiving of my cheat food, ice cream, which I still eat in its animal-based form.
Me and Kristoffer
As anyone who’s ever held a walking meeting will attest, conversation flows easier when you’re in motion; pauses seem less awkward, eye contact — which I still find challenging (for some reason, prolonged eye contact makes me feel like we’re moving towards a kiss) — becomes unnecessary, and your brain works better with the increased flow of oxygen. The effects multiply when you’re running. The cadence of speech takes on an entirely different rhythm as you struggle to catch your breath on an uphill climb, or direct your attention to navigating a technical section of ground without tripping over roots. Your conversation mimics the space that you’re moving through — expansive, natural. You’re forced to slow down.
Maybe that’s how we ended up talking about topics that would usually be out of bounds for first meetings. I heard about both Jonathan and Kristoffer’s families, and the trials of juggling running training with raising two young children. We entered the no-no conversational territory of faith and the church’s stance on homosexuality. Then, as afternoon drifted into early evening, and Jonathan peeled off to get back home for dinner with his family, Kristoffer and I traded stories about our struggles with depression, and how running’s helped both of us fight our way out of The Pit. Something that should feel uncomfortable — discussing one’s innermost struggles with a stranger — seemed totally acceptable. Maybe the mixture of runner’s high and total exhaustion breaks down your defences and allows you to tackle the, ahem, meaty stuff without fearing the consequences.
After the run — in a weakened, nauseous state that’s become customary whenever I exert myself more than usual — Kristoffer and I went to a supermarket for recovery snacks. When I’m in that fragile state, I’m never entirely sure what my body’s crying out for. I scan the shelves and hope the answer reveals itself to me. I plumped for a Zingo drink but couldn’t quite work out which solid food would sit well in my stomach’s tempestuous condition.
Kristoffer and I were headed the same way home and had to hobble-sprint to catch the tram before it departed without us. As we sat down and Kristoffer tucked into the honey-roasted peanuts he’d just picked up, he offered them to me and my stomach uttered a resounding ‘yes’. Thankfully, he’d bought two packets and as I left the tram, shaking his hand and insisting that we have to do this again sometime, he offered the remainder of the peanuts as a parting gift. I munched them all the way home and thought about this bittersweet, mysterious life — rife with depression and hardship, but rich in unexpected generosity and friendship.
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